For my money, Autumn is the very best time of year to adopt some healthy new habits that will help to keep you well during the colder months ahead. With this change of season there is a glut of delicious local produce to be enjoyed – from plums, apples and berries, to kale, carrots and squashes. It is a time when our cooking changes to more hearty, warming stews and soups.
This is not a time for crazy-ass diets and calorie restriction, but rather a time to snuggle into a new routine and make some simple, seasonal changes to support our immunity, manage energy levels and ease ourselves into the darker, cooler days of autumn and winter.
Pimp your porridge
Back to porridge! By adding flaxseeds, chia, walnuts, ginger, cinnamon, berries, plums or stewed apple to your porridge, it will not only taste amazing, look fab, but will provide you with a hefty dose of nutrients to kickstart your day and fuel you until lunchtime. I would suggest using jumbo porridge oats, as they are lower glycaemic index and tend to keep us feeling fuller for longer than finely milled oats. Pinhead oats make a great porridge too. Remember to add a little protein to your porridge to help maintain and sustain your energy all morning – nuts and seeds are ideal, but you could also add natural yoghurt or sugar-free nut butter for a change.
Nourish yourself at lunchtime
Step away from the meal deal and get into the habit of prepping your own lunch a couple of times a week. That way you are guaranteed to eat better and save yourself some money into the bargain. Here are some ideas to whet your appetite:
- Homemade soup with oatcakes and cheese
- Couscous salad made with leftover chicken from Sunday’s roast dinner
- Mini egg muffins (also known as frittatas) with salad
- Leftover stew, curry or chilli
- Quinoa super salad
One pot wonders
Hearty dishes like stew, curry and chilli are perfect for dinner at this time of the year. Think creatively and add some extra vegetables to max up your nutrient levels. I love butternut squash and sweet potatoes in dishes like these (now available frozen too). These vibrant orange-coloured vegetables are in season right now and are a source of carotenoids, a group of antioxidant nutrients that may help support our immune system.
Warming spices like ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and garlic are the perfect starting point for any good curry recipe, but it is thought that these spicy ingredients have an important role to play in our health too. With potential benefits for circulation, inflammation, digestive health, blood sugar management and immune function, these spices are well worth adding to soups, stews, curries or anywhere you can.
Harvest and ferment
September is the time to harvest the best of the season, and our ancestors would be reaping the harvest and using natural preservation methods like pickling and fermenting to make sure the harvest lasts through winter. We now know that these methods also helped to intensify the nutritional quality of the food they were eating and were a source of what we now call probiotic bacteria, like lactobacillus. Try adding some sauerkraut, kefir or kombucha to your diet, or even just start with some live, natural yoghurt every day.
Plenty of us notice that our mood starts to dip a little at this time of the year. Exercise is vitally important for our mental health, as well as our physical health, especially if we do it outside in natural daylight, as this helps to support our natural circadian rhythm that can be disrupted as the days get darker and the nights get longer. Get on your bike, go out for a walk or jog around the block. Get into the habit of doing a little every day and your body (and mind) will thank you for it.
This blog post first app read as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 14 September 2019.