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Staying healthy and nourished in winter

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

First snow is falling! Winter is spreading its cold fingers all over Europe. Winter may be the cosiest time of the year, but it can also be the hardest on your health. Make it a time to rest and nurture yourself!

Everything about the winter says, “slow,” yet our culture tends to speed up with all of the obligations and extra “to-do's”.

The body naturally adapts to the seasons. Although often, due to a fast-paced life or spending a lot of time indoors, our body falls behind and doesn’t adapt properly. This can make us more susceptible to feeling an overall energy drop or catching a cold or flu. The cold, gloomy weather and dry heat indoors can leave our skin & hair itchy and dry. The end-of-year rush and festivities can wear down even those with the hardiest of constitutions.

Slowing down

While for many people December is the busiest time of the year, we can witness nature going deep into a rest. Animals retreat inward and begin hibernation, and life on earth has slowed down so much that it almost appears lifeless. Not only nature, but also our bodies require cycles of activity and rest– daily and annually. When days are long, our metabolisms and energy levels amp up, Limited sun exposure and longer winter nights will impact our levels of hormones and leaving us more lethargic and sleepy.. So we too, should be “resting” by slowing down and getting more sleep, beginning in fall and especially in winter season. This initiates the process of building our energetic reserves as well as strengthening our immune system. So get inspired by nature and curl up by the fire or candlelight, go to bed early and rest, recover, contemplate, relax, read a good book, or meditate!

Eat warm, nourishing foods

Our bodies need different nutrients at different times of the year, which is why seasonal eating is such a useful tool to provide a graceful transition into winter. Something we all do intuitively is to eat more warm, nourishing foods. According to TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Ayurveda, it is important to avoid too many raw foods during winter because they tend to cool the body and can deplete its digestive “fire” — aka the ability to assimilate food. Instead, emphasize “warming” foods, and cook them longer at lower temperatures. Some good options include hearty soups, curries and stews with black beans, winter squash and pumpkin, steamed dark leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, root vegetables, walnuts, eggs, seaweeds and whole grains. We also need healthy fats such as organic cold-pressed olive oil, full fat dairy from grass-fed animals, ghee, cold pressed nut oils, the good old cod liver oil (high in vit D, A, and omega-3 fatty acids) or omega 3 algae supplement.

Nourish Your Body’s Key “Winter” Organs

According to TCM winter correlates to the element of water and influences the health of the kidneys, bladder, adrenal glands, bones, ears and teeth, The kidneys are the primary source of vitality (Root of Life), energy, and inner heat. Energy is drawn from this source during times of stress or when the body requires healing. During the cold seasons, it is vital to maintain healthy kidneys and adrenal glands through a nutrient-dense wholefood diet, good hydration (drink enough water, ideally at room temperature or hot!), and energetic practices such as Breathwork, Yoga, Tai Chi or Chi gong. To support these organs in winter you can do tapping with soft fists or the palm of the hands on the lower back and keep your lower back warmly covered (ever heard of a kidney warmer?)

Take vit D supplement and add winter fruits to your diet

So winter is a time to meet and greet the weather with optimized levels of vitamin D3 (60-70ng/mL or 150-175 nmol/L). There is a noticeable link between vitamin D deficiency and poor sleep (and weaker immunity!). Darker skies and bleaker weather can make you more vulnerable to having insufficient levels. Vitamin D deficiency has become such a problem in our areas that, during the winter months, all of us should consider taking vitamin D supplementation.

Some winter fruits are loaded with nutrients: citrus fruits, persimmon (high in vit A, vit C, manganese & antioxidants), cranberries, pomegranate (high in vit K, vit C, folate and contains tons of antioxidants (including flavonoids that are linked to cancer prevention, detoxification, heart health and more) and kiwi which is exceptionally high in vitamin C, with more than 100% of your daily needs in 1 small kiwi.

Spice up your foods and drinks

Cooking with warming spices like garlic, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper can also help boost circulation, modulate the immune system, reduce or eliminate mucus, promote sweating and detoxification, add antioxidants, and of course and valuable flavour to your wintertime meals! Drink a herbal tea, hot cocoa with cinnamon or a golden milk (warm up cow’s milk or any plant-based milk, add a pinch of turmeric and powdered cardamom or dry ginger), and fall asleep with a warm feeling in your belly.

Food is nature’s medicine. As fall and winter move in, embrace their gifts by slowing down and listening to your body.

Self-care practices for winter

Just 10 minutes of self-care practice, usually done in the morning before showering, is especially useful as a daily ritual during the winter months. Start with dry skin brushing (gentle strokes with a soft brush in the direction of your heart). The benefits of dry skin brushing are far greater than just exfoliating to remove dead skin. Dry skin brushing is a cheap, effective way to boost circulation and the lymphatic system. Or start the morning with abhyanga, an Ayuervedic ritual of self-massage with warm oil to penetrate the skin and lubricate the whole body (how to do the abhyanga). This is definitely one of my favourite winter routines as it feels soooo good!!

Embrace nature

Daily exposure to natural daylight is crucial for our body's natural rhythm, which is driven by nature. Every cell in our body vibrates at a frequency and is controlled by this sleep & wake cycle.

Don't let the harsh weather prevent you from going outside. A daily walk in nature will help to regulate your sleep patterns, to reduce stress, to improve your energy levels and to give your cells some much-needed extra oxygen and fresh air, a welcome change from stale and often unhealthy indoor air.

Each season presenting opportunities for transformation, healing, and growth. The winter season allows for deeper introspection and nourishment, so that our inspiration and intentions can develop internally before blossoming in the spring. Enjoy the wonders of this beautiful season of stillness, dress warm and go out, nature is waiting for you!

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