March Mindfulness: Springtime Nutrition

herbs in the table, springtime nutrition

As I continue to think about preparing for spring after the last blog post about spring cleaning, I’m also making an intention to be cognizant of my other lifestyle practices and how they are impacted by new seasons as well. Over the years, I’ve found answers on how to live in harmony with the seasons through Ayurveda and seasonal eating. Ayurveda is the sanskrit word for “The Science of Life”, and within this science, I find many helpful guidelines for living in tune with the seasons.

The weather is warming up, storms and bouts of rain are increasingly frequent, and everything is starting to bloom. Nature is in flux. One of the ways I too am allowing myself to adjust to spring, is with a focus on preparing my meals and consuming in a way that helps to optimize health.

Seasonal Eating

Seasonal eating is simply eating local fresh fruits and vegetables that grow and are harvested in your current season. Modernity has given us the ability to enjoy seasonal goods year-round because of preservation and new farming techniques. However, seasonal eating is preferable when you strive to live in alignment with nature and in many other ways as well.

Crops eaten in-season have optimal flavor and nutrients because they are allowed to ripen naturally and fully and do not have to be preserved and transported as much as out-of-season crops. Seasonal eating also benefits local farmers and businesses since you’re eating fresh and sourcing locally. We are blessed here in Louisville Kentucky to have many farmers markets, making it easy to support our local farmers and get produce that is typically picked just the day before, if not the day you bring it home with you.

Even if you don’t have a farmers market that you can depend on for your fresh fruits and vegetables of the season, you can still shift your focus to buying what is in season (and preferably locally grown) in your neighborhood grocery store. Do you need some help getting started? 

Growing guide is a seasonal food guide that tells you what is in season for your chosen location and time period.

You can find your local Community Supported Agriculture Program here to find local farmers and farmers markets.

seasonal eating

Eating for your Dosha

Seasonal eating is a component in the Ayurvedic concept of doshas. Doshas are how balance of the mind, body, and spirit are manifested in the body. Being aware of your doshas and intentionally working to nourish and balance them serves toward the holistic aspect of Ayurveda to increase overall health. Each dosha is fulfilled by different foods, herbs, and behaviors, so seasonal eating can influence how you eat for your dosha. Most people have a prominent dosha among the three, and you can take a quiz to find yours here and you can find more information about Ayurveda here.

Internal Cleansing

Spring is also often thought to be an ideal time of year to do some type of detox, fast or cleanse. Just as nature brings strong winds and heavy rains, washing away the debris and decay from winter while supporting the surge of growth in new shoots, so too can we take steps to wipe the slate clean, start fresh and support new beginnings. I have fasted and used different methods of detoxing over the years. However, I have come to prefer an easier and more gentle approach to cleansing internally. And I’ve found that by keeping it easy, I’m a lot more likely not only to make it happen but also to be more successful in carrying it through. 

In last week’s weekly newsletter email to the Kula I mentioned how you can support an internal cleanse of your system simply by striving to including certain flavors in your food choices this time of year. (Not yet a member of our community? You can click here to join the Kula and get little extras such as the pretty little pdf list of What to Eat in Spring. This could be placed somewhere as a reminder of what foods to seek to fill your kitchen with this season.) In general, you’ll want to seek out three flavors for springtime:

  • Bitter - foods such as Arugula and dark, leafy greens such as Kale

  • Astringent - foods such as Grapefruit, Apples, Pears or Artichokes

  • Spicy/Pungent - foods such as Radishes, Chilis and herbs

Bitter foods are instrumental in detoxifying by helping purify and bring chemical balance to the blood. Bitter tasting foods encourage the function of the liver and stimulate the production of bile, which is critical for digestion and breaking down fat.

Astringent foods help remove excess moisture, scrape fat, and cleanse mucus membranes. These qualities also make them very effective at assisting in the removing of bodily wastes.

Spicy and pungent foods can help speed up a sluggish digestive system, improve elimination and move toxins through and out of the body.

Eating for Liver Support

Traditional Chinese Medicine places an emphasis on the liver in the spring. This is the organ tasked with controlling the flow of our Qi, or life-force energy, allowing it to move freely through our system. When our Qi is flowing optimally, we will enjoy good health. Yet when stagnation of this life-force energy occurs, imbalances and sickness will surely follow. Symptoms of a sluggish liver include, but are not limited to: fatigue, constipation, bloating, belching, flatulence and hormonal imbalances. Each spring I like to begin including foods in my diet that support and nourish the liver, while cutting back on those that make this organ work harder.

A few foods that help promote good liver health include: coffee to lower abnormal liver enzymes, bitter greens and astringent foods for the reasons mentioned above in preventing fat build-up, as well as oats, avocados, berries and green tea. Foods with a good amount of fiber are helpful to the liver. And even though we want to limit the following in general, perhaps you could make a concerted effort to do so this time of year to give your liver a little extra support and love:

  • Heavy, greasy foods

  • Sugar

  • Caffeine (though coffee can be shown to have some benefits for liver health)

  • Alcohol

And one more liver healthy tip - remember to hydrate by drinking plenty of water. This is one of the easiest and best methods of supporting your liver, as it helps move toxins through and out of your body more efficiently.

fresh vegetables from local farmers

How Mindful Preparation can Help

In addition to being intentional about what food we eat, I have also found that being intentional in my preparation of certain foods can impact the taste and overall eating experience. For instance, when I make kale for a salad, I’ve learned that when I massage it and take care to work the leaves, it tastes less bitter and acidic while still having its distinct flavor. Quite frankly, I didn’t even like fresh raw kale until I tried this.

I also notice a difference in my garlic when I chop it rather than using a press or pre-chopped garlic—freshly chopped garlic produces a different flavor that permeates and combines with other ingredients when I let it brown in a skillet before adding anything else. Fruits and vegetables are more flavor and nutrient-rich when you leave on as much skin/peel as possible in the preparation process. 

To implement mindfulness into food preparation, I try to remember to also use this as a time to practice gratitude. I’m sure I am not alone in finding that many meals are thrown together quickly, particularly when I’m just making something for myself or am very focused on accomplishing what is on my task list for the day. However, when I do take the time to slow down and be mindful in the process, the reward is a calm sense of being and happiness through a greater appreciation of the food itself , how it will nourish me, and everything that had to take place to bring it to my plate.

Eating and cooking can become so routine that we can forget to enjoy it, savor it, and appreciate it. Food sustains us—being attentive to meals and food prep can increase our happiness and satisfaction physically, when we eat it and it tastes good, and mentally, by being proud of the results of our effort. These pleasant feelings can also aid in the digestive process, in turn leading to more vibrant health and well being.

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