The month of January is when the qualities of the vata dosha are stronger: light, dry, airy, and cold.
Feeling dry? Can’t get enough water? Holiday-induced stress? Feeling achy? These are signs of excess vata.
To stay balanced, we want to focus on foods and activities that are warm, moist, heavy, and oily.
Eat balancing foods, such as soups, nuts, warm grains, and other high-fat and high-protein foods. When preparing your meals or ordering at a restaurant, ask yourself, “How can I make this meal more warm, moist, heavy, and/or oily?” A little extra drizzle of olive oil on your salad and veggies is always a good idea during winter.
Balancing activities could be enjoying a steam sauna, a nice sweaty workout session, warm oil self-massage (abhyanga), hot yoga, or a hot bath. It’s also very important to balance vata by keeping your head covered and warm during these winter months.
This month is our first step in aligning our desires with the foods that nature has provided each season for thousands of years. The newest research suggests that our gut microbes are meant to change seasonally with the foods we eat. Seasonal microbes optimize digestion, mood and immunity—the way Mother Nature intended.
Winter’s seasonal microbes are found in high-quality dairy, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, root vegetables, nut, and seeds.
Our hunter-gatherer, Paleolithic-era ancestors ate way more fiber compared to what we do today.1Here is a breakdown of the amount of fiber eaten per day:
- Hunter-gatherers: 100g
- Average American: 10–20g
- US Recommended Daily Allowance: 25–38g
Fiber is crucial, as it provides a ride for bile through the intestines and colon. Bile carries toxic cholesterol particles, environmental pollutants and a variety of other fat-soluble toxins that it picks up on its journey through the liver and intestines. Without adequate fiber, up to 94% of this toxic bile can be re-absorbed back to the liver and put back into circulation.2
The Best Fiber for Winter
Winter fiber is primarily soluble fiber or “slimy fiber,” as I like to call it. Think soaked flax seeds, soaked chia seeds, oatmeal, and other grains which, when cooked, become gooey. Oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, okra, and Brussels sprouts are all good in January. See the Winter Grocery List below for more ideas.
These foods are one of nature’s strategies to insulate the gut from the coldness and dryness of winter by soothing, warming, and lubricating the intestinal walls. So when the cold sets in, be sure to enjoy a warm bowl of oats and have a pot of lentils ready for dinner.
Slimy, soluble fiber does three very important things each winter:
- It insulates, soothes, and lubricates the intestines from the cold and dryness of winter.
- It escorts toxic bile to the toilet, forcing the liver to make fresh bile instead of reusing the old stuff (which can be recycled up to 17 times until the bile is finally excreted).3
- Most importantly, it provides a layer of slime that the microbes will feed on. While the winter microbes on your root veggies, fermented foods, and other organic foods love gobbling up the naturally-occurring dietary fiber, the real reason for winter slime is to feed the massive microbial surge that takes place each spring.
Many of the suggestions found in your seasonal guides will be in anticipation of the seasonal cycle of life ahead.
Every spring, the bugs in the soil start reproducing like crazy, and they swarm around the root vegetables. In early spring, it was traditional for thousands of years to dig up the surface roots (rhizomes) of burdock, dandelion, ginger, turmeric, goldenseal, and so many more to break the spring famine. The spring bugs that swarm on these roots repopulate our guts with a new stable of beneficial spring microbes—starting the new year off with a base platform for a healthy and diverse gut microbiome.
This winter, eat lots of soluble, slimy foods to feed your bugs in the upcoming spring!