Eating in Season
I haven’t eaten meat since the mid-1980s when I heard The Smiths cry “Meat Is Murder” and rebelled against my butcher’s-daughter upbringing. Since then, I’ve drifted back and forth along the vegetarian continuum from pescatarian to vegan, but I’ve always avoided red meat and felt better for doing so—until recently. As fall morphed into winter, I was still eating the same fresh spinach salads that had energized me all through the previous summer. But as the seasons changed, I felt a shift in energy, mood, and focus that I immediately attributed to my first bout of seasonal affective disorder. My achy joints, insomnia, and weight gain? I chalked those up to my advancing age. No way they could have resulted from giving in to my strong cravings for potatoes, pasta, and chocolate. I even started yearning for red meat, after taking a pass on it for more than 25 years.
John Douillard, DC, PhD, director of LifeSpa, an ayurvedic retreat and treatment center in Boulder, Colorado, says the symptoms I’ve described are common among vegetarians who fail to eat enough protein and healthy fats in winter, when their bodies need these nutrients for energy and to keep warm. “If you do not get adequate amounts of protein and fat in winter, your body will start craving the wrong foods,” Douillard says. “Many vegetarians become addicted to sugar, carbs, and caffeine for the energy boost they’re not getting from a balanced diet.”
Carbs, caffeine, and sugar binges cause blood sugar spikes, which quickly plummet as the body pumps out insulin to meet the sudden demand. Douillard says glucose peaks and valleys like these lead to more cravings and crashes, leaving the body fatigued and unable to shed weight, because it stops burning fat and runs on glucose instead. Douillard advises eating more slow-burning foods in a winter diet that’s 40 percent protein, 30 percent fats, and 30 percent carbs—about half the carbs we take in from all those fresh fruits and veggies in the summer. In this context, my meat cravings make perfect sense—I needed more protein, which I could get as a vegetarian from tofu and tempeh, eggs, beans, nuts and nut butters, and quinoa.
Ayurveda assigns a dosha to each season. Vata governs the period from late fall through early winter, a time of drying cold temperatures and winds, which can contribute to a vata excess in the body, making us feel anxious, stressed, or restless. “To counterbalance these effects on your body and mind, follow a vata diet, no matter your dosha,” says Douillard. Foods that are heavy, oily, warming, moisturizing, sour, or salty are the antidote to a vata imbalance. Here are Douillard’s tips for following a vata diet in winter:
• Eat plenty of omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods, such as avocados, almonds, and flaxseeds, which lubricate dry skin and hair and stiff joints—and lift you out of a winter funk with their mood-boosting benefits.
• Skip the light, cold salads and choose heavier vegetables like sweet potatoes, winter squash, and beets.
• Eat more soups, broths, and herbal teas to stay hydrated.
• Add warming spices like ginger, black pepper, cardamom, and even salt to ease winter’s chill.
• Eat sour foods, such as pickles and citrus, to stimulate digestion.
Lauren Piscopo, a food and health writer living in Boulder, Colorado, is determined to eat in balance this winter and not give in to comfort-food cravings—except for a tiny bit of dark chocolate once in a while.