Every time we eat, we receive a number of things from our food. In addition to nutrients and energy - and hopefully joy! - food provides the body with certain more subtle qualities: that is, food can warm or cool us, speed us up or slow us down, lighten us or make us feel heavy.
Particularly in extreme seasons like winter, it can be helpful to incorporate foods that encourage warmth and grounding in the body. This counteracts the effects of the chill outside, allowing the body to find a nice even keel. A balanced system is a better functioning system, which means improved resistance to seasonal illness, less chance of winter weight-gain, and more energy.
How we prepare a food also impacts the temperature it creates internally. Stewing, baking, roasting, and grilling all produce a warming effect, whereas raw preparations, pickling, or steaming are far more cooling. Longer, slower methods tend to produce more warming results than cooling ones.
As you venture into the farmers market or grocery store as the thermometer continues to drop, consider adding in some of these foods to keep warm and grounded. (Groundedness during the holidays? It can be done!)
Root Vegetables (and sideways-growing vegetables)
Not coincidentally, root vegetables - carrots, yams, onions, beets, daikon, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, and even winter squash - are quite grounding. Their heartiness creates warmth in the body, balancing out the chill of winter (and the expansive 'spaciness' that can come with lots of sweet holiday goodies). For a simple recipe, combine up to five of the veggie listed above in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until they're cooked to your liking. Drain. Add a little sea salt or seaweed, or even a cup of beans, and serve. If you're using well washed, organic produce, you can also drink the leftover water as a warming tonic.
Whether tossed into a soup, grated into a stir fry or onto cooked greens, blended in chai tea, or just boiled in hot water, this root is tremendously warming to the system. Ginger actually increases circulation! In Ayurvedic medicine, it is used as a digestive aid, stoking the 'fire' of the GI tract to make things move a little more easily. It's also connected to immune health, and as a bonus, its oils are a powerful antiseptic. Use dried ginger with lentils or black beans for the most warming combination.
The hefty complex carbohydrates in these beautiful little purplish-red beans provide give us long-lasting fuel and that satisfied 'full' feeling. According to Macrobiotic theory, they produce heat in the body. They're also super delicious. Toss these into chilis or soups, or use to create veggie burgers (like these here; just swap out the black-eyed peas).
In particular, oats, spelt, quinoa, and sweet brown rice create a warm environment in the body. Ensure these are well-cooked and easy to digest. (Interestingly, wheat, millet, and barley are more cooling and can create a chronically cold condition in the body in wintertime.)
Not surprisingly, soups are an easy way to spread warmth throughout the body. Consider using some of the above ingredients in a coconut-milk or veggie-broth based dish, and add in curry spices or medium-heat peppers for a little extra kick. Too much hot pepper will create a cooling effect, as the body will try to compensate for the excess, just be mindful of how much you're adding. This 5-Step Vegan Chili or Twist on Miso Soup make great additions to a winter cooking rotation; plus, you can make them in bulk! More time in front of the fire (or the fireplace TV channel)? Perfect. :)