Winter is my favourite season of the year. Though I dread the chill and like many, would like to spend some endless extra moments curled up in the quilt, it is that time of the year, when we may look forward to the bounty of nature. The markets are flooded with fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. It's as if God ensured there would be hope even on the most wintery of days.
Foggy mornings and chilly evenings make many lazy and they seek comfort in decadent indulgence, which makes for an ideal recipe to gain weight.
However, I beg to differ. Winter for me is an ideal season to work on one's own health goals. Our body is already working extra hard to keep itself warm, not to mention that this act of thermoregulation by itself is a calorie burner. In addition to this, our traditional food recipes ensure that we stock up on our yearly fix of nutrients best available fresh and absorbed readily in this season.
Thanks to the nutrition science fast catching up with traditional food wisdom and many celebrity chefs popularising heritage recipes, our mothers and grandmothers are finally receiving their much-awaited due for their painstaking efforts in getting the kitchens winter-ready.
Here's a list of seasonal must-haves for your kitchen to stay healthy and energised:
Bajra is high in minerals and fibre. Not only does this make it ideal for people with diabetes but also for those with deranged cholesterol. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it a good food to prevent and give relief from joint aches, a common concern in winters.
Makka is a storehouse of B-complex vitamins which are good for skin, hair, heart, brain, and proper digestion. It contains vitamin A, C, K alongside beta-carotene and selenium which helps improve the thyroid gland functioning and maintain a good immune system.
Spinach, mustard greens, beetroot greens, radish leaves and bathua are in seasonal abundance during winter.
These vegetables are a powerhouse of antioxidants and phytonutrients such as phenols. Research studies have found mustard greens to contain among the highest amount of flavonoids (polyphenol molecules). This is a tonic for vibrant and clear skin alongside its anti-aging properties. High in iron and vitamin A, they prevent anemia and boost eyesight. Being high in fiber as well, they are excellent for gut and cardiovascular health.
Cooked traditionally as saags, they are eaten as part of a wholesome meal of makka roti, jaggery and white butter. This combination completes its nutrient profile and ensures proper absorption and assimilation of the nutrients.
These winter superfoods grow underground and soak up all nutrients from the soil. Yams, beets, radish, carrots, winter squashes, sweet potatoes, turnips, turmeric, ginger are some of the wonderful varieties of root vegetables that are widely available at this time of year These vegetables are excellent sources of not just potassium but also magnesium, zinc, copper and phosphorus.
They are highly alkalising in nature and packed with important bone-building nutrients which also serve as food for our healthy gut bacteria. The gut microbiome has come to be recognized as an important part of the body responsible for our immunity, mental health and hormonal wellbeing.
Vitamin C is the queen in winter fruits, be it oranges, amla, guavas or custard apples. This anti-oxidant boosts immunity and keeps winter flu, colds and cough at bay.
Alongside fresh fruits, dried fruits are delicious snacks for the winters. Be it dates, apricots, figs or chuaara, dry fruit is high in antioxidants, iron and vitamin A.
These wholesome and nourishing delights can be savoured in any form, be it as a dessert, in hot milk or as a snack alongside some nuts like almonds, walnuts or pistachios.
Jaggery is the unrefined sugar obtained from raw, concentrated sugarcane juice. Jaggery is not a mere replacement of sugar as it has come to be understood. It is a digestive aid, activating digestive enzymes needed for the sluggish digestive fire in winters. It helps cleanse the liver by flushing out toxins and is loaded with minerals like zinc, iron and selenium.
In winter, jaggery has traditionally been used in dals, saags, ladoos, chikkis or just eaten alongside a wholesome meal like bajra khichadi or sarson ka saag and makka roti for its unique taste and endless potential.
Til (sesame seeds)
Prized in Ayurveda for its ability to generate heat and energy in the body and its numerous beauty and hair benefits, sesame seeds are loaded with nutrition that makes it a must-have in your winter diet. It doesn't stop there, til's health benefits run deep into making bones strong. Abundant in calcium and zinc, til helps in preventing or arresting osteoporosis, a condition of fragile bones with an increased susceptibility to fracture.
Long before gut bacteria and its role in our health were discovered by science and the craze for commercial drinks being sold as probiotics grew, kali gajar and beetroot kanji were being made at home as a traditional probiotic. A super tonic in itself, a study revealed it to have 18 different strands of bacteria in it that hold the potential to fight inflammation, bloating, cough, and heal clinical conditions. Made through the process of lacto-fermentation, this drink has made its way to winter menus at gourmet restaurants. Make it your go-to snack at noon.
Seasonal achaars and Murrabas
If you have come to avoid achaars because to you, they are just oil and salt, I would say that our grandmothers did not rejoice in wasting time in this activity to increase your weight and BP! But, just like the kanji, winter achaars made with turnip, cauliflower, radish and carrots (gobhi, gajar, shalgam ka achaar) and root ginger and turmeric are a potent source of probiotics. With raw vegetables being preserved with the time-tested proportions of spices, pickles are high in anti-oxidants. They are also high in vitamin K2 which is necessary for the absorption of vitamin D. These homemade achaars paired with stuffed paranthas or steamed rice tempered with ghee make for a lip-smacking combination.
Similarly, murabbas are a good digestive aid, high in many minerals like copper, iron and chromium. They help in preventing anaemia, heal chronic constipation and have anti-ulcer properties.
Dried Ginger Powder (Saunth)
Saunth is a highly recommended spice for winters. Its thermogenic properties keep us warm from the inside, enhance metabolism, improve digestion and fight inflammation. This is your go-to remedy for joint aches, menstrual cramps alongside indigestion and nausea. Easy to incorporate, it renders itself to a variety of dishes like milk, soups or a gratifying cup of masala chai. Happiness is a hot drink on a cold day!
Gond (Edible Gum)
Gond is a popular food item used traditionally in winters. Ayurveda vouches for its immunity and strength boosting properties. It is extremely beneficial for weak nervous systems, anxiety, depression and low vitamin D. Gond is also excellent for people with lung-related issues while also being rich in calcium and protein.
Gond ladoos are traditionally a winter staple. They are also included in the diets of pregnant and lactating mothers to meet their increased nutrient needs during this phase along with boosting their immunity.
Makkhan (White Butter)
Called the food of the gods, white butter is high in anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. It helps in boosting immunity and accelerates recovery from any illness or injury. Makkhan is a good source of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A and D. It also helps in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins in the body. White butter in the diet also helps people suffering from arthritis.
I encourage you this winter, to bring back traditional foods to your plate and rekindle the lost romance, only guilt-free and healthy this time.
(Madhavi K Sharma is a nutritionist & certified diabetes educator)