After the prolonged stretch of indulgences known as the holiday season, many of us find ourselves feeling overdue for a cleanse. January, after all, is the time of new beginnings, of honorable resolutions, and clean slates. What better time could there be for a chance to hit the restart button on our health?
But while January is a great time to cut back, it is also one of the coldest months of the year. Winter is a time when our bodies require warmth and deep nourishment. Just like the plants diverting all their resources to their roots — our energy should be directed inwards towards our core.
Unfortunately, many of the fasts and cleanses embarked on at this time of year have exactly the opposite effect, causing the body to lose vital heat and nutrition. Instead of renewing us, they leave us depleted and out of balance with our environment. This is not to say that we shouldn't follow our inclinations to revamp our health this month; we must only adapt our strategy to the season. Instead of elimination, the focus of a winter cleanse should be all about digestion, the seat of our health.
Think of your digestive tract as a furnace: if the fire isn't burning hot enough, everything smolders, clogging up all the filters with smoke and soot. Your fuel doesn't burn efficiently and your house, consequently, grows cold and damp. Thus, to keep the body functioning optimally in the colder months, the very best thing you can do is to stoke your digestive fire and feed it the very best fuel possible. Here's a few tips on how to revitalize your system and feel your best this winter.
Consume nutritious, easily digestible foods.
Eliminate difficult to digest foods such as gluten and flour products, dairy, soy, refined sugar and all processed foods. Avoid alcohol and caffeine for their depleting effects. Instead focus on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes and small amounts of organic meats and fish prepared in easily digestible formats. The Kitchari recipe below is a good base to follow, varying vegetables each day for variety.
Kitchari is an Ayurvedic dish used to provide easily digestible nourishment during cleanses, helping both to balance the system and detoxify the gut. Add whatever vegetables you have knocking around. Serves 4.
- 1 cup basmati rice, soaked overnight
- ½ cup mung beans, soaked overnight
- 2 tablespoons ghee
- 2 inch piece of fresh ginger root, minced
- 1/2 tablespoon each: turmeric, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black mustard seeds and fennel
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Salt to taste
- 1-2 cups steamed vegetables (sweet potato, carrot, beet, kale, etc.)
- 1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
- Flaked coconut, lightly toasted
- Juice of 1 lime
- Drain off the soaking water from the beans and rice and rinse well.
- Heat the ghee in a large saucepan.
- Add the ginger and spices and heat until the seeds are popping and fragrant.
- Add the rice and mung beans, stirring to coat well with the ghee and spice mixture.
- Add 3 cups water to the pan and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes, or until the beans are tender.
- Serve topped with the steamed vegetables.
- Garnish with the cilantro, toasted coconut and a squeeze of lime juice.
Warm your core.
Ensure your digestive fire is burning hot by including plenty of warming herbs and spices with your meals. Ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, and garlic are all examples of herbs that help to warm the belly. Try starting your morning off with a cup of hot ginger tea instead of your usual cuppa and avoid cold foods and beverages as much as you can.
Belly Warmer Tea Recipe
- 1 inch sized piece of fresh ginger, sliced thinly
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cardamom pods
- 4 black peppercorns
- Place all ingredients into a small saucepan and cover with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil.
- Cover, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Serve with honey to taste and a dash of almond milk.
Stimulate digestive function with bitters.A bitter tasting herb taken before or during a meal stimulates the entire digestive tract and primes it for food. They also have the added benefit of improving liver function, helping to clear out toxins and move them out of the body with their mild laxative effects. Dandelion, burdock, gentian, and hops are all great examples. Take a little tincture in water before eating or try including bitter tasting greens such as endive, dandelion leaves or chicory with meals.
Keep things moving.
Even the hottest of fires will go out without sufficient oxygen and airflow. Oxygenate your blood and get the circulation moving by using your muscles and getting your heart rate up: shoot for thirty minutes per day of aerobic activities such as snow shoeing, cross country skiing or brisk walking. Here's to a new year filled with health and vitality!
Writer Danielle Charles Davies has a BSc in Herbal Science from Bastyr University and in addition completed two years of clinical training at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. She has a Masters Degree in Writing and has written for the the American Herbalists Guild and has also served as a food columnist. Her musings, and recipes, can be found at her blog, Teacup Chronicles.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.