The traditional health science of ayurveda teaches us that we should adjust our diets according to our personal constitutions, the seasons, and our stage of life. Essentially, making small changes to the foods you are eating can help you transition gracefully from summer to winter. During the fall season, nature is experiencing dramatic transformations: the bounty of harvest, the turning of the leaves, the plants and trees starting to prepare for their yearly cycle of dormancy. These changes involve the increase of the elements of air and space, while the fire of the summer season starts to dissipate and the temperatures drop. These elemental changes are also a part of our individual experiences. The energy and stamina of summer slowly fades away and is replaced with a need for more rest and less vigorous activity. If we ignore these cues and keep our hectic pace, we become more prone to stress and anxiety. Our immune system can weaken. A deep-seated fatigue or illness can start to manifest. For these reasons, fall is the season when you are most likely to fall seriously ill.
One of the gifts of ayurveda is that it not only describes this process, but it also gives us a roadmap of how to adjust to these changes and minimize the impacts on our body’s systems. One of the primary tools of ayurveda is the foods we choose to eat. By making small changes to our diets, we can greatly improve our physical and mental well-being. Since the fall is associated with air and space, we need to minimize foods that have high composition of these elements and instead emphasize foods with earth and water as their primary elements. So how do we know the elemental composition of the foods we eat? It’s easier than you think!
Air/Space Dominant Foods: Light, crisp, raw
Examples include crackers, chips, raw veggies, salads, popcorn
Earth/Water Dominant Foods: Heavy, dense, cooked
Examples include nuts, cooked grains, cooked veggies, soups, stews, casseroles
Through dietary adjustments, we can balance the air/space increases that are naturally occurring in the fall allowing us to maintain an optimal level of health. We naturally take advantage of the prevalence of fresh vegetables in the summer, many times incorporating more salads and raw foods into our diet. But as fall approaches, we need to transition to cooked foods. Excess air and space is associated with poor digestion and raw foods are harder to digest. Our cooking process is essentially a pre-digestion or breaking down of the foods which makes it easier on our digestion system. Anyone with poor digestion and nearly all of us in the fall need to emphasize cooks foods in our diet.
Another factor in the digestibility of foods is the hydro lipid content. One effect of excess air/space is dryness. You may notice your skin becoming drier, but this effect happens internally, as well. We need more warm fluids and healthy oils in our diet during the fall to maintain optimal hydro lipid balance in our systems. Each meal and snack should have a small amount of healthy fat. Following a very low fat or non-fat diet in the fall can lead to imbalances that contribute to increased anxiety, unexplained pain, dry skin, constipation, higher stress levels or a decreased ability to manage stress, nervous system disorders, and can also increase the symptoms of many other illnesses.
The best way to ensure you maintain a healthy diet for optimal well-being during the fall months is to shift your diet to emphasize cooked grains and veggies. Make stir-fry’s instead of salads. Vegetable soups with meat (if you eat it) or added cooking oils adds enough fat content to ensure digestibility. Cooked casseroles with grains, veggies, and legumes are satisfying and healthy. Personally, as soon as I feel that first hint of fall, I switch my breakfast to oatmeal loaded with nuts, raisins, dates, cinnamon, etc. This hearty breakfast calms the nerves and provides the earth element necessary to offset increasing air/space. If you must have a cold meal or snack during fall, at least have a hot cup of tea with it. Digestive teas such as ginger, licorice, or chai can be particularly beneficial.
Through a basic understanding of the principles of ayurveda, you can learn to make seasonal adjustments to your diet and lifestyle that support optimal health and wellness. Subtle changes in what you’re choosing to eat can have big impacts on how you feel on a daily basis. So the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or ill, break out the soup pot or crock pot and simmer up a batch of your favorite soup or stew. I guess Grandma was right…chicken soup is therapeutic to a cold – or even to avoiding one. In fact, so are vegetarian and/or vegan soups!
To get you started, here’s one of my favorite fall soups. This vegetarian recipe is a wonderful source of earth and water, and includes a variety of digestive spices perfect for a fall or winter day.
Curried Split Pea Soup
1 1/2 c. Dried Split Peas
5 1/2 c. Water or Veggie stock
2 T. Olive oil or Ghee
1 fresh hot pepper
1 t. ground cumin
1 t. ground coriander
1 t. turmeric
Salt and Black Pepper, to taste
Plain yogurt and cilantro (garnish)
Rinse the peas with cold water and drain. Bring the peas to a boil in the water. Add the oil and spices. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 hours or until cooked tender. If the soup is too thick, add more liquid. To serve, place a dollop of yogurt and cilantro leaves on top. Can be served warm in the fall or winter or cool in the summer.
Enjoy – and Be Well,
Heather Anastos, CAP