Updated: Feb 12, 2020
Colder days, different diet? Are you hungrier during winter? What is it that winter does to our digestive fire: Agni that both Ayurveda and modern science acknowledge? Ayurveda states that Agni fluctuates throughout the year depending on the season. The cold and stormy fall and winter bring different qualities to our environment and our body responds to this. Days get colder and fortunately now longer!;) Less sun decreases our serotonin levels which affects our biorhythm. This does not only influence our mood, also in your eating habits this shift is noticeable. And guess what? As well modern researchers as the ancient rishi’s agree upon: the digestive fire flares up when temps drop.
Fiery winter Agni’s How does Ayurveda clarify this bodily response of getting hungrier during winter? “In case we are healthy our digestion and metabolism is enhanced due to the cold weather, especially the cold wind, that restrains the outward movement of the internal heat (agni),” according to Charaka. The contraction of the cold keeps more Agni in the body to digest the food. Is this why people in colder climates eat probably more heavy foods? An informative graph by The Guardian correlates countries with the consumption of heavy foods like meat. There seems to be a slight tendency for eating more meat in the northern hemisphere at least for Europe and the US.
Squirrel survival mode Modern science confirms that we act upon the season by eating more foods. “We are driven by things implanted in our brain a long, long time ago,” according cardiologist Ira Ockene. In his research conducted among 593 participants was found that the daily caloric intake increased during fall with 86 kcal/day. This study also confirms that the type of food we consume varies according to the season. In the fall the total consumption of fat and saturated fat increased. Ockene explains,we are biologically compelled to collect more food at once and eating faster than usual when the sun hours decrease.
More hungry However, this is not an indication yet that our Agni is stronger. Another study “Seasonal rhythms of human nutrient intake and meal pattern” points somewhat into the direction of the latter. Among 315 adult humans they explored how diet was changed according to season and how their sense of hunger changed along. John Castro, researcher of the study, confirms that the sense of hunger is increases in fall. However is this hunger induced by the mind or by the body?
Micro shivers You might not be shivering like a leaf when temps drop a few degrees. Still our bodies are working invisibly hard to regulate body temperature. Chilly temperatures can induce something called “non-shivering thermogenesis” (NST) which happens on a microscopic level without the twitchy muscular response. When we expend more energy, we need - and probably crave - more energy replenishment via food. Biochemically, the consumption of proteins is the fastest way to maintain body heat. The production of heat per gram of proteins, fats and carbohydrates are respectively: 30%, 4% and 6%. This doesn’t mean that you should consume meat to get your proteins. One cup of black beans delivers 15g protein which is equivalent to 50g of pork loin or 80g of chicken meat.
In short, we can say that the biological conditions of the fall and winter season demand different things from our body. Most importantly to maintain our body temperature. According to Ayurveda our digestive fire becomes stronger in this season. The cold contracts our body which keeps the digestive fire into the body. From a modern perspective this higher digestive fire is explained by the fact that our body needs to work harder to keep our thermostat running. The body is in need of more energy that is generated quickest by eating proteins. Ayurveda doesn’t look at biochemical compounds but the sutra’s state that to eat meat is most beneficial for your health during winter. Also, more heavy foods like beans, oils and fats are recommended. There are many vegetarian options for the intake of proteins like: lentils, beans, spelt, teff and seitan.