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Natural Awakenings Northwest Florida

Ayurvedic Seasonal Eating: How to Balance Doshas With the Right Foods

Jun 28, 2024 06:30AM ● By Carrie Jackson
clock showing the seasons

PanareoFotografia from Getty Images 

Each season brings a unique bounty of fresh food to sustain and nourish us. A ripe tomato off the vine in the summer or a hearty winter squash stew highlights what the Earth naturally offers. Seasonal eating is a rhythmic approach that is more sustainable than relying on grocery-store staples and connects us to the world around us. Combining seasonal eating with the Ayurvedic concept of balancing our doshas helps to maintain harmony with nature. It also helps support local farmers, reduce carbon emissions, maximize the food’s nutritional value and nourish holistically.

 

The Fresher the Better

Seasonal eating is intuitive, but modern technology and busy lifestyles get in the way. “For thousands of years, people ate seasonally all the time, as there was no other option,” says Erin Casperson, director at Kripalu School of Ayurveda, a global leader in mindfulness education. “They trusted that each harvest gave us exactly what we needed to survive and thrive. It is only recently, with the development of refrigeration and modern transport, that we are able to access food from other areas of the world and store it for long periods of time.”

Eating local food when it is fresh not only helps to maximize the food’s nutritional value, it strengthens our connection to its origin. “From an Ayurvedic perspective, we look at the prana, or life force, in food,” explains Casperson. “Generally, the shorter it’s been off the plant, the more life, or nourishment, it will supply. When it’s treated with pesticides and sits in storage or refrigeration for days or weeks, it starts to lose that life force. Looking at a freshly picked strawberry, you can see the value it has. If I pick up a plastic box of spinach at the grocery store, there’s no connection. I have no idea how long it’s been traveling or what it’s been exposed to.”

Kadiatou Sibi, a board-certified Ayurvedic and reiki practitioner and founder of Los Angeles-based A Web of Wellness, recommends frequenting farmers markets, co-ops and grocery stores that offer locally grown food to maximize freshness. “Consuming foods during their harvest honors the natural cycle of the Earth. The crops are brighter, tastier and more nutritionally dense. Historically, it’s often women and families working in the fields. So, by purchasing food from a market, you are supporting often marginalized communities. Cultivating locally grown foods also helps to maintain the biodiversity of crops and prevents big corporations from taking over the land.”

Cutting out long-distance transportation doesn’t just increase the food’s freshness, it is better for the environment, too. “When we eat locally, we lower the carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions it takes to access the food. It also eliminates the need for pesticides and other harmful agents that make the food last longer,” Sibi explains.

Eating seasonally is a cornerstone of Ayurvedic practices, which Sibi says are rooted in a deep connection with nature. “The idea of seasons is based around the cycles of the moon and sun,” she asserts. “Food is one important way we can balance ourselves holistically. Seasonal eating teaches us to wait for the right time and not rush nature. We can look forward to watermelon in the summer and Brussels sprouts in the winter. We learn to cultivate deep gratitude and respect for the land and all it provides for us. It fosters deep stewardship for the Earth.”

 

Balancing Our Doshas

Incorporating the Ayurvedic understanding of doshas into our diet further supports our connection to nature and intuitive eating. “According to Ayurveda, everything and everyone is comprised of five elements: space, air, fire, water and earth,” says Veena Haasl-Blilie, founder of Minnesota-based Saumya Ayurveda. “These elements combine to form three basic energy properties called the doshas. These foundational energies, known as vata, pitta and kapha, are the building blocks of our universe. While all three doshas are present in every one of us, they manifest to varying degrees. Our distinct physical, mental and spiritual traits are the result of our unique dosha constitution.”

Disruptions in our daily routines, stress and diet changes can cause doshas to get out of balance. By mindfully incorporating dosha-balancing foods and herbs into our day, our bodies and minds can reset. “In Ayurveda, food is medicine. When we eat to balance the doshas, we are eating in the most supportive and nourishing way possible,” explains Haasl-Blilie. “Instead of a one size fits all diet, we are eating what is balancing to us specifically in that season.”

Understanding an individual’s own dosha type is a key starting point. Haasl-Blilie recommends, “Fiery pitta is best balanced through naturally sweet foods like fruit, most grains, squash, root vegetables, milk and ghee. The best tastes for balancing pitta are sweet, bitter and astringent, while sour, salty and pungent tastes should be minimized. Airy vata has a cold, dry, light nature that can be countered with foods that are warm, moist and grounding, such as hearty soups and healthy fats. Sweet, sour and salty foods help to balance it. For kapha’s cool, dense, oily nature, we should favor food that is light, dry and easy to digest, ideally served warm or hot with invigorating herbs or spices. Sweet, sour and salty tastes should be minimized.”

Cooking with seasonal food that supports dosha balance helps to further nourish holistically. Chef Divya Alter is a cookbook author and the co-founder of Divya’s, which combines culinary education, good-for-you packaged foods and a plant-based restaurant in New York City. Aiming to offer practical ways to bridge the ancient wisdom of food with modern living beyond the boundaries of India, she notes, “Part of my mission is to show people how to apply the universal Ayurveda principles to every part of the world, incorporating the ancient principles of food compatibility and digestion into local cuisines.”


 

The Joy of Summer Foods

Alter says that in warmer months, choosing balancing foods helps to naturally regulate our bodies and our doshas. “Summer is the season of outdoor activities, travel, vacationing and more. The heat and exertion tend to deplete our systems, but nature’s peak harvest season provides us with abundant produce to help us replenish. Ayurveda is all about balancing with nature, so in the hot summer, when we tend to sweat more and feel dehydrated, we need to incorporate cooling and hydrating foods. We feel extra pleasure eating the juicy seasonal fruits like peaches, apricots, berries and watermelon because they quickly cool and nourish us. Zucchini, fennel, leafy greens, okra, carrots and green beans are all great vegetables to give us minerals, vitamins and fiber, plus keep our bodies cool. Coconut in every form is our best friend in summer because it is very cooling and nourishing. Fresh coconut water is the best natural electrolyte drink, and you can add fresh coconut milk to your curry or smoothie. For plant-based protein, mung beans and red or green lentils are all great choices.”

For a simple complement to any dish, Alter recommends using fresh herbs, most of which can be grown locally. “Cilantro, basil, parsley, dill, rosemary, thyme, curry leaves and tarragon, and the cooling spices such as coriander, fennel, cumin and cardamom, add flavor without overheating the body. I use very little or no chili, and if my digestion needs a bit more heat, then I'd use warming spices like black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon and ginger in small amounts,” she says.

Sibi points out that using fresh herbs and spices while cooking also helps to preserve cultural traditions. “While they may not have originated here, locally grown and ethically sourced herbs honor global cooking and customs,” she says. “Incorporating fresh cilantro into a Mexican dish, turmeric into an Indian recipe, or parsley into a Mediterranean meal reminds us of their origins. Besides the medicinal benefits, the flavors are more palpable, and it’s a valuable way to teach these traditions to a younger generation. They learn that what you put in your mouth doesn’t just affect you, but has a larger global impact.”

While this may seem like a lot to consider when making daily food choices, Casperson recommends starting with seasonal eating and balancing our doshas using ingredients that are readily available. “Seasonal eating is more accessible, because you can literally choose what to eat by what is in the market. From there, have some fun with it,” she suggests. “Look up recipes and menus that you can easily digest to support your dosha balance, and add in herbs grown in your own garden. Sit down and eat in a relaxed setting without distractions and really connect with how you’re nourishing yourself.”

 

Carrie Jackson is a Chicago-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings. Connect at CarrieJacksonWrites.com.

This article appears in the July 2024 issue of Natural Awakenings.
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