In Part One of Autumnal Shift—Supporting Your Body Through Seasonal Change I shared some of my favourite ways to help your body and mind adjust to the time change and winter months ahead. If you missed that you can READ IT HERE.
In Part Two of Autumnal Shift—Supporting Your Body Through Seasonal Change I am focusing more on the Dietary Shift for fall and tips on how to support your lymphatic system.
We instinctively shift our food preferences from the hydrating, water-rich foods of summer, to more dense, contractive foods of fall and winter. Think root vegetables and tubers, slow-cooked meats, nourishing broths, soups, and stews. As delectable as a juicy slice of watermelon is in July, it just doesn’t hold the same appeal in the depths of winter. We are accustomed to having a wide array of fruits and vegetables available to us any time of the year now, however, there is an innate wisdom in eating with the seasons.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, our food has energetic qualities of yin and yang. Yang foods are dense, warming, contractive foods. Yin is the expansive, cooling one. In the winter months, we crave the warming, (yang) easily digestible foods. We are typically expending much less energy, and digestion slows as a result. Well-cooked, soft foods are less taxing on our digestive system as a whole.
Our bodies are biologically hardwired to want to store fat in the colder months, as a way to survive through the lean times of available food our ancestors had to contend with. We often crave carbohydrate-rich, heavier, comforting foods. We live with so much abundance in the way we acquire our food now, expending very little effort to feed ourselves. No longer must we grow, preserve, and store food to last us through the harsh winter. With the click of a button, anything we desire will arrive at our doorstep, often to the detriment of our health.
In some individuals, the winter months can increase insulin resistance due to a lack of physical activity. Keep up a daily exercise regime, or find winter activities you enjoy! It is easy to become sedentary in the winter months. Getting outdoors and moving your body will not only help with maintaining your waistline, but it will also improve mood, and sleep quality as well!
Here are some of my favourite foods that I incorporate into my diet in the Fall and Winter. Not only are they nutrient-dense, and highly nourishing, they support healthy digestion and a robust immune system.
With its high collagen and gelatin content, bone broth is very soothing to our digestive tract. Bone broth contains the amino acid l-glutamine, which helps repair the intestinal lining. Broth can be used for more than just soups and stews—use it to braise vegetables and meats, as cooking liquid for preparing whole grains, or even sip on a mug as a comforting hot beverage.
Winter squash (pumpkin, butternut, acorn, Hubbard, delicata, kabocha, red Kuri, etc) is amazingly supportive for the spleen. Part of the immune system, our spleen works hard to filter and store blood and produces white blood cells, which are key for immunity! Squash is high in alpha and beta carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A, and is very high in soluble fiber that helps bulk up stool and aids in elimination. Squash stores for a very long time, making it a great ingredient to have in your winter pantry. And don’t throw away the seeds! All winter squash seeds can be roasted for a delicious, healthy snack.
Garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, chives, and scallions are not only delicious additions to just about any meal, but they contain flavonoids that help produce glutathione in the body. Glutathione is known as the “mother of all antioxidants, and every cell in our body uses it. Glutathione boosts immunity, protects your heart, and helps remove toxins. Onions and garlic are also high in fructans, which help promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, peppercorn, nutmeg, and cayenne are all warming spices to the body. They all boast anti-inflammatory qualities and have the ability to increase blood circulation and internal body temperature, literally warming you up from the inside during the chilly winter months.
Long gone are the sweet and tender lettuces of spring. Enter the hardy greens—kale, chard, endive, escarole, collard, radicchio, and mustard greens. These bitter greens help detoxify the liver and stimulate the production of bile, which in turn aids in digestion. These nutrient-dense greens are packed with fiber and antioxidants. Enjoy in salads, sauteed, steamed, or throw a handful in your bowl of soup.
Cold Water Fatty Fish
Omega 3 fatty acids are an essential building block of the brain. They are anti-inflammatory, improve mood, and protect against cognitive decline. Wild salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines are high in Omega 3s. Walnuts, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds are great plant-based sources of Omega 3. Incorporate more Omega 3-rich foods during winter to nourish skin, boost immunity, and help keep mood stable.
Root Vegetables and Tubers
Beets, carrots, potatoes, celery root, and fennel are all whole food sources of complex carbohydrates, which our body craves in winter. Complex carbohydrates are loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which take longer to digest, causing a slower rise in blood sugar. Full of prebiotic fiber that feeds the healthy bacteria in our gut. Happy bacteria means happy digestion and improved immunity!
Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, lacto fermented pickles, and miso are full of live cultures and beneficial bacteria. Our microbiome is home to trillions of microorganisms and these tiny creatures are linked to a host of health conditions from obesity to neurological diseases. We want to be populating the gut with as many ‘good guys’ as we can, and crowding out the troublemakers.
Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, bok choy all contain a phytochemical called indole-3 carbinol, a potent antioxidant that detoxifies the liver and intestines, balances hormones (namely, estrogen), and supports immune function.
Enjoy in abundance! All culinary herbs possess remarkable properties and add pizzazz to any meal. Thyme is a potent antibacterial herb, and excellent for relieving congestion; parsley is loaded with Vitamin K and is great for bone health and lowering blood pressure; cilantro binds to heavy metals and helps eliminate them from the body. The list goes on!
High in B vitamins, iron, selenium, zinc, magnesium, and vitamins A, D, E, K. Incorporating organ meat is essentially like taking a multivitamin! You can mix it into meatballs, pate, or freeze liver in bite-sized pieces and swallow if you don’t enjoy the taste.
Add more mushrooms to your diet. It is well established that mushrooms are masters at modulating the immune system. Medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, lion’s mane, chaga, and cordyceps are well-known adaptogens to help the body respond to stress. There are many products available, making it easy to integrate into your diet. To learn more about the benefits of mushrooms, check out a previous post I did HERE.
With colder weather comes an increase in colds and viruses. We are spending more time indoors, in close contact with others, and we want to ensure our immune system is operating at full capacity. As our gut houses approximately 70% of our immune system, we want to be feeding ourselves the most supportive foods possible.
Show Your Lymph Some Love
During this transitory period, supporting the lymphatic system is critically important. Part of the immune system produces and releases lymphocytes or white blood cells. White blood cells monitor and destroy foreign bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites. The lymphatic system is made up of lymphatic fluid, lymph nodes, lymphatic vessels, and collecting ducts. The spleen, thymus, tonsils, adenoids, bone marrow, Peyer’s patches (found in the lining of the gut), and appendix are all organs within the lymphatic system. It runs parallel to our circulatory system, but unlike the circulatory system that has the heart pumping blood through our vessels, the lymphatic system requires movement to pump lymph through the body, and prevent stagnation. Walking, running, and rebounding are great ways to get your lymph moving. Lymph helps retain proper fluid balance in organs and removes cellular waste.
Have you ever caught yourself shallow breathing? We often subconsciously shift into upper chest breathing when we are focused on a task, or under stress. This can lead to fatigue, respiratory issues, and even induce panic attacks! Diaphragmatic (or belly) breathing, engages the diaphragm (a dome-shaped muscle underneath the lungs) to help fill the lungs more deeply, while also promoting relaxation. The diaphragm creates a pumping mechanism that moves lymph to the cisterna chyli, which is one of your main lymph drainage points in the center of the abdomen, known as the thoracic duct. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, place your hand on your abdomen and breathe deeply. You want your abdomen to rise with inhalation, and fall with exhalation. It is easy to fall back into shallow breathing patterns, this is a great tool to utilize and check in with your body and breath.
Dry brushing is another way to stimulate lymphatic circulation and drainage. It involves using a dry brush, usually before showering. Starting at the extremities and always working towards the center of the body, use firm, short strokes. The goal of dry brushing is to move lymph to the torso and chest, where it will re-enter the bloodstream.
Lymphatic Drainage Daily Routine
Lymphatic drainage is a type of massage that stimulates the natural flow of lymph, to help remove waste from the body. The goal is to move fluid from tissues into the lymph nodes where bacteria and viruses are destroyed. The major lymph node areas of the body are: supraclavicular, upper cervical, pectoral, abdominal, inguinal, and posterior knees. Stimulating these areas with gentle pressure or vibration helps to activate the lymphatic system. Click HERE for step-by-step instructions.
On an energetic level, winter heralds a phase of inward reflection. This is a great time to take an honest look at habits that may no longer be serving you, release them, and make a plan of action moving forward.
Take time to check in with yourself, and focus on self-care, whatever that looks like for you. Spend time in nature, snuggle up with loved ones and read those books you haven’t had the time to get to. Go for walks with friends, sip hot tea, enroll in a course, learn a new skill, or take up that hobby that you’ve always wanted.
Maintaining social connections and community involvement throughout the darker months is imperative to our feelings of belonging and joy. It is easy to want to hibernate at home when the temperature drops, however, regular social interaction improves brain health, lightens the mood, and makes us happier!
When we surrender to the ebb and flow of seasonal transition, we honour the body’s wisdom and live aligned with the natural world. Embrace the change and delight in all pleasures the upcoming season has to offer!
2. Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription For Herbal Healing. Avery, 2002
3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKGrmY8OSHM Andrew Huberman Podcast