In Ayurveda, emphasis is laid on diet as a therapeutic and preventative health measure to manage one’s state of health.
Every season is associated with a dosha in Ayurveda — spring with Kapha, summer with Pitta and fall and winter with Vata. Each of these doshas has a tendency to increase within the physiology during its season. Thus, the heat of summer tends to aggravate the Pitta in us, while a dry and cold winter tends to increase Vata.
These seasonal fluctuations of the doshas within us can be balanced by eating appropriately for the season. It’s important to adjust our cooking and eating habits as the season turns, and this requirement is highlighted by Ayurvedic wisdom.
Following an Ayurvedic diet most appropriate for the season is beneficial for mind, body and emotional health.
Vata dosha is composed of the air and space elements, and it governs all movement in the body. Vata is the dominant seasonal dosha from mid-October to mid-February. Vata is cool, dry, rough and light, so eating foods that neutralize these qualities – foods that are warm, moist, oily, made using ghee, smooth, and nourishing – can help to balance excess vata.
Ayurvedic philosophy holds that eating warming foods in the winter is vital in order to keep the body healthy and balanced.
More than half your immunity is driven by the process of digestion. Ayurveda equates digestive strength with a "fire" (or Agni) in the stomach. Because we tend to become fairly lethargic during winters, this “fire” may lose some of its potency. That's why it's important to include generous amounts of fresh unprocessed oils, desi ghee, and butter in your diet to keep this flame alive.
Ayurveda says that cold, damp foods like salads and smoothies, which might seem delicious and perfect in the summertime, can sap the body of energy and even leave it vulnerable to illness during the winter. Raw foods are also more difficult to digest and hence should be avoided during the cold winter months.
Choose Warm over Cold
The warm quality can be emphasised by eating foods that are warm in temperature, and by using warming spices generously. Vata-pacifying spices include cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, salt, cloves, mustard seed and black pepper in moderation.
"Warm" and "cooked" are key factors in the Vata-pacifying diet. Nourishing soups, broths and stews all feel welcome on cold winter days. Steamed food is a good option for winter wellness and nourishment.
Choose Moist and Oily over Dry
Vata’s dryness is offset by eating cooked rather than raw foods, by cooking and garnishing foods with generous amounts of high-quality oils or ghee, and by staying hydrated. Pure Ghee also acts as a natural laxative which promotes digestion.
Tastes to Favor
To keep Vata in balance, favor the sweet, sour and salty tastes and avoid bitter, pungent and astringent foods. All dairy products, for example, pacify Vata. Always boil milk before you drink it, and drink it warm, with a pinch of cardamom, dry ginger and turmeric in it. Beets, carrots, asparagus and sweet potatoes are good choices for vegetables. Khichdi is light, warming and delicious.
Vata dosha is balanced by regularity in routine. Eat three nourishing meals a day, and eat them at around the same times each day. Don't skip meals, especially breakfast. As you wake up from deep sleep and rest, Ayurveda reads that the body’s digestive fire – Agni is at its lowest and must be energized to smoothen out the digestive process for the rest of the day, hence breakfast is an extremely important meal to start the day right.
Eat lunch, the heaviest meal of the day, close to noon. Eat a lighter meal for dinner. Your last meal of the day should be eaten at least three hours before you go to bed. If you snack in-between meals, eat nuts and raisins soaked in water (dried fruits aggravate Vata) or stewed fruit for a healthy dose of energy. Most nuts are Vata-pacifying.
With dark and chilly winter days comes an immense need to cozy up and eat comfort food. Refining your winter routine in line with the above recommendations will better support your body and help tide you over.