Welcome to February! We would like to acknowledge that this is a CHALLENGE and may not always be the easiest to keep up with. Just do your best—your health and immunity will thank you. This time of year provides an excellent opportunity to expand your taste buds and take advantage of all the variety and flavors winter offers.
Local seasonal foods are not only good for your health, they’re easy on your wallet!
When produce is in season, the abundance of the crop usually makes it less expensive. Start monitoring what you spend at the grocery store—I think you’ll be surprised how much you save!
Amalaki is the dried version of the amla berry and because of its very sour, high vitamin C taste, sources suggest that it naturally preserves the vitamin C when drying and is better absorbed than others forms of vitamin C.
February is winter’s last push before spring thaw. It’s often the most difficult time to maintain healthy immunity, stamina, sleep, elimination, and a stable good mood.
How Nature Balances Vata Each Winter
According to Ayurveda, the three tastes that should predominate in winter to balance vata and stabilize the nervous system are sweet, salty, and sour. Most of us get more than our share of sweet and salty, but few get enough sour to stay warm, insulated, and thriving during winter months. Fall-harvested (and winter-eaten) nuts and grains are considered sweet in nature. Salt, as we all know, will melt snow and is therefore a perfect antidote to the winter’s cold. But how do we get enough sour?
Sour is not very common in this culture, and perhaps that’s why we insidiously become deficient in vitamin C during winter, since this is the vitamin C taste. One report found as much as 23% of the population depleted in vitamin C.1 Lemons are winter-harvested and loaded with vitamin C as are grapefruits (my third choice after limes) and oranges, but oranges have been hybridized to be too sweet.2
Squeezing a lemon on a salad, cooked veggies, your fish, or in your water or tea is a great regular habit to ensure you get the vitamin C you need to provide the antioxidant protection of your fat-soluble vitamins, in particular for your vitamin E.3
The Sour Winter Wonder Berry
Perhaps the most powerful berry in the world, which researchers have named “the wonder berry” is the amla fruit, aka Indian Gooseberry or amalaki (Emblica officinalis or Phyllanthus emblica). Depending where in India that amla tree is located the fruit is harvested between October and April and is considered a fall-winter berry, boasting 10-20x more vitamin C than an orange, and during a season when vitamin C is harder to come by!4-5Just one 500mg Amalaki capsulehas more than 200% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, according to one source.4-5 The amount of vitamin C in amalaki has been debated, so I wrote a fairly comprehensive article on the subject.
How Vitamin C Balances Vata
In the study mentioned above, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant protecting fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E and other delicate fats from being oxidized or going rancid. In the study, not only did vitamin C protect fats, it regenerated depleted vitamin E.1According to Ayurveda, fats balance vata and the nervous system, but good fats are easily damaged. Due to the importance of these fats, it is not a mistake that sources of vitamin C like lemons and amalaki are used to help balance vata—their sour vitamin C content protects good fats, maintaining vata balance in the winter. Winter-harvested fruits like lemons and winter-harvested berries like amalaki are nature’s solution to balancing vata during the winter months.
In addition to being a winter source of vitamin C, offering antioxidant protection for your fat soluble vitamins, and balancing weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and healthy cholesterol, amalaki is absolutely loaded with additional health- and immune-boosting benefits that are key for optimal winter health.
Boost Your Mood In February
Besides the risks of losing healthy fats, serotonin levels also drop during darker months, thought to contribute to the seasonal mood disorders. The number of hours of sunlight exposure each day is directly linked to the amount of brain-circulating BDNF and serotonin, which presents a real problem in the winter for those living above or below the equator.
According to Ayurveda, the extremes of each season accumulate at the end of the season. Late February is when we will see the accumulation of winter’s harsh cold and dry properties.
Finding the antidote to these extremes is key in February. I always suggest taking ashwagandha, an immune-boosting, sleep-promoting, endurance- and stamina-boosting winter herb that is warm, heavy, and sweet.
This month is the time for warm, heavy, and sweet foods. Sweet should come from nuts, grains, seeds, and some raw, hard cheese.
Vitamin D3 is also a main driver of immunity and, in February, after four months of less sun, the time to supplement is NOW.
Heavy, Warm, Insulating Foods
- Ghee is made up of butyric acid as its primary fat, and the microbes in the gut also make butyric acid! This fat is the primary fuel for colon cells, does the major driving of immunity, and feeds other good microbes throughout the intestines. Add to your soups and other dishes!
- Winter squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti) is rich in omega-3s and beta-carotene, which are important for a strong immune system. Winter squash is an easy seasonal vegetable because of its versatility and long-term storage qualities.
- Nuts and seeds are naturally high in protein and fat, providing much-needed insulation for these cold months. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids and minerals, which are also important to store each winter. In general, nuts are most balancing during winter.
- Animal proteins are very acidic in nature, driving high-quality proteins and fats deep into tissue storage sites. Acidity allows this to happen more efficiently than more alkaline plant-based proteins.
- Olive oil is loaded with antioxidant polyphenols, which support healthy cardiovascular function and winter insulation.
- Avocados are about 85% fat and harvested during the winter in warmer climates, making them the perfect winter fruit. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids as well as carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants.
Sweet, Sour, Salty Foods
These foods calm vata. When temperatures drop and cold aggravates our nervous systems, we become less able to handle stress, have more trouble sleeping, and experience more feelings of anxiety. We live in a vata-aggravated society, but fortunately, nature provides the antidote!
- Sweet: This does not mean sugar, treats, and desserts. Choose naturally sweet foods. Nourish the sweet taste with winter squash and root veggies like carrots and whole grains.
- Sour: Think lemons and pickles. These will strengthen and fire up digestion. Eat more sauerkraut and other fermented foods this season: the lactic acid wards off bad bacteria. Sour taste reflects acidity.
- Salty: These foods are warming and increase circulation. If you add salt to your food and want to know what kind of salt is best, please see my article Confused About Salt?
One of my favorite foods to add to my meals and drink as a warming tea during winter is ginger. It is called the “universal spice” because it balances all body types and has a host of health benefits. It’s a great agent for digestion, circulation, and thinning mucus. It has immune-building properties and creates a great environment for microbes to proliferate.
Organic is Best
Be mindful that if you don’t buy organic foods, pesticides and fertilizers will eradicate strains of beneficial microbes in the mouth and digestive system. The newest research tells us that gut microbial diversity (the presence of numerous strains of good bugs in the gut) and gut bacterial richness (microbial count) are the two most important criteria for determining optimal health, immunity, blood sugar, and weight.
If organic foods are not easy to find where you live, do your best. Wash all produce with vinegar and water to remove topical pesticides and remove peels. Relax and dine. Eat your food with love and gratitude.