Is it just me or do comfort foods start calling your name, too, this time of year? It’s easy for me to eat right in the summer. I’ve got that easy feeling from the warm sunshine that seems to permeate every cell in my body, and there are fresh vegetables to nourish me everywhere I turn. But once we have that first cool day, my mind drifts to Halloween—which is now the beginning of the “holiday season”—and my annual dilemma: How am I going to eat right when its colder and darker, and all I really crave are mashed potatoes and chocolate bars?
Eating right is just one of the challenges I face in the fall. Sure, it’s exciting in September, when everyone is back from vacation and focused on accomplishing things. But by mid-October, when the shine of the new school year is starting to tarnish, my days are more hectic and my schedule feels more restrictive. By the time the temperature dips into the 50s, the muscles in my neck and upper back are so tight that my shoulders are nearly up to my earlobes.
Respect the Season
The frenetic pace of the typical fall doesn’t really fit with the energy of the season. In traditional Chinese medicine, fall is more about the end of the growing season. It’s less about achieving in the outside world and more about completions—shifting our focus to what’s going on within as we move into the “deader” months of winter.
Autumn is about the lungs, in Chinese medicine. I find that interesting, because—like many people—my respiratory and immune systems are called upon most in the fall to ward off colds and viruses, and the mold created from decomposing leaves. Fall also tends to be a dry season, so we need to take care to nourish our bodies with lots of fluids.
Nature’s bounty provides all the nutrition that we need at this time of year. For example, butternut and other seasonal squashes contain the immune-boosting antioxidants vitamins A and C, and are rich in the B complex vitamins, including vitamins B1, B3, B5, B6, and B12. The B complex vitamins support our bodies when we are under a lot of stress.
These wonderful harvest vegetables also contain the minerals needed to support our bones, including manganese, copper, potassium, and magnesium. Weight-bearing exercises help to spark a natural process that stimulates bone growth in part by making these (and other) minerals more available. While I think it’s great that I can buy raspberries in October, I am grateful that the fall fruits and vegetables support my bones. My natural tendency is to become a little more sedentary when it’s colder and darker.
In addition to choosing foods that are naturally plentiful this time of year, here are some other tips for eating well this season:
- Did you know that a 16-oz. pumpkin spice latte is 450 calories at a popular coffee shop? Instead of packing on the calories from the whipped cream and sugar, cook with warming spices. Choose ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, or pumpkin pie and chai spices.
- Our body’s natural tendency is to store fat for the winter, and it’s pretty hard to get around this ancient genetic predisposition. So, choose healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, flax seeds, almonds, macadamia nut oil, or coconut oil.
- Stay hydrated by eating soups or stews made with lots of vegetables. Homemade broth from bones and vegetables is a warming treat, chock-full of nutrients, that will nourish you and leave you feeling satiated.
- Upgrade your beverages by drinking herbal teas. Red raspberry leaf tea can help loosen tight, sore muscles, so prevalent when it turns colder. There are many immune-boosting herbal teas to choose from, too. Have fun creating your own herbal tea concoction. Avoid caffeine, since it is dehydrating.
- Knowing that you will be tempted by the many delicious seasonal treats you will come in contact with, get more nutrition when you can! In addition to soups or stews, roast vegetables to concentrate the nutrition. Make your own kale chips and season them with nutritional yeast, which provides a full complement of antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals.
- Have healthy food on hand. You want it to be just as easy to choose a baggie of cut-up vegetables that you’ve prepared in advance as it is to choose a candy bar.
- Make “skinny” mashed potatoes with chicken broth instead of cream. Or bake “new” or Yukon Gold potatoes instead of larger Idaho baking potatoes. These varieties introduce less sugar into the bloodstream.
- Still craving something sweet? For dessert, what could be more comforting than a baked apple with cinnamon or a pear poached in port wine with a cinnamon stick?
When Comfort Foods Call
It’s said that although you cannot break a habit, you can replace it with a new, better habit. I hope these suggestions will help you eat right and feel really good about what you’re putting into your body. Sometimes, though, you just have to indulge in the real thing—yes, you can have that chocolate bar! Just try to limit yourself to a small amount of really good, organic dark chocolate. Then savor every bite!