Autumn Food Guidelines
Updated: Dec 6, 2022
by Lauren Gernady
It is with a splash of melancholy that I report autumn has reared its head in Vermont. You know that feeling when you step outside in mid-September and abruptly stop. Overcome with a startling realization (as if fall doesn’t happen every single year) that something has changed while you were sleeping. Like a bandit in the night, the air has shifted. Humidity has dropped. Heck, even the wind smells different. There’s a palpable feeling of transition and the urge to go inward and hibernate.
That shift is the harbinger of vāta season. Love it or hate it, there’s nothing we can do about the changing of the seasons except roll with it. Āyurveda highly recommends adjusting your seasonal routine to balance the new qualities ushered in with each season. In the summer we sought to balance the fiery qualities of pitta (hot, sharp, oily, spreading) with cooling fruits and veg, refreshing lake or ocean swims, perhaps the occasional ice cream cone. Welp, time to archive those salad recipes until the mercury begins to tick back up. Alas, we have a new set of qualities to consider.
Vāta season, or fall, is characterized by the following qualities:
Vāta consists of the elements air and ether, or space. Without the presence of fire, vāta is a cold dosha. It lacks physical heft due to the absence of the dense elements of water and earth. As we find ourselves in the throes of fall, the air goes from saturated with moisture to dry, crisp, and light (goodbye wavy beach locks). This is the time of year when people lug out their humidifiers and lip balm. The skin naturally becomes drier, nails crack and split...even nose bleeds may appear every now and again. The wind whips around increasing the mobile quality in our external and internal environment. This excess mobility creates even more dryness (think wind burn after a day on the slopes). Yeesh, that’s a lot of dryness. Fear not, with a few tweaks to your diet, your skin will be dewy and radiant as on a midsummer day.
But wait, before we get into kitchen hacks, what are some telltale signs that vāta is rising in your body and mind? If any of the aforementioned gunas start to accumulate you may exhibit the following:
Gas & bloating
Dry skin & scalp
Cold hands & feet
My goodness! No one wants to deal with any of those signs and symptoms of excess vāta. To thwart the onslaught of the dry/light/cold/mobile/rough qualities let’s hit the kitchen.
Tips for Eating in the Fall/Winter
Dry/Rough - Warm and Slightly Oily
Balance dryness by favoring moisture rich soups, stews, and porridges during the colder months. Of course, adding some high quality fats to your meals will keep the insides well lubed. This can include ghee (the crowning gem of Āyurveda), sesame, olive, or sunflower oil.
Be mindful of how often you are indulging in crackers, popcorn, pretzels. All those crunchy snacks are so fun, but can create blockages in the GI tract (ahem, constipation). Should you want to enjoy a bowl of popcorn, top it with melted ghee, butter, or olive oil and a dash of digestive spices. Hingvastak is my go to spice blend, but it’s an acquired taste. Perhaps start with some black pepper, cumin, and turmeric. While we’re talking about fun foods, granola (my fav) is quite drying and best reserved for the springtime when the environment is saturated with the qualities of earth and water. In the colder months I swap out granola for oatmeal, or baked oatmeal if I’m feeling extra fancy.
Make a point to stay well hydrated, especially once the central heating kicks on. Sip hot beverages such as herbal tea, or lemon water. I often make a pot of ginger tea first thing in the morning and pour it into an insulated thermos to enjoy throughout the day. To make, fill a medium saucepan with filtered water, add 5-6 slices of fresh ginger (you can leave the peel on). Bring to a boil, and then drop to a simmer for 10 minutes. Option to strain out the ginger or leave it in the pot to nibble on throughout the day. This is a 2 for 1 beverage in that it negates the dryness and the pungent ginger helps increase circulation thereby combating the cold.
Light/Mobile/Subtle - Hearty, Nourishing, and Grounding
Gravitate towards grounding, nourishing vegetables rather than leafy greens and cruciferous veggies. Consider which vegetables are in season during the fall. If you hit the farmers market, you’re most likely to see an abundance of carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, parsnips, turnips, pumpkins, squash, garlic, onions...you get the picture. Root veggies are steeped in the earth and water elements, say compared to alfalfa sprouts. They are nourishing, filling, and often on the sweeter side, which automatically balances vāta dosha.
While we do not want to overdo it, vāta season is enthusiastically known as the “wheat, meat, and dairy” season. Woah, suddenly the colder months don’t seem quite as bad. The theory is that in the fall/winter the digestive fire kicks up and we are able to process some of these heavier, grosser, denser foods, like wheat, meat, and dairy. This always gave me pause as a student where I would think the digestive fire (agni) was strongest in the summer. After years of percolating on this question, I have observed in my own body that my agni does in fact dial down in the summer. Have you ever experienced a wicked hot day and find that the thought of eating makes you slightly nauseous? The agni begins to disperse out to the periphery to help cool the body, whereas in the fall/winter it is brought back to center to act as a furnace.
If the food goes plop on the plate when served, it may be just the ticket to balance the lighter qualities of vata season. Before you go ham on heaps of mac n’ cheese, be sure to check in with your physical body and make sure this is the right food for you. Moderation is key, but also doing an inventory of your present qualities will help. If you find your physical body is feeling heavy, skip the pasta and go for a bowl of miso broth. It’s still warming and slightly oily, but doesn’t have the same heft as spaghetti.
Cold - Heat
To support the digestive fire, select foods that are well cooked and spiced. Eating physically hot food will keep the body warmer over the colder months (I know, duh, but I had to say it). Save the smoothies and salads for the summer months. In addition adding some spice will allow for easier digestion and assimilation of the nutrients. When I say spice, I’m not suggesting you overwhelm your pallet with ghost peppers and gobs of sriracha. Rather, stay in the middle lane with spices, not too hot, not too cooling. High Scoville heat units will end up increasing the dryness in the body and wreak havoc.
Stick with spices like:
In the end, all spices are your friend, so long as they don’t leave the mouth tingling and you slugging gulps of milk.
Final takeaways? This fall/winter opt for warm, well cooked, and spiced foods. Eat seasonally. Fill your grocery cart with all the autumnal veggies the market has to offer, as nature will always provide the antidote to the season. Keep pumping the liquids in the form of herbal teas and waters. While a boon in the springtime when things are sluggish, caffeine in the fall/winter will exacerbate the mobile qualities of vata and your eye may start twitching double time.
If it’s in your diet, explore weaving in a bit more wheat and dairy into the mix. Fall is a lovely time to savor a piping hot mug of golden milk (recipe below). This can be a beautiful ritual an hour before bed to ground the nervous system and promote sound sleep with that helping of tryptophan from the cow’s milk.
It is my sincere wish that these seasonal Āyurvedic guidelines help you stave off any imbalances this autumn. Cheers to the season of pratyahara, or going inward.
2 cups of whole milk (or substitute of choice)
1/2 tsp fresh ginger root, grated
1/2 tsp fresh turmeric root, grated
1/2 tsp of ghee
1 tsp of coconut sugar
pinch of ground cinnamon
pinch of ground cardamom
pinch of ground nutmeg
In a small saucepan, melt ghee over medium-low heat.
Add the ginger and turmeric. Sauté for 1-2 minutes until they become fully aromatic.
Slowly pour in the milk. Whisk in the coconut sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg.
Bring the milk to a boil while stirring constantly.
Remove from heat, strain into a mug, and sip.
Teacher, Mentor, Contributing Writer
Lauren Gernady is an Āyurvedic Practitioner and a 500-hour Āyurvedic Yoga Teacher. Graduate of the Kripalu School of Āyurveda (KSA), former KSA intern and Academic Coordinator of KSA (2017-2022). With a deep commitment to the study of Vedic traditions, Lauren spreads her love of Āyurveda, Yoga, and Jyotish through writing, teaching, mentoring, and 1:1 consultations. It’s not uncommon to spot Lauren pouring over Āyurvedic cookbooks and ancient texts in the wee hours of the morning. Knowledge is her sadhana.
As the former cook and “kitchari queen” at the Āyurvedic Center of Vermont (ACV), Lauren weaves her passion for cooking into her Āyurvedic practice. Her clinical observations and bodywork at the ACV gave her firsthand experience of the transformational power of Āyurveda through diet, lifestyle interventions, and Pañcakarma (or purification therapy).
This August Lauren is waving goodbye to the bucolic Berkshires and heading back north to the Green Mountain State. There she will be facilitating the launch of the Āyurvedic Center of Vermont’s 650-hour Āyurvedic Health Counselor program while overseeing the academic arm of the school. At the center you may find her cooking simple meals for the pañchakarma clients, teaching restorative yoga, tending the medicinal herb garden, performing a shirodhara, or reviewing student’s clinical case studies.
With an unwavering commitment to the “Science of Life”, Lauren is dedicated to disseminating this system of medicine to make Āyurveda accessible (and palatable) to all.
Learn more about Lauren