You probably have heard that eating according to the seasons is a good idea. Dahh of course you have. But what effect does that really have? Why would you even want to consider doing that? Is it really that bad to just keep eating whatever you wanna eat especially if it’s healthy stuff like salad. A guy or gal’ must have some fun in life after all and ice cream (or popcorn, or crackers, or chocolate in moderation) tastes good at any time of year, in any weather doesn’t it?
Hey, think again. Seasonal eating has tons of positive health effects and prevents all kinds of diseases down the road. Constipation, diarrhea, colds, allergies, the flu, itchy skin and eyes, insomnia are just early warning signs that your body is out of balance and down the road can blow up to a bigger disaster. Those bigger disasters happen typically in places in your body that are weak from the start.
Eating seasonally can have a profound effect on how you feel. I don’t know about you but I want to feel my best all the time especially the older I get.
If we look at it from the simplest perspective eating seasonally allows us to tap into the intelligence of nature. Whatever grows easily and naturally right now also has loads of prana (life force) and tejas (cellular intelligence). When we eat food with high prana and tejas, our cells will be fed by that and thus will have that quality too. That way we are literally harvesting and ingesting the healing powers of food.
How does the seasonal rhythm work?
In Ayurveda we talk about 3 different energies or forces in nature. We call them Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These forces cycle through our yearly calendar. Vata is the the dry, mobile and light energy that makes us more creative but also more susceptible to disease. Pitta is the hot, activating, transformative energy that gets us into action. Kapha is the the heavy, moist, dense energy that builds tissue and keeps us grounded.
Vata, Pitta and Kapha shine in the different seasons like this.
Vata is most present during the fall season, when it is more dry and windy outside. Kapha shines in the spring when it rains and the snow in the mountains is melting. Pitta comes full force in the summer when it’s hot outside. At the same time while one force is fully present the other two are either rising or falling. The energies show up in a rhythm and pattern.
To see what I mean, check out this chart.
It is normal for the energies to rise and fall. We call it aggravation and accumulation in Ayurveda. However, after an energy has accumulated to a degree it also needs to alleviate. If it doesn’t, the energy gets out of whack and disease follows.
Let’s look at the example of fall to make this more clear. As we already said, Vata is dry, cool and light. If we eat foods with the same qualities or engage in activities that promote that same quality we are aggravating that force and it will go out of balance.
Say you live in a dry, cold climate like Jackson Hole and it is fall. On top of it you eat toasted bread for breakfast, a salad for lunch and baked veggies at night. As a snack you eat nuts and crackers. All of which are drying foods. Not good!!! You will end up dehydrated and Vata aggravated. And the way that will show up is like this:
- Anxiety, worry, fear
- Confusion, feeling lost
- Itchy, dry skin
- Dry eyes
- Cold hands and feet
Over time this may blow up into deeper Vata driven imbalances like nervous system disorders, severe mental imbalances, hair loss, osteoporosis, panic attacks or other diseases Western Medicine has names for. Oh boy, what is a gal or guy to do?
What foods are balancing in the fall?
The general idea in most types of medicine is this: Like increases like, opposites balance each other.
Let’s get clear what that means by looking at the example of fall. By now we hammered down that fall is dry, cold and light. Got it, yet? Using the idea above we then need to bring in the opposite qualities to find balance in our physiology. The balancing qualities are moist, warm and heavy.
Stop for a second and think: What are three moist, warm and heavy foods you can think of? mmmmmm……
What comes to mind immediately for me is soups and stews. They are warm, moist and heavy. Also meat is great, if you are not vegetarian or vegan. More grains, nuts, dairy and seeds are also appropriate. Make your foods more heavy. And if you have trouble digesting it add more spices.
When we honor the seasonal pattern we find health.
When we don’t honor it energies get out of whack and disease follows.
We can get really geeky about the kinds of food that are appropriate for each season and body type. Ayurveda goes deep into that, it’s way refined. I love it! To start with though following a simple guideline makes sense. The guideline is: Buy what’s on sale in the grocery store. The likelihood is that it is in season. Whatever we can harvest in abundance drives the price down. It’s a simple economic equation. Cucumbers are cheaper in the summer, pumpkins and squashes in the fall, greens in the spring.
Food on sale = it’s in season
The other thing you can do, apart from growing your own food, is to get your hands on a seasonal food list. That’s a good first step to get to know your food more intimately. I made one just for you.