Your Autumn Survival Guide
I spent most of my twenties dreading the end of summer, and slowly counting down the dark days of winter until March and the promise of spring, as if everything would be better with the salve of sunshine.
Now older, slightly wiser and acutely aware of the passing of time, I have begun to savour the changing seasons, relishing the torrential rain and dark skies as an opportunity to seek comfort inside. I am infinitely more social and energetic in the warmer months, but instead of beating myself up and labelling myself a misery, I now allow a hibernation period, slowing down and sleeping more, recharging and aligning myself with the seasons rather than raging against them.
Autumn now represents a newness, a time to take stock, to begin new projects and embrace that back to school feeling of childhood. When it comes to health and nutrition the end of summer often signals a plateau. Beach bodies can now be wrapped in cosy knits and holiday over indulgences can stretch long into the festive season. I’m sure a wise person once said 'An autumn well spent, brings a winter of content' and now really is a great time to slow down and nourish your body so you can weather any storms on the horizon.
If you’ve been existing on crisps and rosé all summer, your body may be lacking essential nutrients leaving your immune system vulnerable and feeling physically unwell is a sure-fire short cut to feeling mentally unwell. Luckily, Mother Nature has your back and the seasonal fruits of early autumn are great immune boosters.
Dark berries like blackberries are rich in vitamin C, with one cup containing half your daily recommended serving. The old adage 'An apple a day...(keeps the doctor away)' really does hold true, with a recent study showing that people who ate fruit, including apples on a regular basis had a greater life expectancy than those who didn’t. Apples are a great source of soluble fibre, which supports digestive health and with 70% of your entire immune system residing in the gut, good gut health is not just about beating the bloat. Pears are also great for digestive health and are in season from October to the beginning of January. Try stewing these fruits with some warming spices like cinnamon and cloves to add additional cold and flu fighting power. Store in an airtight container in the fridge to add to steaming bowls of porridge or creamy Greek yoghurt.
Slow cooking seems to fit the mood of autumn, where cool crisp salads should be replaced with nourishing bowls of soups and stews. These are great to batch cook on a Sunday with the radio on full blast. Taking the time to meal-prep means that you can come home on a dark chilly evening and sit down to a quick and easy bowl of heart-warming nourishment. Butternut squash is really my hero ingredient here, from silky smooth soups topped with chilli flakes to curries with spinach and chickpeas or Moroccan tagines. These high in fibre autumnal super squashes are rich in vitamin A from beta carotene, which is great for skin, immunity and eye health.
Another seasonal hero is the globe artichoke. This vegetable can look daunting but simply steam until tender and peel the leaves, eating the fleshy part dipped in a lemony vinaigrette. The artichoke is traditionally used to support liver health, so it's perfect if you have overindulged during the summer months and also to prepare for the excesses of the festive season. The bitter taste boosts digestive enzymes and artichokes contains prebiotics to support beneficial gut bacteria.
Step aside Kale! It’s time to honour the humble cabbage- from Savoy to Cavolo Nero, these dark dense leaves are iron enriched for energy and packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals for all round health. Try slicing thinly and adding to a hot pan of sautéed garlic and chilli. Add a can of butter beans and a sprinkle of parmesan for a perfect autumnal supper in minutes.
If you really want to embrace the season, prepare your own autumn harvest by stocking up on whole grains, nuts and seeds to add a nutritional boost to your meals. Buy cheap Kilner jars or reuse old jam jars by filling and label them- a well-stocked kitchen cupboard means you’re less likely to reach for nutritionally devoid convenience foods.
Here are some of my store cupboard favourites:
Oats are a must- great for immunity and digestion. Porridge is the ultimate health comfort food that can be topped with a multitude of flavours, fruit compotes, berries and honey, nuts and seeds and if you’re feeling adventurous you could try going savoury with avocado and even seaweed flakes.
Pearl barley is great for bulking up soups, or eaten in place of rice, rich in energy and mood enhancing B vitamins, selenium and magnesium along with a hearty dose of fibre this really is a wonder grain.
Autumn is time to gather and squirrel away nutrient dense nuts and seeds. Packed with fibre minerals, protein and essential fats to support overall wellbeing. Walnuts have been studied for their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may aid sleep. In a recent study, a small handful of almonds was found to be as effective as Aspirin in reducing headaches, providing 20% of your daily recommended amount of magnesium, the ‘relax’ mineral.
What you eat today is how you’ll feel tomorrow, so take some time to acknowledge the change in season, adapting your eating habits to support your immunity, energy and moods. Food is only one part of the picture. Spending time outside is equally nurturing; wrap up warm and take bracing walks amongst the changing leaves, making sure you spend some time outside in daylight every day to support a healthy circadian rhythm essential for brain health.
Most importantly, remember balance is key. Eating healthy nutritious whole foods most of the time as well as enjoying the autumn rituals of a Sunday roast in a pub with good friends or a slice of cake and a warm cup of tea over a catch up is a perfect mix. Overall, treat yourself as you would someone you love; with kindness and care.
Maya Oakley is a registered nutritional therapist who can be found at Nourished London and @nourishedlondon on Instagram