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Seasonal Food and its Impact on Our Diet | Pooja Shirbhate

Seasonal Food and its Impact on Our Diet

Eating seasonal and local produce has proven to be beneficial for health. Let’s see how.

India has three primary seasons: summer, winter, and monsoon. Additionally, we recognise six sub-seasons: Vasant, Grishma, Varsha, Sharad, Hemant, and Shishir. As the weather transitions with the seasons, our bodies also respond accordingly. Therefore, it is highly beneficial to understand the connection between our bodies and nature and adapt our diets to the changing environment.

Failing to do so can lead to adverse effects, particularly on our digestive system. In the past, various fruits and vegetables were only available during specific seasons. Even though today’s markets offer a wide array of fruits, vegetables, and grains year-round, it is wise to consider the season when choosing what to consume.

The joy of winter

Winter is when digestive processes are at their peak, allowing even foods typically considered hard to digest to be processed efficiently by our bodies. Given the conducive environment for hearty meals, it is advisable to incorporate nutritious foods into your diet during winter. Traditional winter foods like fenugreek (methi) and dry fruits, along with liberal use of sesame seeds and jaggery, are recommended. These foods help generate warmth in the body to combat the cold.

The air becomes less humid during winter, resulting in a somewhat dry atmosphere. Including dry fruits such as oilseeds, gum, almonds, walnuts, cashews, and pistachios in your diet provides the extra energy needed to cope with the season. Additionally, these foods offer essential nutrients like calcium, iron, and more. Almond and walnut oils are also highly beneficial.

Opt for grains that are harder to digest and have a warming effect on the body. Enjoy bread with ghee or butter. This season offers a wide variety of high-quality vegetables and fruits. Leafy greens like fenugreek, spinach, red and green amaranth leaves, and vegetables such as butter beans, cluster beans, flat beans, drumsticks, brinjal and cabbage should be part of your winter diet. These vegetables are less prone to pests and are easily digestible. Regularly incorporate various vegetable soups into your meals to stay warm in cold weather.

Seasonal fruits like apples, grapes, oranges, and mangoes are available in winter. While apples are available year-round, regional specialties like Kashmiri apples hit the market during this season. It is crucial to consume seasonal fruits only when they are fully ripe and sweet. However, individuals with cold-related health issues should avoid sour fruits. Consider both the fruit and your health condition when selecting fruits to eat.

Winter’s most significant festival is Diwali, marked by the preparation of snacks like karanji, laadu, anarse, and chakli in every household. After the lighter diet of Chaturmas, this period is considered suitable for indulging in the spicy foods that many enjoy. Nevertheless, it’s essential to consume oily and spicy foods in moderation during this festive season.

The heat of summer

Soaring temperatures characterise summer. Consequently, digestion tends to be slower. The hot and dry weather takes a toll on our bodies. Thus, it is advisable to opt for light, easily digestible foods. Given the heat, it’s crucial to maintain adequate hydration by incorporating water and other healthy beverages into your diet. Regularly consume refreshing options like lemon syrup, curry leaves, garcinia (kokum) syrup, fresh buttermilk, sugarcane juice and coconut water to combat heat-related inflammation and meet your body’s hydration needs.

Incorporate light grains such as rice, sorghum, ragi, and wheat into your diet during the summer. You should also include an abundance of fruits and vegetables like bottle gourd, ridge gourd, okra, and pumpkin. Avoid overly spicy, oily, and pungent foods during this season. Spices like ajwain, dried ginger, licorice, anise, coriander, cumin, and mint are known for their cooling properties. Consider consuming ‘kashay’ – a drink made from these spices – to help cool the body. Fennel and coriander aid in soothing the stomach, while cumin helps regulate body heat. Ajwain is gentle on the stomach and dried ginger helps prevent phlegm buildup.

Include hydrating fruits such as melons, watermelons and cucumbers in your summer diet. Avoid tea, coffee, and bakery products. The increased temperature during summer makes food spoilage more likely, so prioritise fresh meals and completely avoid consuming stale food. For non-vegetarians, it’s advisable to use spices sparingly in their meals. Ideally, opt for a light dinner following a meat-based meal during the afternoon.

The pleasure of monsoon

During the rainy season, the atmosphere becomes more humid, creating favourable conditions for the rapid growth of larvae and worms. Consequently, it becomes crucial to prioritise food hygiene during this season. Ensure thorough washing of vegetables to maintain cleanliness. The digestive energy in the body tends to slow down, leading to reduced digestion power, so it’s essential to adapt your diet accordingly.

In the context of Chaturmas, a period marked by weakened digestion, it is considered beneficial to consume food only once a day to maintain good health. Various types of fasts are also recommended during this season. Given the sluggish digestive fire, opt for light foods that aid digestion. Intermittent fasting can serve as a helpful digestive aid during this time. Consider complete fasting or consuming natural foods like fruits, dry fruits, coconut water, milk, curd, and buttermilk, as they can be beneficial.

In your monsoon diet, include chapati, rice, khichdi, and grains. Consume fewer leafy vegetables and prioritise vegetables like snake gourd, bottle gourd, ridge gourd and flat beans. Opt for moong beans as they are easily digestible. Avoid oily, spicy, and foreign foods during this season. Incorporate spices like turmeric, tulsi, ginger, cumin, pepper, and asafoetida into your meals. As non-vegetarian food can be challenging to digest, it’s advisable to limit its consumption during the monsoon.

Other Dietary Recommendations

Curd: Consume homemade curd, preferably during the day.

Buttermilk: Include buttermilk made from fresh curd in your diet.

Salt: Moderate salt consumption in your food.

Raw salad: Incorporate raw salads like cucumber, tomato and carrot in your meal during the day. Avoid at night.

Unripe pulses: Pulses like moong, etc., can be consumed during the day without cooking. Suppose eating at night, steam lightly.

Tea and coffee: Minimise your consumption of tea and coffee as much as possible. If you absolutely must, limit yourself to half a cup of tea or coffee.

Breakfast: Customise your breakfast according to your daily activities and schedule. For those with irregular meal times, a substantial morning breakfast is recommended. However, individuals with sedentary lifestyles should opt for a lighter breakfast to aid digestion.

If you do eat according to the season, you will see a marked difference in your digestion and gut. Try it!

Pooja Shirbhate

The author is an experienced dietitian.

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