Eating with the Seasons in the Northwest: Autumn into Winter
by Judi Epstein, MSN, ARNP
The age-old principle of eating what is seasonally available helps us sustainably live in harmony with nature and keep our connection with the planet. Autumn is the season of the harvest when we gather the bountiful abundance of the Earth. Things begin to slow down in both the animal and plant kingdom as we move closer to winter.
As autumn gives way to winter and the weather cools, adjusting your diet to eat foods that are more heat-producing will help keep you in an optimal state of wellness. The days are getting shorter and many folks do less physical activity and burn fewer calories than in the more active summer months. Be mindful to balance the amount of food you take in with your energy expenditure, so that by spring you won’t have to work harder at breaking down surplus storage from wintertime overindul-gence. Here are some tips for staying warm and eating in harmony with the fall and winter seasons.
Complex carbohydrates of whole cooked grains burn well in the body as fuel and will produce the heat you need through the colder months. Millet, buckwheat, quinoa and amaranth are good body-heaters and are less starchy than other grains like wheat, barley, oats or rice.
Apples, pears and an assortment of berries are abundant from the summer and autumn harvests. These can be canned, frozen, or dried and stored for when fruit is not as readily available during the winter months. They are wonderful in crumbles, pies, sauces and compotes. In addition, it’s best to eat fruit warmed and avoid smoothies at this time, as it they may be too cooling for the body. When eating dried fruit, be mindful of the higher sugar content and avoid fruit with sulfur dioxide or other preservatives.
Eat plenty of local, seasonal veggies. They are stores of condensed sunlight, rich in complex carbohydrates which help to boost serotonin levels during the darker months of the year. There is a plethora of edible root veggies to choose from this time of year: brightly colored pumpkin and squash, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, parsnips, turnips, yams, potatoes, onions and garlic! Kale abounds through the autumn into the winter here in the Northwest, and is chock full of vitamins, fiber and minerals. Kale gets more flavorful as the temperature gets colder.
Pumpkins and winter squash are an excellent source of fiber and high in beta carotene, with a moderate amount of calcium, potassium, vitamin C and B vitamins. These store very well through the colder months and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
Root veggies are the most sustainable during the winter months and store well. These are rich in complex carbohydrates and subse-quently require a bit more digesting than other vegetables. Cooking root vegetables rather than eating them raw aids digestion and enhances their warming qualities. They can be steamed, roasted, mashed, or boiled in soups and stews.
Nourishing Roots and Bulbs
Garlic is a popular and pungent little bulb that possesses amazing qualities. It has decongestant and antimicrobial properties, works as blood purifier, and has been known to have cancer-fighting attributes.
Ginger root is another medicinal food with wonderful warming qualities that serve one well through the winter months. It has been known to improve morning and motion sickness, nausea, intestinal gas, indigestion, colds, as well as aches and pains.
Burdock is another lovely root that also has medicinal properties and is known to be a blood purifier. It can be added to soups, stews and stir-fry meals.
Carrots also are another powerful root. They contain a multitude of health-boosting properties and come in a wide variety of beautiful colors and flavors. They are high in vitamin A, biotin, vitamin K, potassium, vitamin C, copper, folate, thiamine, magnesium, molybdenum, manganese, niacin, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, vitamin E, phosphorus, and beta carotene (one of the phytonutrient antioxidants). Numerous research studies have shown that carrots offer support to cardio-vascular health, eye health and have documented anti-cancer properties. They are wonderful in soups, stews and roasted. When juicing with carrots, be aware they are higher in carbohydrates and natural sugars, and can be cooling to the body during the colder months. For these reasons, it is best to consume carrot juice in moderation.
Beets are another powerhouse of nutrition in both their greens as well as their roots. They are packed with lots of fiber and valuable phytonutrients including folate, vitamin B6, vitamin C, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper and rich in antioxidant beta carotene. They have also been shown to provide anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and detoxification support. Beets are a lovely addition to soups and stews and can be roasted or steamed.
Just as Mother Nature begins her resting season, over the next few months I encourage you to spend time in self-reflection, nurture your creative self, get to know your local farmers, and learn more about where your food comes from. As you tune into the local harvests during these cooler Northwest months, enjoy keeping warm and sharing some nourishing meals with family and friends.