Spring Foods Make Those Gut Critters Happy!
‘Spring’ foods do a body good! The ancient life-sciences and traditional societies knew that it does a body good to eat seasonally and modern science may just be catching up! Our gut microbes are smart and demanding critters and we need to keep up! Ever wondered why we call Nature’s regenerative season ‘Spring’?!
*This post was first published in May 2016 & has been updated today*
(Image credit: Oprah)
Spring Foods: Eating and living seasonally: April-June
Eating (and living) seasonally is more than just taking advantage of whatever produce happens to be available at the time. Just as there is no ‘one-diet-fits-all’ (we’ll come to this below) there are foods for different seasons – foods which yield their optimum nutritional potential when eaten in season. When we adjust our diet and lifestyle to each season, not only do we benefit from this potential, but our health-promoting digestive microbes dramatically change too! Mother Nature provides seasonal Spring foods by way of dietary regeneration and renewal and our Spring microbes support our balanced immunity, digestion, congestion, mood, energy, blood sugar, weight, sleep.
Gut microbes are smart cookies – are we keeping up? Or are we making the mistake of sticking to our ‘holed-up-for-Winter’ diet and lifestyle, instead of changing our daily habits to embrace Spring and promote our ‘renewal’?
Gut bugs love Spring Foods – high maintenance little critters!
We’re hearing more and more about the role our gut microbiome plays in determining our health: did you know that, genetically, we’re more bacterial than we are human? Yes – incredibly, it turns out that we have many times more bacterial genes than we have human ones.
In fact, we’ve so closely co-evolved with our microbes (and they’re not just in our gut, we literally co-exist with them!) that some would say that our body is just a ‘hot house’ for our microbial ‘masters’, giving them a very comfortable home from which to orchestrate EVERY aspect of our physical and mental health.
Our gut microbes really are smart and very demanding critters: they insist that we consume the foods which not only nourish us, but allow them to thrive too! And that really does mean eating seasonally (in this case, Spring foods) for optimum nutrition, not just because it’s ‘trendy’. And if we don’t toe the line, they make their displeasure obvious; Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, held that all diseases start in the gut and it’s so exciting that modern nutritional science (and our emerging understanding of the human microbiome) is showing him to be right on the money!
In nature, the Spring season is associated with growth, regeneration & renewal and despite our growing separation from nature, we ‘modern’ folks are as just as deeply affected by this transition as our ancestors were – we’ve just lost the wisdom to recognise it. Physiologically, our body’s ancient wisdom senses a natural opportunity for a fresh, clean start.
In Spring, we feel dialled-up, literally, to lighten up, cleanse and rejuvenate!
In keeping with the natural world around us, we emerge from our Winter slumber (the long cold months of hibernating indoors, conserving our energy) to experience a sense of renewal and inspiration. No prizes for guessing why ‘Spring’ is so called!
Winter > Spring transitions for balance
It’s common for us to experience the transition from Winter to Spring somatically – with colds, coughs, flu, allergies, congestion, fatigue, depression and weight gain. Since we now know (or should) that food is our best and first medicine, after a typical diet of the heavier, denser, sustaining soups, casseroles, stews & ‘comfort’ foods that we crave throughout the winter months, in Spring we get the urge for foods (and activities) that are light, dry and warm. It’s called ‘balance’.
To the old school (aka those with traditional food wisdom and the followers of ancient life-sciences, like Ayurveda) this makes perfect sense.
“The concept of ‘food as medicine’ is rooted in our most ancient of healing traditions, including Greek, Indian and Chinese medicine. If we consider the anthropological evidence it is very likely that our hunter-gatherer ancestors learned about medicinal herbs by observing wild animals deliberately eating certain plants in their diet as a way to treat different health issues. For all of nature and throughout the history of medicine there has never been any real separation between food and medicine.”
Back in the day, transitioning to a diet to reflect the incoming season was done intuitively. But now, we tend to hang our dietary hook on dogma, the latest trend, or what we’ve stoically believed to be a ‘healthy’ diet. We forget that, as smart as we think we are, we are an inextricable part of this planet and its natural cycles – and that goes for our food too!
Mother Nature has absolutely seen to it that our planet provides us with foods which will best nourish us (and our clever little critters) for each and every season; we just need to re-learn Her wisdom, follow our intuition and reconnect with our body and with Spring foods!
Are we eating ‘intuitively’?
Interestingly, the concept of ‘Intuitive Eating’ is gaining ground in contemporary nutrition circles.
“Intuitive eating is a nutritional philosophy based on the premise that becoming more attuned to the body’s natural hunger signals is a more effective way to attain a healthy weight, rather than keeping track of the amounts of energy and fats in foods. It’s a process that is intended to create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body …” (Wikipedia)
Steven Hawks, an early researcher in the intuitive eating movement, claims the underlying philosophies of intuitive eating are thousands of years old and exist in most eastern and some western religions. Intuitive eating is designed to be a “common sense, hunger-based approach to eating,” where participants are encouraged to eat when and only when their body tells them it is hungry.
Although here, the term ‘intuitive’ is being applied to the field of disordered eating and weight control, it’s not difficult to see how it can be equally applied to following our intuition and choosing nutritionally-dense, seasonal foods.
And, although the whole concept may at first seem to be grounded in ancestral and traditional approaches to nutrition, it’s also not difficult to see how it may also play a part in informing our understanding of a new-kid-on-the-block… the emerging field of Personalised Nutrition…
We’re WIRED to eat!
Robb Wolf is a former research biochemist, strength & conditioning coach, ancestral diet expert and leading light in the U.S. Palaeo movement. Frustrated by his own chronic health issues and by a system of health research which produced constantly changing dietary recommendations in response to politics, lobbying and the media, Robb put pen to paper in 2010, to set out an ‘ancestral’ template for optimising performance, health and longevity – The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet. Many thousands have since benefited by changing the way they eat, but nothing stands still…
Since then, his personal & professional experience and subsequent involvement with Personalised Nutrition, has led Robb to the conclusion that no one-size-diet-fits-all.
Yes, this is the mantra you’ve heard me repeat, tirelessly, because it’s absolutely TRUE!
Robb puts forward a detailed explanation and personalised approach in his new book Wired to Eat.
“When we look at optimal nutrition from the perspective of Personalised Nutrition, it’s no wonder the macronutrient wars have raged for so long! There are people who do far better on lower-carb, higher-fat diets and other people who excel on higher-carb, lower fat programmes. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that ‘a calorie is a calorie’… this is not the case. Most of [the] variability can be ascribed to differences in the gut microbiome. Junk-foods companies make their money by exploiting our evolutionary wiring which compels us to seek out new foods and flavours while spending as little time and effort as possible… understand the rules of this game [and] you can be winners instead of unwitting victims of our modern junk food catastrophe.”
Ancient Wisdom + Modern Science: A growing rapprochement!
For me, Ayurveda, Intuitive Eating and Personalised Nutrition are in no way worlds apart & any prospect of a rapprochement of ancient & traditional food wisdom and modern, sound science brings music to my ears!
So without further ado, let’s look at some Spring ‘fixes’ for more ‘femmergy’, vitality and health…
Spring LIFESTYLE fixes (do these daily)
- Dry skin brush: no, it’s not cosmetic nonsense; the gently exfoliating action powerfully stimulates lymphatic drainage to get rid of accumulated winter toxins by increasing blood circulation and promoting lymph flow & drainage – particularly beneficial as our lymphatic system has no ‘pump’. It also stimulates the nervous system, which can make you feel feel invigorated after brushing.
- 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!
- Sit still for 1 minute: don’t do anything else, just BE. Oh… and be quiet.
- Exercise earlier in the day: take advantage of the lighter Spring mornings to exercise or just move your body, to increase circulation, mood and immunity, earlier in the day – between 6am and 10am.
- Spend time outside: reconnect with nature as often as possible. This is a no-brainer.
Spring FOOD fixes (LISTEN to your body – this takes practise – choose what appeals and eat regularly)
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 Spring foods. Remember that no ‘one-size’ fits all and that includes you!
Any food marked with an asterisk (*) flags a ‘best-bet’ for a Spring 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 Spring foods with tastes that are pungent (spicy), bitter, astringent (these increase metabolism – a good thing in Spring!) and prepare them in a way that’s light, dry and warm: well-steamed veggies, brothy soups, rice (after all, it’s not Summer quite yet!).
- CHOOSE FEWER foods that are sweet, sour, salty, heavy, cold, oily: like fried foods, ice cream, heavy dairy, heavy grains and breads (all more strongly associated with Winter).
This list isn’t comprehensive, so if a food isn’t listed just taste it. If it has two of the three Spring ‘tastes’ above (i.e. pungent/spicy, bitter, astringent), it’s balancing. And prepare it in a way that is light, dry and/or warm.
- VEGETABLES: *Asparagus, Beets, *Bell Peppers, Broccoli, *Cabbage, *Carrots, *Cauliflower, *Celery, *Chilli, *Collard Greens, *Corn, *Dandelion, Fennel, *Garlic, Ginger, *Green, Beans, *Hot Peppers, *Kale, Leeks, *Lettuce, *Mushrooms, *Mustard Greens, *Onions, *Parsley, *Peas, *Potatoes, baked *Radishes, *Spinach, *Swiss Chard, Watercress. (Make sure veggies are well cooked – unless they’re fermented – for easy digestion and served with a little butter or olive oil, for better absorption of nutrients).
- FRUITS: Apples, *Dried Fruit (all), Lemon, Limes, Papayas, Pears, Pomegranates (sour), All Berries – Fruit fibres that hang around in your stomach ferment quickly. If your digestion is weak, then eat fruits before eating other foods, or eat them separately (away) from other foods. (Fruits are an easily digestible way of getting energy into cells to fuel an increased Spring metabolism).
- DAIRY: Choose unpasteurised dairy if you can. Ghee (moderation) yogurt (moderation) *Goat milk *moderate fattier cow’s milk and its products. (If you can tolerate it, dairy is an extremely nutrient-dense food and an easily digestible source of energy).
- OILS: Coconut Oil, Olive oil (in moderation).
- SWEETENERS: natural whole foods sweeteners, in moderation: *Raw Honey, Raw Maple Syrup, Molasses.
- SPICES: Anise, Asafoetida, Basil, Bay Leaf, *Black Pepper, Chamomile, Caraway, Cardamom, *Cayenne, Cinnamon, *Clove, Coriander, Cumin, Dill, Fennel, Fenugreek, Garlic, Ginger, Horseradish, Marjoram, Mustard, Nutmeg, Oregano, Peppermint, Poppy Seeds, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Spearmint, Thyme, Turmeric. (Herbs and spices are, by weight, some of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet – use them daily!)
- LEGUMES: UNPROCESSED, PROPERLY PREPARED *All Sprouted Beans, Adzuki, Black Gram, Chickpeas, Fava, *Kidney, *Lentils, *Lima, *Mung, Split Peas. (All can make a contribution to a nutrient-dense diet BUT they do have inherent drawbacks. If you choose to eat them regularly, take the trouble to prepare them traditionally to avoid digestive distress and collateral health issues).
- GRASS-FED BEEF & WILD FISH: Chicken, Duck (moderation), Eggs (moderation), Freshwater fish, Lamb (moderation)
- GRAINS: WHOLE, UNPROCESSED, PROPERLY PREPARED (soaking, sprouting or fermenting) Amaranth, Barley, Buckwheat, Corn Long Grain Rice, Rye, Alfalfa. (If you can tolerate them and choose to eat them, make absolutely sure they’re non-GMO, and organic and, as for legumes, prepare them traditionally).
- HERB TEAS: *Cardamom *Chicory *Cinnamon *Cloves *Dandelion *Ginger *Hibiscus *Orange Peel *Strawberry Leaf.
- BEVERAGES: Black Tea (moderation) Coffee (moderation) Water (at room temperature to hot to help digestion).
So, explore, experiment, notice what you’re craving and how you feel with best of Nature’s Spring table.
But most of all, eat Spring foods in Spring and enjoy more ‘femmergy’, vitality and health!
If what you’ve read here has raised issues for you, please feel free to contact me for a chat.
There’ll be no strings, just a friendly, caring and listening ear ♥
Great subject – it’s an area where my own knowledge is lacking and an area that isn’t discussed as often as it should be! It’s a no brainer – other mammals are so blatantly affected by seasonal change yet we kind of just ignore it. Yet surely we are as innately attuned to the seasons and surely they affect us biologically because of that. Love the stat about bacteria too – crazy!
It IS crazy, isn’t it? When it comes right down to it, we humans are just a bunch of Bug Critter Hotels and the sooner we start giving our guests good customer service, the better of we’ll all be!!
As always well written and well researched. It is sure great to read about spring in a way connected to our heritage not just that is is getting warmer now. A great piece of work.
Thanks Darryl – it’s so easy to make the assumption that the way we eat is now the only way. There’s so much to learn from simpler, older cultures and practises and I love it that science is confirming what our ancestors (all over the world) always knew!
I love that about intuitive eating – I’d never heard of it before but I think that’s what I do – I tend to rely less on designated mealtimes and just eat something when my body asks for it. Great tips and I’ll make a point to exercise a bit earlier in the day now, too. Great post!
Thanks Jo – sounds like your intuition is well tuned in; much better to listen to your body instead of following food ‘conventions.’
I’ve just been thinking about all this myself and it’s great to have a guide as to what are the good things to eat in particular at this time of year. Thank you! I found the article very interesting.
Thank you Annabelle!. There’ll be more to come like this for Summer, Autumn and Winter – each season has it’s special foods for a good reason!
It just makes so much sense to eat seasonal. Sadly with the big supermarkets and fruit and veg industry, most people don’t even know what veg and fruit is in season because we can have anything we want all year through. I love my local market with their seasonal veg, nothing nicer than arriving and seeing your favourite veg back on the shelf!
I agree – and local, seasonal fruit and veg actually has… flavour!!