The winter solstice has passed, the days are getting longer but colder. Winter is calling us to nurture our Yin essence and take care of kidney chi energy to support hormone health in menopause. Slow cooked stews, soups, beanies, warm drinks, hot baths with essential oils, fires, hiking, mohair blankets and early nights make winter one of my favourite seasons. And in this COVID semi hibernation, all of the above are allowed.
In the cycle of life, autumn and winter are the seasons of menopause. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, menopause heralds the increase in “VATA” energy; thinner, drier skin and mucous membranes, thinning of bones and hair, lighter more interrupted sleep, tendency to worry and constipation.
Arrgghhh….but this is not inevitable. You can minimise VATA dryness by choosing foods and daily rituals that keep the digestive fire burning, and the body soft, supple, strong and well-lubricated into menopause and beyond. Discover your Ayurvedic constitution to match winter foods and daily routines with your body type.
In autumn and winter it is easy to slip into eating more comfort foods like carbs and sugars. Who doesn’t like steaming pasta, hot roast potatoes or desserts and sweet chai around the fire? This is the season when the body effortlessly craves warm, cooked foods with a focus on healthy fats and non-starchy vegetables.
Here are some of my favourite autumn/winter foods and rituals for menopause that pacify VATA, keep you energised and warm.
Fat is your premier food especially in winter when you are looking for nourishment, warmth and satiety. Ghee, or clarified butter, is an essential fat for menopause. High in fat soluble vitamin A,D, E and K, conjugated linoleic acid and butyrate, it supports the gut microbiome and feeds the cells of the colon. Ghee supports weight loss and bone health, reduces inflammation and improves digestion. It’s ideal for women with milk protein sensitivities. Make it yourself with this recipe. Ghee can be used for cooking as it has a high smoke point and added to soups and stews. Other healthful fats include EVOO, avocado, macadamia oil, coconut oil, and nut butters.
Winter is the season for green leafy cruciferous vegetables – Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, bok choy, tatsoi – that support the detoxification and clearance of excess estrogen from liver and gut. High in the plant chemical sulforaphane, these vegetables are wonderful in soups, curries and roasted. Occasionally, include small amounts of root and starchy veg like carrots, sweet potato and beetroot in stews or roasted with herbs like cumin, fennel and caraway seeds.
Soups and stews
Add lots of herbs to soups like rosemary to support estrogen detoxification, oregano for immunity and gut health, and parsley for kidney support. avourite winter soups are broccoli, zucchini, cauliflower, celery and fennel. Bone broth ready to defrost the night before from your freezer makes an instant breakfast or light evening meal with some sauteed shitake mushrooms and spinach.
The best investment for winter is a slow cooker. I use lamb shank or neck, beef cheek, osso bucco, or beef brisket. These are the fattier and cheaper cuts of meat that become beautifully tender and fall apart on the fork after a day in the slow cooker. You can always transfer them to the oven in the last 2-3 hours to reduce the liquid and concentrate flavour. These stews are high in protein, fat soluble nutrients and essential fats.
It’s tricky to drink the extra water you need in winter to counteract dryness, one cause of constipation. Add a stick of cinnamon, star anise and chopped ginger, or slices of lemon or orange to a water bottle filled with warm water and sip throughout the day.
Add a drop of essential oils – rosemary, peppermint, oregano, thyme, ginger or black pepper oil – to a glass of hot water or the classic lemon and ginger with a pinch of chilli, garlic, honey if you have a cold coming on.
This is the season for spicy chais to ignite the digestive fire and herbal teas like nettle and licorice to support the kidneys and adrenals. Make your own nut milk for creamy chais made from roasted dandelion or rooibos. Or make your chai from scratch using warming and spicy star anise, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, ginger and cardamom. Avoid black teas and caffeinated drinks that can be very astringent and may make constipation worse.
Medicinal mushroom drinks like Jing and the tonics from Superfeast as well as Loco Love cacao and mushroom blend are healthful ways to have hot drinks. Here is a recipe for my homemade hot chocolate elixir. Avoid cacao in the evening as it may be too stimulating for a restful night’s sleep.
Dry skin brushing before a shower and warm sesame oil massage called abhyanga afterwards, set you up for either a great night’s sleep or a grounded, relaxed start of the day. Self-oil massage is a simple self-affirming ritual that provides more than pleasure; it deeply nourishes your skin and “ojas”, the essential life force of the body and mind. In the practice of Ayurveda, abhyanga is the cornerstone ritual along with eating nourishing foods and drinks to support ojas for vitality, strength, health, long life and immunity.
Qigong and tai chi, pilates and yoga, walking, cycling, stair climbing or weight training can all become part of your daily routine not only for building and maintaining bones and muscles but for mood and emotional health.
As body wisdom grows and evolves in menopause, given space and time, and we nourish with care, connection and diligence, we can tune into what’s needed right now – maybe it’s different from yesterday, from last week, from month to month, season to season.
What’s striking during menopause is the need to take more time for rest and sleep and self- care. The same routines may not apply anymore and if you are stressed, been traveling, or ill then it’s time to be extra gentle. More time off, flexible work schedules, intermittent fasting, gentle exercise, infrared sauna, massages and herbal tonics send the message to the body to heal. The decisions you make for your health in this season of menopause will inform the rest of your life.
As I step outside into the morning winter sunshine, how grateful I feel to be warm, well fed and living in a cosy home when I know the fastest growing demographic for homelessness is women over 55. How are they going to manage in winter? Please consider supporting SafeHavenCommunity an organisation that provides beds and sanctuary for women and children fleeing domestic abuse.