During Autumn the leaves change color and seem to create a blanket on the ground, as if warming mother earth. As the seasons change, we change our clothing, activities, and even our clocks! Our bodies change in an effort to adapt and prepare us for this month and the months ahead. We tend to want to slow down to replenish and restore after a high energy summer. We seek to replace moisture which was used up during the heat of the summer and is absent in our current, cooler environment. Our instincts lead us to put on heavier clothing, seek warm foods and drink, and rest.
Ayurveda teaches us to follow our seasonal intuition. During late fall and winter our metabolism shifts, and this shift relates to the foods available to us in our region. Heavier foods such as root vegetables, grains, meats and fowl are what this season has to offer. They are loaded with protein and act as an antidote to winter. Proteins are the building blocks for the body and offer essential nutrients fo strength, immunity and skin. Proteins burn slowly, and therefore are heavy and calming to the body. Cooked grains such as barley, oats, wheat, rice and rye provide protein and essential fatty acids with an adequate carbohydrate energy base to combat the cold and dryness of the season. In addition, the fats nourish the nervous and reproductive systems and moisten the mucous membranes of the internal body. This season’s vegetables provide minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc, and are excellent sources of fiber, which aid in the cleansing of the digestive tract for the winter. All of these foods, along with Vitamin D, sustain us over the long cold months when the high energy fruits and summer vegetables are not available.
Our metabolism, or digestive fire, is strong in the winter, keeping our heat close to our core. It needs to be fueled properly. John Douillard, founder of LifeSpa.com and an Ayurvedic expert states, “In winter, or vata season, from November to February, you want to eat more of higher protein and higher fat foods which are dense and offer protection for the body. We are supposed to gain a pound or two in winter as part of our insulation.”
What better way to get warmth, protein, vitamins and minerals without adding unnecessary bulk to our bodies, than in a bowl of soup? Soup is easy to make, easy to take in a thermos to work, and easy to digest, since the cooking process breaks down food so agni (digestive fire) does not have to work so hard. Remember, the body is also manufacturing energy to stay warm against the elements, so eating cooked food over cold or raw puts less stress on it.
Here are some facts about soup:
- Good for health – it is easy to get vegetables in your diet. Vegetables are important in the digestive process because they carry the minerals and vitamins we need which are absorbed through the intestines. Soups have almost a 50% value for vitamin A and more than 10% of the daily value for selenium and potassium.
- Soups help you to lose weight while getting necessary fluid intake. Have a bowl of soup in the evening for supper, during the kapha time of day when digestion wanes, and you will feel nourished without the high caloric intake of a heavy meal. A broth based soup is low in energy density meaning it has relatively few calories per gram. Cream or cheese based soups will be higher in fat and calories.
- Soups are affordable to make. Vegetables come in bunches, and if you add meat, beans or chicken and a grain such as barley, the meal will go a long way.
- You will feel full. The high water content stretches the stomach, and will help you avoid hunger cravings which often lead to snacking on foods that are not nutritional.
- Soups make you feel better, warm, nurtured and nourished. When you hold a bowl of soup in your hands you feel the warmth radiate through them and up your arms. When your sense of smell inhales the aroma causing the steam to rise up your nose, your mouth will water and begin the digestive process. When you swallow your first spoonful you will feel warmth trickle from your throat all the way to your belly. A warm, nourished belly is a content one.
- Adding spices also has its benefits. Warming spices and herbs will help digestion. Cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, garlic, cardamom, cayenne, nutmeg, pepper, and cloves are all good choices.
In these times, due to our hectic schedules, cooking has become a burden rather than a ceremony of caring for the body. We should, however, try to make the effort, if not daily then weekly, to prepare soups from fresh ingredients. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov., 2011 states that, “… although good in a pinch, canned soups are not healthy. Regularly eating canned soups are one of the major sources of sodium in the American diet. Even reduced sodium soups have almost 20% of the DV for sodium. Also, regular eating of canned soup can increase your level of bisphenol A (BPA). This chemical has been known to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.” Stopping to get take-out soups may be ok once in a while, but these may be heavily salted or made from old produce, stock, or leftover meat, therefore lacking in the nutrients we are looking for.
The good news is that cooking fresh soup does not take a lot of time. They can be easily prepared, some in 15 minutes to a half hour, before or after work. I have chosen 5 to share with you. Just click on Recipes – Winter – in the bar above and find one to your liking, turn on music, and sing as you cut, stir, and season! Mangiare Bene! Achchha Khanna! Buen Provecho!