The Transition from Summer to Fall

From Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS.

For many people, fall eating is all about moving away from raw, cooling foods to dishes that are heartier and more “comforting.” Even you may choose to start your day with a bowl of apple cinnamon baked oatmeal instead of an ice-cold smoothie, and it turns out there’s some actual science behind those cravings. Shorter days and cooler temps can cause us to yearn for comfort foods that will lift a sagging mood. And according to Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old sister science of yoga, fall is a dry, airy season (known as Vata), that should be balanced with a moist, grounding diet.

So as the calendar flips from summer to fall, there’s also the need to make some swaps in your diet. The good news is that this transition won’t require you to give up your healthy lifestyle or eat a lot of foods you don’t enjoy. The emphasis is still on whole foods, and when you focus also on foods that are in season during the autumn months—like butternut squash, pumpkin, brussel sprouts, cabbage, apples, and pears—you make it that much easier to load up on the nutrients your body needs.

Here are five easy tips to transition your diet from summer to fall:

1. Detox from the Summer with Fiber, Electrolytes, and Antioxidants

In many traditional systems of medicine, including Ayurveda, fall is all about slowing down after the excitement of summer, and letting go of anything that’s not needed prior to the winter season of gathering, storing, and organizing. And part of this process of letting go of summer includes eliminating a lot of summer indulgences (read: cocktails, barbecue, and ice cream) and opting for cleaner, more nutrient-dense foods instead.

Many seasonal fall foods are perfect for detoxing after the summer, including apples, beets, celery, broccoli, cauliflower, and leafy greens. All of these foods support digestive health and immunity by supplying dietary fiber that’s helpful for bowel regularity; electrolytes, including calcium and magnesium, to support sleep, heart, and bone health; and numerous antioxidants that fight free radical damage associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. Other detoxifying fall foods to incorporate include daikon radish, okra, onions, garlic, and carrots.

2. Fill Up on Root Veggies and Fall Squashes

Many of us start craving more carbohydrates and sweets during the colder months, which is why root veggies— nature’s grain-free comfort foods—are the perfect choice right now. Instead of relying on pastas, breads, and other refined grains during fall, try to include more naturally-sweet root veggies in your meals—whether roasted, added to soups and stews, boiled, or baked.

Check out your local farmer’s market to pick up some of the best seasonal choices, including sweet potatoes, purple or red potatoes, acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, parsnips, turnips, yams, and beets. Studies show that pumpkin, by far one of the most popular fall veggies, is also one of the best sources of antioxidants including flavonoids, as well as palmitic, oleic, and linoleic acids.

3. Fight Allergies with Immune-Boosting, Seasonal Greens

Leafy greens such as collards, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cabbage, are some of the most nutrient-packed foods available to us. And not only do they help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation—making them great dietary choices yearround—but they’re also helpful for fighting seasonal allergies.

Certain studies have found that children who consume seasonal fruits, vegetables, and nuts daily (foods included in “traditional diets” such as the Mediterranean diet) have significantly better protection against allergies and asthma. This is likely because these foods support microbiome health (remember: all health starts in the gut), in addition to providing vitamins A, C, and E, and antioxidants like carotenoids, selenium, and flavonoids that help prevent oxidative damage in the lungs and nasal passages.

4. Eat More Healthy Fats to Combat Dry/Itchy Skin

Not only do we lose our summer “glow” in the fall, but colder, dryer weather tends to zap the moisture right out of our skin, sometimes causing itching, redness, and increased sensitivity. But healthy fats like coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, and chia or flax seeds all help to moisten skin from the inside-out by helping to balance the production of skin lipids (oils). Coconut oil can also be applied directly to the surface of the skin, as it has been shown to contribute to significant improvements in skin hydration and skin surface lipid levels.

And don’t forget that foods high in vitamin C and E—like berries, oranges, grapefruit and leafy greens—are also great for protecting your skin, but since some of these options are out of season in fall, it’s smart to stock up on frozen this time of year.

Another helpful tip for consuming healthy fats that will keep your skin supple is to regularly consume bone broth or collagen protein to your routine, since changes in collagen (the primary protein that forms connective tissues in the human body) can contribute to skin sagging, dryness, loss of elasticity, and other signs of aging. And with bone broth and collagen now available in convenient powders, it’s easier than ever to ease into your diet.

5. Keep Warm with Seasonal Spices

Warming spices—think cinnamon, clove, anise, ginger, turmeric, and cumin—are the hallmark of fall and the perfect additions to classic recipe favorites like homemade applesauce, mashed sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

But you may not know that, in addition to adding lots of zero-calorie flavor to recipes and reducing the need for lots of added sugar or salt, these spices also reduce inflammation, improve digestion, help to curb cravings, and contribute to overall health. For example, a 2014 study stated that fall’s favorite spice, cinnamon, is an “antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, anticancer, lipid-lowering, and cardiovascular-disease-lowering compound.”

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