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Embracing the Health Benefits of Winter: A Season of Nourishment and Wellness

Updated: Oct 6, 2023

Introduction Winter, with its unique characteristics and distinct phases, provides an excellent opportunity to focus on our health and well-being. By understanding the two seasons of Indian winter, Hemant (early and soft winter) and Shishir (later and harsh winter), we can make the most of this time to travel, enjoy delicious food without many restrictions, nourish our bodies, improve our health and prepare for the changing seasons ahead. Phase 1: Early Winter (Hemant) During the period from mid-October to mid-December, the sun's rays start to fall tangentially, resulting the initial phase of Indian winter to set in. The days are shorter and nights are longer, the atmosphere gradually cools down. This season, known as Hemant, brings a pleasant coldness that results in a stronger digestive fire allowing us to indulge in delicious food. Diet Recommendations To maintain our body temperature and satisfy increased hunger in this cold atmosphere, our body requires more calories. During early winter, it is advisable to consume heavy, oily, sweet, and warm foods. The rationale behind including sweet foods is that they contain earth and water elements, making them heavier and more suitable for this season.

  1. Cereals: Choose heavier varieties of wheat such as roti, paratha, and puri instead of lighter breads like phulka/chapati. Sweet dishes made from wheat like daliya, sheera, and laddu provide additional calories and nourishment. Rice can be enjoyed by incorporating jaggery, oils, ghee, and coconut, turning it into heartier dishes like fried rice, pulav, biryani, sweet rice, or coconut rice. Adding a generous amount of cheese to pasta or olive oil to salads can also make them more substantial. Breads made from millets should be consumed with ample butter, ghee, and raw oils. Warm bajra (pearl millet) is preferable to cold sorghum.

  2. Pulses: While pulses are lighter than cereals due to lower fat content, they can be made winter-friendly by treating them with oils and ghee. Sweet dishes like Moong shira and moong ladoo, made by adding sugar/jaggery and ghee to pulses, are beneficial during this season.

  3. Vegetables: Mostly choose sweet vegetables for making subjis (curries). Regardless of the vegetable, it is preferable to cook them in a good amount of oil or ghee.

  4. Milk and Milk Products: In winter, all milk products can be enjoyed in larger quantities. Milk can be made thicker and heavier by cooking it longer and adding sugar/jaggery and dry fruits. Sweetmeats made from milk products are also beneficial during this season.

  5. Spices: Due to the already efficient digestive fire in winter, hot spices are not as necessary. Spices can be used sparingly for taste and to provide warmth. However, the dominance of sweet-tasting foods is crucial, while pungent-tasting foods are not necessary as they may exacerbate dryness.

  6. Fruits: Oilier fruits and nuts like guavas, black currants, figs, almonds, cashews, and pistachios are ideal for winter. These fruits provide more satiety compared to watery fruits, ensuring that you satisfy your hunger rather than merely filling your stomach.

  7. Water: Due to the reduced thirst in winter, excessive consumption of water or watery drinks can suppress hunger. Drinking water unnecessarily may hinder solid food intake, leading to insufficient calorie intake required to combat the cold weather. Also, if the body lacks sufficient oiliness, excessive water consumption may become necessary. Balancing water intake according to personal needs is essential.

  8. Oils: In winter, consuming a significant amount of oils becomes crucial as it helps combat the dryness caused by the cold weather. Oils have the unique ability to efficiently reduce dryness, making them essential during this season. While moisturizers are commonly used externally, consuming an ample amount of oil internally will nourish the body from within, including the skin and hair, reducing the reliance on topical moisturizers. In winter, it's common to find food products enriched with oils, butter, and ghee. This enrichment is necessary to provide the body with the lubrication it needs. Among the various oils available, sesame oil is considered the best for winter. It possesses natural warmth, high-quality oiliness, and is rich in minerals and vitamins. Ayurveda highly regards sesame oil for its exceptional qualities and recommends it for massages as well. Additionally, in Northern India, mustard oil is also used for cooking, as it offers more heat than sesame oil. As you move northward, winters become stronger and longer, requiring a higher intake of oils, ghee, cheese, dry fruits, and heavy foods. The cuisine in northern India is generally heavier compared to the mid and southern regions, providing more warmth and energy to combat the extended cold weather. Adapting our diet and lifestyle to the specific demands of each region's winter is crucial for maintaining good health.

Daily Routine In winter, increase your calorie intake with two to three meals a day. Start your day with a substantial breakfast, followed by a heavy lunch and a moderately heavy dinner. Engage in vigorous exercise to build long-lasting energy. Avoid lengthy afternoon naps and opt for a brief half-hour nap instead. Regularly indulge in oil massages and hot water baths to enhance your body's strength. Remember to schedule these activities on an empty stomach, avoiding them after heavy meals. Stay warm by wearing cozy clothing and keeping your house well-heated. If you have the opportunity, take advantage of sunbathing to further benefit from the winter season. Phase 2: Late Winter (Shishir) From mid-December to mid-February, the second part of Indian winter, known as Shishir or autumn, takes place. During this season, the weather becomes harsh and less pleasant. The trees shed their leaves, hence this time is also known as fall. The dry winds exacerbate the dryness, which affects our skin and lips. To combat the increased dryness and coldness during this time, it is important to follow the guidelines more diligently. Increase the use of oils and ghee in cooking, and prioritize regular massaging. Additionally, incorporate warm food items such as jaggery, sesame seeds, and fenugreek into your diet, as they help to counter the cold weather.

Conclusion By understanding the distinct phases of winter and their effects on our bodies, we can make informed dietary choices that promote nourishment, warmth, and overall well-being. Remember, these recommendations are general guidelines, and individual preferences and dietary needs may vary. Embrace the unique opportunities offered by winter and savor the season with a diet that supports your health and vitality.

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