27 September 2012

Change of weather, change of diet? Maybe...

Fall is in the air, farmers markets are overflowing with the bounty of the harvest, and everything from coffee to seasonal restaurant menus have pumpkin and apple in them. With the weather change, should you also change up your diet, too? Before I researched this topic, I thought this question was redundant. After consulting a wide variety of sources, I learned that the answer isn’t as simple as I thought.

In this corner, those who advocate changing your diet with the change of weather:

1.) It’s important combat the depression that sets in with less sunlight
As the air begins to chill, the amount of sunlight we get each day is steadily decreasing. During winter (in the northern hemisphere), many people experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and the associated depression. The body’s craving for an increased stash of carbs during winter helps to keep that depression at bay.

In addition to a higher carb intake, eating a bit more fat in the winter also helps to absorb vitamin D, which is especially important during the months when we get less sunlight (a major source of vitamin D.) Increasing vitamin D absorption has also been shown to combat depression.

2.) Trust nature – what grows in the winter should be eaten in the winter
Chinese medicine purports that foods grown below ground (root vegetables) are warming foods and therefore it makes sense to consume them during the cold months of the year.

3.) Appropriately seasoned foods can give us the extra boost we need
Warming spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and curry provide us with the seasoning for many of our cold weather stews, soups, cereals, and teas. Incidentally, these spices also increase circulation and bolster our immune system – two things we need in the more sedentary winter months than we do in the summer months.

If we eat warming spices, our body experiences a brief spike in body temperature, something we certainly don’t need or want with sweltering temperatures outside. With spiking temps, we actually need to reduce our body’s temperature with more astringent spices and foods that are a bit more bland.

And in this corner, those who advocate for consistency in diet regardless of weather:

1.) Come cold or heat, liquid intake must remain high.
In the summer months, we are bombarded with messages to increase our liquid intake to avoid dehydration, heat stroke, etc. However, high liquid intake is equally important in the winter months because we are breathing air that is generally much drier and our indoor heating systems often deplete the moisture levels in our bodies. Crank up that humidifier and keep the liquids coming!

2.) Whole grains provide balancing benefits no matter what the season
Whether we’re skiing, shoveling snow, running, or swimming, the complex carbohydrates of whole grains provide us with much needed fuel for our activities and they help to regulate body temperature and moisture levels in the body. In addition, whole grains have hefty amounts of magnesium, nature’s great tranquilizer, which causes muscles and nerves to relax and bones to absorb more calcium. They are a necessary dietary component regardless of the thermometer says. 

3.) Always eat your greens
We need our greens for the immense amounts of calcium they contain. Calcium is key to helping us keep our body temperature on an even keel regardless of the weather outside.

Variety may be the spice of life, but consistency is the staple that holds it all together. Though it makes sense and feels good to vary our diets with the weather to eat more cooling foods in the summer and warming foods in the winter, there is still a fair amount of consistency in the foods we consume across seasons. Grains, greens, and high liquid intake are musts in all kinds of weather. Eat up, drink up, and enjoy the harvest!

The following articles were consulted to write this piece:

Christa Avampato is a product developer, freelance writer, and yoga and meditation teacher based in New York City. She blogs daily about the art of creative living at Christa In New York: Curating a Creative Life and is a health advisor for Good Greens, a gluten-free, raw & vegan protein bar.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons -- Kander