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"Maintaining Our Health in Winter" by Micki Visten, published February 2005

Icy winds are blowing and the snow is falling in New England. Winter is officially upon us, with the cold and flu season following close behind. It is the time of year when we must balance our work and family, find time to enjoy the snow, and maintain our health against the vigor of this year's cold and flu virus.

One way we can learn to support our health through the changing seasons is to look at the techniques used by some of the ancient healing traditions. Both Ayurveda, of India, and traditional Chinese medicine illustrate a distinct connection between the seasons, the diet, and an individual's health and vitality. This means that as the seasons change not only does the availability of certain foods change, but so do the needs of our bodies.
Part of the foundation of Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine is the concept of energetics. In its most basic form this means that in every season and every food, drink, and spice there is a constitutional energy such as hot, cold, dry, or damp. Health is achieved when a balance is created between these energies and a person is neither too hot, too cold, or too dry or damp.

In winter the air is cold and dry and the wind can to drive the chill straight into your bones. According to Ayurvedic tradition, this would mean that the dietary needs for the winter season are for those foods and spices that are hearty, warming, and nourishing, and that also encourage circulation. It is thought that by maintaining warmth in the body the cold elements within nature will not be allowed to enter the organs and cause illness by creating an imbalance between hot and cold.

The following list of foods can be combined into nutritious and warming meals for the cold season ahead.

Brown rice, Kidney beans, Carrots, String beans, Quinoa, Lentils, All green vegetables, Mushrooms, Amaranth, Split peas, Potatoes, Peas, Whole oats, Chickpeas, Beets, Turnips, Barley, Garlic, Winter squash, Wheat berries, Spinach, Onions

Dishes prepared during the fall and winter should be cooked, with cold salads taken only in moderation. Baking, steaming and sautéing will add warmth to the food.
Many of the spices that we are familiar with today for flavoring food were used historically for health, and to balance one's energy. Several common spices work wonders at keeping our bodies warm and our circulation strong.

Ginger, Cloves, Turmeric, curry (blend/masala), Cardamom, Nutmeg, Fenugreek, Garam masala, Cinnamon, Allspice, Black Pepper

Even our beverages should be warming in nature during cold weather. Instead of having a cool glass of water before heading out to shovel snow it is a better idea to have a mug full of your favorite hot beverage, especially spiced herbal teas.

As we begin thinking about how to maintain our health and incorporate these ideas of a more seasonal diet into daily life it is best to keep things simple. Many of these foods are already in our cupboards and spice racks, so it is not necessary to completely change our menus and replace them with only unfamiliar and exotic cuisine. That hot bowl of oatmeal, steaming with sweet smells of maple syrup, and spicy with dashes of cinnamon and ginger, has been keeping children and adults alike warm and strong for generations. And perhaps one of North America's best traditions for cold weather is the steaming mug of spiced apple cider. So consider this the time to bring up those winter squash and root vegetables stored in the cellar and turn them into a bubbling pot of hearty stew. Combine that with some whole grains and you have a perfect wintertime dinner. The possibilities for delicious, warming and nutritious meals are practically endless.

For more information on seasonal diets, nutrition, good food as medicine, and eastern healing traditions the following resources are highly recommended:

Johari, Harish. The Healing Cuisine. Rochester, VT. Healing Arts Press. 1994.
Tierra, Leslie. The Herbs of Life. Freedom, CA. The Crossing Press. 1997.
Tierra, Michael. Planetary Herbology. Twin Lakes, WI. Lotus Press. 1989.
Tiwari, Maya. A Life of Balance. Rochester, VT. Healing Arts Press. 1995.

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