My family is a seasonal cliche. This spring, we went on a spring-cleaning frenzy and scrubbed out our garage, closets and pantry, giving away outgrown items and using up every can of beans and box of pasta we could. During the summer, we moved on to eating corn, tomatoes and watermelon almost every night, often staying up later than usual. And now that it is fall, we are gathered around college football games eating bowl after bowl of chili with scoop after scoop of guacamole on top.
There are scientific reasons for these seasonal platitudes, and it is no surprise that during each season nature provides us with the foods our bodies need for optimal health.
In the spring, people generally want to feel lighter after the heaviness of winter weather, sweaters and so much time indoors, so getting rid of unwanted items and reducing clutter is a no-brainer. The spring harvest brings us bitter greens such as arugula to detoxify our liver from the fats and heavier foods we ate all winter, also making us feel lighter.
In the summer, we are generally more active, spend more time outdoors, and enjoy an extra hour or two of daylight, so our bodies require the added energy we get from the natural carbohydrates and sugars found in summer fruits and vegetables such as corn, peas, peaches, cantaloupe and strawberries. We also need more water when the temperatures rise, so liquid-rich foods such as watermelon and cucumbers sustain us.
As we begin to feel the crisp, cool air of fall and winter, our bodies start to crave fewer raw salads and more cooked, warming foods such as soups, stews, meats and avocados. The fall harvest begins with an abundance of apples, which are high in fiber and pectin to help cleanse the intestines and support digestion, specifically the digestion of fat.
This makes sense, as a winter diet contains foods higher in fats and protein such as meats and nuts. The cold winter air and wind dries out the earth, and our bodies can become dry, too, a sensation we feel in our throats and sinuses. To counteract the drying effects of winter, we draw on nature’s high-protein, high-fat diet in the form of warm, heavy, oily foods that replenish our depleted moisture reserves. Bananas, avocados, beets, winter squash, nuts, meat, deep-sea fish and olive oil all help keep our bodies warm, moist and nourished. If we continue to eat only foods that are cooling to our bodies such as cucumbers, strawberries and melons, our sinuses can become unhealthily dry and more susceptible to colds and flus.
Ten ways to prepare and eat for the fall season:
1. If you didn’t jump on the spring-cleaning bandwagon, dig through your pantry and refrigerator and discard expired items. Make a list of pantry essentials, then take inventory to see what you have and what you need. If you are using an online meal-planning service, input your pantry inventory so you can keep track of it and regularly replenish it through automatic grocery lists.
2. You will probably use your oven a lot more often than you did in the summer, so clean it.
3. Gather recipes that are more appropriate for fall such as soups, stews, chilies, curries, root vegetables and heavier meats.
4. Shop at farmers markets to get a sense of what is in season. Based on these seasonal foods, begin tapering your intake of raw vegetables and broadening the variety of root vegetables you cook, such as beets, parsnips, carrots, butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Choose sweet, sour and heavy fruits such as oranges, bananas, avocados, grapefruit, pineapples and mangoes over berries and stone fruit. All of these vegetables and fruits are rich in vitamins A and C to boost immune health before the cold and flu season begins.
5. Use a variety of healthy fats such as coconut oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil and ghee. Snack on nuts and seeds.
6. Eat whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet and barley. They are full of dietary fiber for healthy digestion, iron for blood health, B vitamins for energy and the antioxidant vitamin E for cellular health.
7. Make a homemade, nutritious stock to use in soups, stews and sauces.
8. Add warming spices to your dishes such as ginger, cinnamon, cumin, cardamom, mustard seed, clove and fennel.
9. Add wintergreens such as Swiss chard, collards, kale and spinach to soups, smoothies and pasta dishes.
10. Hearten your smoothies by adding almond butter, raw cacao and hearty greens such as kale.
First published in The Washington Post on Thursday, October 5, 2017.