Winter Wellness Tips, 11/ 01/ 11
When I teach about seasonal living one of the things I cannot emphasize enough is that our goal is not for me or anyone else to tell you what to eat, but rather that we expand our awareness to a level where we can guide our own wellness decisions (i.e. dietary and exercise choices) based on the reality of our situation. I find that many of us don’t take the time to explore our relationship with food and exercise and the result is a passive approach that in some cases can leave us feeling tired, depressed, unfocused, moody, weak, not at ease, stagnant, or in the clutches of many other undesirable qualities. Often with a little effort and the courage to decide that we are ready for a change, we can make some simple adjustments that in the long run make us feel much better- energized, comfortable, focused, strong, fluid, and ready to deal with the many challenges of life.
General dietary advice is a little complicated in our modern world because we have access to such a diverse array of foods from all over the world, and we are not forced to eat only foods that are locally in season. Some of us also tend to eat a lot of rich, greasy foods or processed foods that give us a lot of calories but not necessarily all the nourishment that we need which creates a situation characterized by simultaneous excess and deficiency. The prevalence of obesity and diabetes are two results. What follows is some basic advice for cold weather, but keep in mind that we also need to adjust for our constitutional issues.
Fall and winter are what we call yin seasons which means that they are dominated by colder, darker climates (compared to spring and summer) in which the vitality of living organisms retreats into the interior and quietly preserves itself until the climate warms up in spring allowing outer growth to resume. In plants we see this exemplified in the falling of the leaves and their still, “dead” appearance through the winter. In animals we see this exemplified in the collecting of nuts and seeds (or other food) followed by partial or complete hibernation through the frozen periods of winter.
We as humans should also adjust our habits accordingly by staying inside where it is warm, allowing ourselves to sleep more as we replenish our stores over the winter that will sustain us through the activity of next spring and summer. Think of the earth’s water table as an analogy. The water table (our resource) is depleted through all the activity and growth of life through the spring and summer. Then the seasons change and the rain and snow replenish the supply which will be used to support life in the next year. If there is not sufficient replenishment of the resource (water), next year we may be susceptible to a drought. If there are many consecutive years of drought, what was once a fertile ecosystem can turn into a barren desert. We need to preserve our body’s resources in the same way.
The cold seasons are good times for indoor activities such as reading, art projects, indoor learning, and gentle exercise such as tai chi, gentle yoga (not hot yoga), walking, meditation, and light mobilization exercises. If we go outside, we should be sure to cover ourselves up well, protecting our skin from the elements. If one feels the need for vigorous working out, it should be done indoors, and we must be careful not to expose ourselves to cold weather or wind immediately afterwards while our pores are still open and sweating. In winter we have a natural tendency to feel “lazy” or like staying in bed late, and to a certain extent that is OK- we should be resting more this time of year.
In terms of food, since we are talking about cold seasons we want to be eating more warming foods. We should cook and warm our food (temperature), soups and stews are good methods of cooking to employ. We can incorporate warming spices into our recipes, such as pepper, chili, ginger, cinnamon, and a little salt helps us to consolidate our energy. If we eat meat or fish, the cold seasons are times when we need that heavier type of nourishment (not for every meal but a few times a week is fine). If we don’t (and even if we do), we should eat plenty of whole grains and legumes, root vegetables and squash, and some nuts and seeds (but we shouldn’t overdo the nuts and seeds). Algae can be a great hearty supplement for vegetarians. I recommend mixing it into miso soup (because it doesn’t honestly taste that good:).
Many of us know that we need to eat lots of vegetables to stay healthy, and we sometimes translate this into eating lots of green salad. Yet raw fruits and vegetables have a cooling effect generally speaking, and in winter this may not be ideal. So I recommend not eating much fruit during the winter (unless it is native/ grows locally to your ecosystem and then only in small amounts). Tropical fruits in a northwest winter are not in line with these principles. So a good option is to lightly steam or saute our greens and other vegetables. Hearty greens like kale and collards, broccoli and cauliflower, root veggies like carrots, potatoes (other than the russet), beets, parsnip etc are all good winter vegetables.
A Recipe for my Salad Soup:
So, since I just said I don’t recommend eating so much raw salad and I recommend cooked greens, I would like to share with you a simple, easy, delicious soup recipe that I created. It has some inspiration from Taiwanese cooking, but you won’t find it anywhere else (that I’m aware of :). What I see as some of the values of this soup is that it is a warming, nourishing way to hydrate with easy to assimilate nutrients, while at the same time providing us with the clearing benefits of salad. Greens help us clear residual heat in our digestive system and in our bodies in general. When we eat a lot of rich, greasy foods or a lot of meat or dairy or certain other types of food combined with a low level of exercise, the result is stagnation. If stagnation is left unaddressed heat starts to build up, which can lead to inflammation, digestive issues, and other problems in our body. One of the tricky aspects of winter time is finding a way to preserve our vitality and not overact, yet we don’t want to create too much internal heat or stagnation. Part of the answer is that in spring we take extra steps to clear out the stagnation of winter. Another part is gentle movement and food like my salad soup.
This is a thin soup with a nutritious broth. It can be made in a few minutes. It has warming, nourishing, clearing properties. We can emphasize any of these aspects by adjusting the ingredients and ratios. I invite you to experiment with it, add or subtract ingredients as you like, play with the spices etc. If you don’t like to eat spicy food, check the second version below. You can use (any) normal salad greens and/ or kale or other thicker greens. And I should mention it is also a great hangover cure (just reduce or exclude the cinnamon and ginger and include the radish and/ or celery :).
A version I made the other day:
1. Saute a small amount of onion and 1 carrot (chopped), and whole spices in some oil (I like sesame oil) until golden. I like to include ginger and cinnamon bark, sometimes peppercorns or a chili.
2. Add powdered spices and saute for a minute or two. I like a little turmeric, sometimes allspice, ground cinnamon or ground chili etc. If I include garlic I add it here.
3. Add heavier greens if you are including them (i.e. kale or collards etc) and saute for 2 minutes. If not, skip this step.
4. Add a handful of greens (lettuces, spinach or whatever else). You can use one type of lettuce, or I like to use a handful of mixed greens. If you want stronger flavor you can always add more greens later.
5. Add water, bring water to a boil, then turn down to simmer for at least 5 or 10 minutes. For thicker soup add less water (2-4 cups), for thinner broth add more water (4-6 cups). You can add anything else you want at this point, though I appreciate this soup as a warming and clearing nutritious broth without many ingredients other than the salad. I do occasionally add a few slices of some type of radish or bittermelon at this point to emphasize the clearing nature of the soup.
6. Seasoning: After the water is added, you can add any herbs you want to include such as oregano, thyme, basil etc. I also like to add a few drops of fish sauce or tamari sauce to taste. This is also a good time to add a little sea salt to taste.
The simple version:
1. Place one or two handfuls of greens in pot with a chopped carrot.
2. Optional ingredients: onion, salt, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, celery, radish, pepper.
3. Add 4 cups of water, bring to boil, then simmer 10 minutes.