As the harvest moon approaches, the season of fall is in full swing. The air is brisk, and the hours of daylight are noticeably diminishing. Often, we begin spending more time indoors, enjoying the warmth and comforts of home. We tend to exercise less and eat a bit more, usually, craving foods that make us feel good, temporarily; foods that contain increased amounts of sugar and fat. With Halloween right around the corner, it is important to avoid overindulging in sugary treats in order to maintain balance in mind and body.
Similar to the autumn air, the qualities of vata are cold, light, dry, subtle, windy, mobile, sharp, flowing, hard, rough, and clear. Fall is a season of deficiency and change, and we are especially vulnerable to Vata aggravation this time of year. Dosha energies are influenced by environment, lifestyle, and diet and can easily be increased to excess. Signs of vata imbalance are an overactive mind, worry, lack of sleep, tiredness, feeling cold and dry, stress, gas, bloating, and constipation.
In an effort to feel better, it is not unusual to “treat” these symptoms by consuming caffeinated beverages high in sugar. Although sugar may produce short-term energy, it is quickly followed by lower energy levels and a feeling of lethargy. When eaten in excess, sugar can also lead to the accumulation of toxins (ama), which can lead to compromised immunity, weight gain, and sluggishness.
Thankfully, there are several ways to help manage these cravings and soothe vata throughout the holiday season.
The diet is a great way to pacify vata during fall. Ayurveda recommends warm, spiced foods, and hot herbal teas made from fennel, ginger, licorice, cinnamon, cardamom, and ajwain. Fall fruits and vegetables such as apples, pumpkins, pears, squash, and sweet potatoes shine this time of year with their vivid orange, yellow, brown, and red colors. In addition to their outer beauty, autumn produce are rich in fiber, vitamin E, and great for balancing vata. Since vata is cold, dry, and rough, enjoying a warming evening meal, such as vegan root vegetable curry (see recipe below), is not only grounding for vata, but it helps the body manage sugar cravings and maintain balance.
Ayurvedic herbs are also valuable to keep vata in balance and help reduce sugar cravings. One of the most powerful herbs to help the body combat the desire for sugar is Gymnema sylvestre. Gymnema, or gurmar in Hindi, is a woody climbing shrub that’s native to the tropical forests of India, Africa, and Australia. Its leaves have been used in Ayurveda for thousands of years.
The Hindi name, gurmar, means "destroyer of sugar." When consumed prior to sugary food or beverage, Gymnema leaf extract, notably the peptide ‘gurmarin’, has been found to interfere with the ability of the taste buds on the tongue to taste sweet and bitter. It is believed that by inhibiting the sweet taste sensation, people taking it will limit their intake of sweet foods. The gymnemic acid components are also believed to block the absorption of glucose in the small intestine. In addition, studies show that gurmarin and gymnemic acids boost the natural production of insulin in the pancreas, which helps the body naturally balance blood sugar, reduce sugar cravings, and manage weight. Moreover, in a study of 60 moderately-obese people, those who used a Gymnema extract had a 5–6% decrease in body weight, as well as reduced food intake.
This time of year it can be difficult to avoid all of the sugary treats. As with all things in life, moderation is key. Don’t let Halloween treats trick you. If sugar is one of your vices, try a cup of Gymnema sylvestre tea to help reduce your intake. Enjoy, and have a balanced, healthy, and happy Halloween.
VEGAN ROOT VEGETABLE CURRY
Serves 3 – 4
2 cups Basmati rice
3 cups butternut squash, yams, or sweet potatoes
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove of garlic
Ginger root (about 1” slice)
10 Curry leaves
½ Tsp. ground turmeric
1 Tsp. chili powder
2-5 Pieces of cardamom
5 Cinnamon sticks
1 13 oz can of coconut milk
2 teaspoons crushed cashews
1 Tsp. ground curry
- Rinse the rice using a fine-mesh sieve or strainer and cold running water.
- Pour water into the pot, add salt, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil on medium heat.
- Immediately turn down boiling water to a low simmer and let simmer, covered and undisturbed, for 15 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and let steam for 5 minutes.
- Uncover, fluff with a fork, and serve.
Cut root vegetables into cubes, then boil in a deep frying pan with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes. Use just enough water to cover the vegetables. Remove from heat and strain. Place in a bowl and set aside. Discard extra water.
Peel and finely chop the onion and garlic, peel the ginger and grate it. Use the same pan and sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger in olive oil.
Add coconut milk, remaining spices, and root vegetables. Reduce the heat to medium, and allow the mixture to gently boil for about 10 minutes, or until the liquid volume has reduced as much as desired and thickens slightly.
Remove cinnamon sticks, curry leaves, cardamom, and cloves. Optionally, you can add more spices, if necessary. Serve with rice and top with crushed cashews.
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 Nakamura Y., Tsumura Y., Tonogai Y., Shibata T. Fecal steroid excretion is increased in rats by oral administration of gymnemic acids contained in Gymnema sylvestre leaves. J. Nutr. 1999; 129:1214–1222.
 Pothuraju, R. , Sharma, R. K., Chagalamarri, J. , Jangra, S. and Kumar Kavadi, P. (2014), A systematic review of Gymnema sylvestre in obesity and diabetes management. J. Sci. Food Agric., 94: 834-840.
 Preuss, H. G., Bagchi, D. , Bagchi, M. , Rao, C. V., Dey, D. K. and Satyanarayana, S. (2004), Effects of a natural extract of (–)‐hydroxycitric acid (HCA‐SX) and a combination of HCA‐SX plus niacin‐bound chromium and Gymnema sylvestre extract on weight loss. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 6: 171-180.