Have you ever wondered why during the summer months we fancy a salad and a long iced drink, yet when the first leaf falls from the trees, we need a hearty stew and a hot cocoa? (Not necessarily at the same time, of course.) This isn’t a coincidence, it’s instinct: Our bodies know what we need, and when we need it. It’s the very same instinct that drives, say, a squirrel to search for nuts in preparation for winter. And it’s called (drumroll, please): Ayurvedic eating.
The thinking is that, as the seasons change, our bodies respond accordingly. Our ancestors were very much guided by the rhythms of nature, rising with the sun, acknowledging the cycle of the moon, eating food that they themselves grew and sourced locally. Our ancestors’ lives were interwoven with the forces of nature.
Today, with advances in modern technology, this is no longer the case. We can consume food now that is no longer location- or climate- specific. We can transport produce around the world, and we can extend the life of food with refrigeration or preservatives. There is a disconnect to nature in regards to how we eat, and this can affect our health, throwing off our nutrition well-being and balance. But according to Ayurveda—the ancient science based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit—this can be remedied by taking a cue from Mother Nature and aligning yourself with the rhythm of your natural bio-existence, and adopting behaviors that are season-specific.
In short, we should be mindful of what we eat, when we eat it, and how we eat it. According to Ayurvedic beliefs, there are foods to favor at specific times in order to promote optimal health through the seasons. What this means in practice is, for example, “seasonalizing” our pantry, similar to how you change your wardrobe. Or favoring in-season fruit and vegetables when shopping. A general rule of thumb when it comes to the food you eat is that if something looks good to you, then it is likely that your body is instinctually craving it. (Not sure this applies to chocolate, though. Sorry.) And to consider the below seasonal “guidelines”, too.
- Spring This season calls for food that contains little salt, and that is warm and dry in nature, “to melt away the winter.” Here you would be looking to consume light and simple food that can be easily digested. No surprise then, that this is the season that we would instinctively look to cleanse the body and stoke the digestive fire with pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. This is the time to add “spring” greens, berries, fresh ginger and turmeric to your shopping list.
- Summer Our body will start to crave much lighter, fresher foods to help keep the body cool. The choices for fresh fruit and vegetables at this time of year are plentiful, with gardens and farmers markets brimming with local produce. This season, you will be looking to include zucchini, cucumber, cilantro, fennel, melon and coconut to your diet.
- Fall This is the time to prepare our bodies for winter. In order to balance, we will need to rid our bodies of the summer heat, and should be looking to change up our menus to include bitter and astringent foods like cranberries, dark leafy greens, squash and pumpkin. As the nights get shorter, our bodies will start to crave sweet, moist foods, so indulge with figs and oats.
- Winter This is the best time of year to indulge in those lovely comfort foods. Our digestive fire is at its peak and can stomach the hearty winter recipes. Introduce warming spices like cinnamon, ginger and cumin. And when stocking up on cold-weather greens such as kale, collards and chard, be sure to balance any bitterness with sweet grains, as any bitter taste will make you cold.
The beauty of eating seasonally is that you can vary up your diet, and get excited about food and flavors that you haven’t tasted for a while.
When adopting Ayurvedic principles for eating, it is important to recognize that there is more to the practice than just consuming food. Our intentions and thoughts when preparing and eating the food are just as important for our health as the actual food itself.
“In the eyes of Ayurveda – Nature is the Supreme Mother; endlessly forgiving, endlessly resourceful and for those who acknowledge and work with Her, endlessly accessible. We can work with Nature to regain and maintain health. Then should we desire, we can work even more closely with Her to rejuvenate ourselves.” Richard Svoboda
A few more Ayurveda-focused posts to support your wellness journey:
- This Ayurvedic cookbook may just change your life.
- How to make ghee (and why).
- Why you should have turmeric in your kitchen cupboard.
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