‘Hygge’ Your Gut Critters with Winter Foods
Winter foods are hygge to you and your Gut Critters! When we adjust our diet and lifestyle to match the demands of those colder, darker winter months, not only do we feel better, but our health-promoting digestive microbes change dramatically too, manufacturing enzymes that support our winter needs for energy, digestion, immune system support, sleep, mood – and much more!
Nature’s seasonal ‘carb-fest’
As we transition into winter, the summer and early autumn abundance has given us the opportunity to enjoy a seasonal ‘carb-fest’ of ripe, local fruits and vegetables – foods that fuel our energy needs for winter, delivering quick, powerful and easily burned nutrition to our muscles.
This seasonal ‘carb-loading’ is an evolutionary and adaptive process; it peaks towards the end of September, when our wise bodies become naturally insulin-resistant and begin to divert excesses of carb-derived energy into fat storage – ready for a much slower winter burn.
Gaining those few extra pounds as our body transitions into winter-mode is perfectly natural and adaptive. As the long days of summer shorten, our body’s wisdom slows our metabolism too, priming us for slower fat-burning, ultimately protecting us against any risk of winter ‘famine’. And, despite our modern lifestyles, those risks are still very real to our much older and wiser bodies; they haven’t caught up with the global food industry’s making every kind of food available, at any time of year, to any part of the planet.
Retreat, rest and reflection
As Nature slows down in retreat, rest and reflection we need to listen to our inner-guidance system and do the same. By following our natural craving for warming, grounding foods like thick soups, heavier stews and root vegetables and by bringing hygge (the Danish art of bringing happiness through comfort, cosiness, conviviality and contemplation) into our lives – we are living with Nature, not fighting against her.
And it feels GOOD!
Eating and living seasonally from November – March
Bringing up the rear in the seasonal eating and living calendar is the period November – March (at least here in the Northern hemisphere).
By the way, you can catch up (even take some time to snuggle down hygge-style and reflect) on Spring and Summer diets in the posts: Spring Foods Make Those Gut Critters Happy! and Give Your Gut Critters a Summer Diet.
Listen to your intuition
Back in the day, traditional food wisdom was handed down through generations of experience and intimate connection to our food supply, guiding us to eat intuitively and to transition from one season to another without having to agonise over ‘what-to-eat-when. We were able to recognize and respond to our body’s hunger signals and changing food preferences without the help of articles like this one!!
In common with our animal friends, we humans are ‘wired to eat’ but – as I’ve said before and will keep on saying – NO one size-diet fits all: each and every one of us is different in constitution and nutritional requirements.
The emerging field of Personalised Nutrition is demonstrating what Mother Nature already knows: that, while we have common needs for macro nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates), the variety and balance of those nutrients will depend on our history, our health history and our lifestyle.
Ancient Winter Food-and-Lifestyle Wisdom
The traditional food-and-lifestyle-wisdom of Ayurveda holds that the winter months bring cold, airy, dry and light ‘Vata’ energies; and to keep the body grounded, these energies need to be balanced with foods and activities that are warm, moist, heavy and ‘oily’.
So, without further ado, let’s have a look at winter wisdoms for modern times that just FEEL right…
Winter LIFESTYLE fixes (do daily)
- Self-massage is a MUST. Before or after your morning shower or evening bath, a regular self-massage will help your body release toxins via the lymphatic system, strengthen your immune system, bones, muscles and digestive system and promote healthy and healing sleep*. I like to use warm coconut or olive oil and add a couple of drops of a high quality invigorating (morning) or calming (evening) essential oils for extra hygge-ness.
- Keep regular: establish a daily and weekly rhythm of self-massage, mealtimes, exercise, work, leisure, pleasure and sleep – and stick to it!
- Practise meditation to relieve stress, anxiety and depression.
- Just breathe: retaining carbon dioxide is critical to maintaining optimal cellular function – practise breathing techniques like alternate nostril, Buteyko, Kundalini and paper bag ‘re-breathing’ (it’s not only for anxiety) and stand back in amazement! My well respected Ayurvedic doctor friend, Steephan, insists that practicing ‘pranayama’ (breathing techniques) is one of the simplest and best things we can do for our health – and it’s FREE. Bonus!
- Exercise in the morning: an early-morning walk (or a back garden routine) to enjoy any blue skies on offer increases circulation, lifts mood, boost immunity, sets you up for a productive day and sets your body-clock for a better night’s sleep.
- Spend time outside as often as possible: wrap up and reconnect with nature. Forest bathing has now become a recognised relaxation and/or stress management activity in Japan and its health benefits and sensory effects on sight, sound, smell and touch are being studied.
- Connect with family and friends: whether at home or meeting up indulge in mugs of hot chocolate, fancy coffees, favourite treats, walks. Do whatever floats your boat. Just. Do. It.
* Check out this video for more detailed Ayurvedic self-massage techniques.
As the evening draws in:
– Switch OFF your ‘devices’
– Light candles, sit still and just BE.
– Practise a meditation or breathing technique
– Journal: gratitudes, reflections, visions, hopes, dreams
– Listen to music, or an uplifting podcast
– Use a warm mist humidifier to balance the drying atmosphere from winter heating systems; adding a couple of drops of high quality respiratory essential oil will help keep your sinuses clear and support peaceful sleep.
– And GO TO BED. Enough said.
- Sleep longer and sounder: We humans are mammals and in common with our animal friends, retiring and rising earlier during the winter months keeps our body in tune with the seasonal rhythms of Nature. We ignore the emerging science on the importance of living according to our evolutionary demands of our circadian rhythms and our need for sleep to the huge detriment of our health.
- Rise with the day-break – and start all over again!
Winter FOOD fixes (LISTEN to your body – this takes practise – choose what appeals)
This list is not (and couldn’t be) in ANY way prescriptive – I offer it to guide your appetite and help enrich your experience of eating seasonal Winter foods. Remember that no ‘one-size’ fits all and that includes you!
Any food marked with an asterisk (*) flags a ‘best-bet’ for a Winter food, so if you LIKE it and can TOLERATE it, choose MORE of it! Always choose non-GMO, organic and whole foods where possible; often intolerances are not caused by the food per se, but by the way they are grown, prepared and processed:
• CHOOSE MORE foods that are Sweet, Sour, Salty / Heavy, Oily, Moist, Hot: like heavier soups, stews, root veg, well cooked steamed veg, warm teas. Focus on well-cooked, moist foods and use fats with vegetables.
• CHOOSE FEWER foods that are Pungent (Spicy), Bitter, Astringent / Light, Cold, Dry: like salads, fruit smoothies, cold foods and beverages, crackers, crisps, dips (all more strongly associated with Summer).
This list isn’t comprehensive, so if a food isn’t listed just taste it. If it has two of the three ‘Winter’ tastes above – i.e. sweet, sour or salty – it’s balancing. Prepare and dress food it in a way that is moist, oily, heavy, warm – using ghee, coconut or olive oil more liberally.
Over the winter months don’t be afraid to eat a little more food than you normally would and to eat more fat and protein, and fewer (but NOT low) carbohydrates.
VEGETABLES: Artichokes hearts, *Avocados, *Beets, *Brussels Sprouts, *Carrots, *Chillies, Corn, Fennel, Aubergine, cooked *Garlic, Ginger, Hot Peppers, Leeks, Okra, Onions, Parsley, Potatoes, mashed *Pumpkins Seaweed, Acorn Squash, *Winter Squash, *Sweet Potatoes, *Tomatoes, Turnips. (For easy digestion, make sure veggies are well cooked – unless they’re fermented – and serve them with a little butter or olive oil, for better absorption of nutrients. Local produce will have been harvested later, travelled shorter distances and stored for less time).
FRUITS: Cooked apples, *Bananas, Blueberries, Cherries, Coconuts, ripe Cranberries, cooked *Dates, *Figs, *Grapefruit, *Lemons, *Limes, *Oranges, Pears, Pineapples, Plums, *Tangerines. (Eat fruit separately from other foods – especially if your digestion is weak since the fibres that hang around in your stomach ferment quickly and can cause bloating and gas. Choose sweet, sour or heavy fruits from those that are in their native season – remember that local produce will have been harvested later, travelled shorter distances and stored for less time).
DAIRY: All dairy is good – choose organic, unpasteurised dairy if you can: Cow’s or Goat’s milk, *Buttermilk, *Cheese, *Cottage cheese, *Cream, *Ghee, *Butter, *Kefir, Sour Cream, Yogurt. (If you can tolerate it, dairy is an extremely nutrient-dense food and an easily digestible source of energy. Drink dairy ideally at room temperature or warm).
OILS: Coconut oil, Olive oil, Avocado oil.
SWEETENERS: Most natural whole foods sweeteners, in moderation: Raw Honey, Maple Syrup *Molasses.
SPICES: *Anise, *Asafoetida, *Basil, Bay Leaf, *Black Pepper, Caraway, *Cardamom, Cayenne, Chamomile, *Cinnamon, Clove, Coriander, *Cumin, Dill, *Fennel, Fenugreek, Garlic, *Ginger, Horseradish, Marjoram, Mustard, Nutmeg, Oregano, Peppermint, Poppy Seeds, Rosemary, *Saffron, Sage, Spearmint, Tarragon, Thyme, *Turmeric. (Herbs and spices are, by weight, some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet – use them daily!).
LEGUMES: Unprocessed and properly prepared by soaking, sprouting or fermenting: *Mung Beans, Split Peas. (Legumes can make a contribution to a nutrient-dense diet BUT they do have inherent drawbacks. If you choose to eat them, take the trouble to prepare them traditionally to avoid digestive distress and collateral health issues. Legumes are carbohydrate rich and provide quick energy, so eat fewer over the winter months, in favour of a higher proportion of slower-burning fats – like full-fat dairy).
GRASS-FED/FREE-RANGE EGGS, MEAT & WILD FISH: *Beef, *Chicken, *Lamb, *Pork, *Turkey, *Venison, *Duck, *Eggs, *freshwater & ocean Fish, *Crab, *Lobster, *Oysters, *Shrimp.
GRAINS: Unprocessed and properly prepared by soaking, sprouting or fermenting and eaten warm with fat or oil: *Amaranth, Buckwheat (moderation), *Oats, *Quinoa, Long Grain Rice, Rye (moderation), *Wheat. (If you can tolerate grains and choose to eat them, make absolutely sure they’re non-GMO, and organic and prepare them traditionally).
HERB TEAS: Winter warming and calming teas: *Cardamom, *Chamomile, *Cinnamon, *Cloves, *Ginger, *Orange Peel.
BEVERAGES: Alcohol (moderation), Black Tea (moderation), Coffee (moderation), Water (cool or at room temperature to help digestion).
Hygge yourself !
So… explore, experiment, notice what you’re craving and how you feel with the best of Nature’s winter table.
But most of all #getfoodwisdom and ‘hygge yourself’ with winter foods, cosy environments, relaxing activities and conviviality. Slow down, conserve your winter ‘femergy’ and enjoy the moments as well as the season. Spring is waiting… and it’s just around the corner!