The philosophy of "spring cleaning" isn’t just for the home. With winter over, spring is a time to help the body gently eliminate any accumulated excess to prevent spring imbalances like congestion, colds and allergies. Ayurveda teaches us how to shift our diet to right imbalances brought on by the changing seasons.
As the body reflects nature, our digestive capacity changes with the seasons. The body boosts its digestive fire to keep us warm in winter. As a result, our appetite increases and so too does our need for more substantial, nourishing food. We gravitate toward dense, warm soups and stews, holiday desserts and hearty meats. As the earth heats up in spring, things change. Our digestive fire weakens and we need a lighter, drier diet to counterbalance spring’s wetness. This is why we start to crave lighter foods like salads. (Read more in 5 Ayurvedic Recipes to Stoke Your Inner Fire.)
Honoring this physical phenomenon is so incredibly important to our wellbeing. Ayurveda explains that not only are we what we eat, but we are what we digest as well. If we continue eating those hearty winter meat stews and sweet desserts in springtime, we overload our digestive system, making ourselves more susceptible to spring imbalances like congestion and allergies. (Learn more in You Are What Your Eat.)
Herein lies the wisdom of ritucharya, or ayurveda’s seasonal routine. Spring is the season to follow a kapha-pacifying diet that eliminates winter excess in preparation for summer lightness. We need not go to extremes like juice detoxes, as this can imbalance some constitutional types. Most of us will benefit from simply adjusting our diet according to the following kapha-balancing principles. (Learn about The 3 Dosha's of Ayurveda.)
Tastes to Favor
Ayurveda explains that there are six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. Sweet, sour and salty increase kapha, while pungent, bitter and astringent balance it. Interestingly, the American diet doesn’t include much of these kapha-balancing tastes, which is partly why so many of us suffer from kapha imbalances like obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Spring is the season to bring in the pungent, bitter and astringent tastes. We need all six tastes and the quantities will vary slightly according to our constitution. Nevertheless, pungent spices like ginger, cinnamon and cloves; bitter leafy greens like dandelion and kale; and astringent foods like legumes and turmeric are beneficial no matter our constitutional type. (Learn more in Why Yogis Love Turmeric.)
Qualities to Favor
Ayurveda explains that like increases like. This means that any foods which are heavy, dense and excessively watery increase the already heavy, dense and watery kapha dosha. Spring is the season to favor a light and warm diet. "Light" means foods which are easy to digest, since the digestive power is no longer as strong as it was in winter. Steamed vegetables with spices like cumin and ginger are easily digested, while foods like cheese, ice cream and yogurt are not. A small amount of raw foods are ok in spring but generally speaking, gently cooked is better. (Read more in The 3 Doshas of Ayurveda.)
Warm vs. Cold Food
The kapha dosha is cold by nature. Cold food and drink increase kapha and should definitely be avoided in spring, as should cold desserts and food straight from the fridge. Icecubes are a definite no. Instead, hot or warm water, fresh ginger tea, and freshly cooked food are much better suited to the season. (Learn How to Eat for Your Dosha Type.)
Specific Foods to Eat or Avoid
Putting these guidelines into action can be confusing for those new to ayurveda. "Light food" is interpreted as having a salad for a meal, and "warm food" as spicy—which actually aren’t very ayurvedic at all! Being too strict with diet isn’t helpful either, as extremes in any direction can imbalance the body. To make it easy, here are specific foods to reduce and favor in spring. Don’t be afraid to venture beyond the "favor list," these are simply good foods to incorporate into a spring diet.
Foods to Reduce in Your Spring Diet
For the season, it's a good idea to avoid excessively cold foods that usually come straight from the fridge, these include yogurts, ice cream, smoothies and cold milk. if you're thinking of a hot dessert instead, be aware that you should avoid heavy desserts - the same goes for red meat, pork, greasy and oily food and excessive amounts of cheese. Avoid your wheat intake as well.
Foods You Should Eat During Spring
The foods you should eat during spring can be easily managed by separating them into 8 categories; vegetables, fruits, legumes, meat, grains, dairy, oils and sweeteners. From there, you should increase the intake of green vegetables like artichokes, broccoli, brussels sprouts and leafy veggies that include cabbage, spinach, swiss chard, collards and dandelion. Other vegetables you should increase in your diet are cauliflower, celery, daikon, eggplant and turnips.For your fruit intake, you should stick to small amounts of berries and seasonal fruits. Dried fruits are okay as well. Legume intake should be increased to include mung beans, lentils and most beans in general. When it comes to meat, it can be tricky. Be sure to stick to small amounts of chicken, turkey or goat, but cook them in digestive spices to ensure a healthy digestive transition. While you should reduce wheat, you can include barley, corn, buckwheat, millet and rye in your spring diet. For your dairy intake, it is a good idea to stay away from excessive amounts of cheese and ghee. Also, reduce your use of mustard oil and olive oil. Reduce your use of sweeteners except for honey.
By adapting this spring diet, we support our body in its natural "spring cleaning" and liquefaction of kapha. This harmonizes us with the effects of the season so that we prevent imbalances and receive the natural renewal that spring has to offer.