When it comes to eating healthily, what comes to mind? Is it salad and leafy greens? What about root vegetables? Do they only see the plate on Thanksgiving or Christmas?
If you're anything like me, you associate root veg with Autumn (or Fall), as there's something really wholesome and comforting about them (especially when roasted!), which helps us cozy up in preparation for the colder days and longer nights.
But root veg are not just great for Autumn. Because of their earthy quality, naturally sweet taste, and the fact that they are a great source of complex carbs, they are also great at certain other times throughout the year (three in particular!).
Curious to know how root veggies can enhance your health and hormones? Read on...
Three occasions, other than Fall, to load up on root veg:
1. During luteal phase
The female cycle is divided into 4 phases: follicular (starting the first day after you finish bleeding), ovulatory, luteal, and menstrual phases. (For more info on the phases, check out this article.) Luteal phase (just before your period starts) is when most women experience the worst PMS symptoms, especially mood swings and cravings. Besides cycle-syncing (living in a way that supports these phases, and the natural rise and fall of your hormones), eating right during the luteal phase is a crucial step towards balancing your hormones and dealing with PMS symptoms. In particular, we can help combat cravings by focussing on complex carbs and naturally sweet tasting foods during this phase, which is where root vegetables come in.
The luteal phase is an ideal time to add more root veg to your diet, as they are a rich and nutritious source of complex carbs, which means that they can help stabilise your blood sugar levels (as opposed to refined carbs and sugary foods which will cause blood sugar levels to spike and then crash, leaving you miserable, moody, and craving even more sugar!). This is not only good news for your health (the more we can regulate our blood sugar levels - and therefore improve insulin sensitivity - the less at risk we are for diabetes) and hormones (since insulin resistance is a factor in PCOS), but it will also help to combat mood swings and to stabilise energy levels.
Long roots in particular – like carrots, parsnips, burdock, and daikon radish – are excellent blood purifiers and can help improve circulation in the body, which is great for our reproductive organs (encouraging blood flow to the reproductive organs helps our fertility and helps prevent stagnation). Round roots – like turnips, radishes, beets, and rutabagas – also nourish the reproductive organs, as well as the stomach, spleen, and pancreas.
Root veggies also have a naturally sweet taste, so should help satisfy any sugar cravings you might have during the luteal phase. Try cooking them with other naturally sweet tasting spices (like cinnamon), as in the recipe below!
2. If your Vata dosha is out of balance
The doshas – or inherent constitutions – are a core component of Ayurveda (the ancient system of medicine originating in India over 5000 years ago). There are 3 doshas – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha – and everyone is made up of all 3 in varying quantities. We are born with a certain constitution (or balance of Doshas), but this can change throughout life, depending on age, environment or circumstance. The problem is when one dosha becomes out of balance, as Ayurveda (like Traditional Chinese Medicine) believes that good health lies in the concept of balance. This imbalance means that the qualities associated with that dosha become exaggerated, so much so that one’s health begins to suffer.
The qualities associated with Vata are (and please note these are every generalised; you may not have all of these qualities even if you are predominantly Vata): Cold, dry, light, associated with wind. Vata people tend to be quite naturally thin, they may find it difficult to put on weight, and have cold hands and feet. May experience digestive problems such as gas and bloating, and insomnia. Mentally vata people may seem a big ‘flighty’ or ‘away with the fairies’, always travelling, difficulty settling down or making decisions. They tend to be very creative and had a vivid imagination.
As you can see, Vata is associated with wind, and when vata is out of balance you may find that you are constantly cold all the time, you may be struggling with energy or digestive issues such as gas or bloating, you may have trouble sleeping (either difficulties falling asleep or waking up in the middle of the night), you may be struggling with anxiety or racing thoughts, or problems making a decision or settling down. Or you may be struggling to put on weight.
In terms of hormonal health, a vata imbalance may be seen in women with amenorrhea (lack of period) or whose periods are extremely light and irregular, or women who are struggling to get pregnant. (Please note infertility is multi-faceted, and there may be many factors at play. Always check with your healthcare provided to rule out anything more serious.)
In such cases Ayurveda would prescribe a Vata-pacifying diet; in other words, food that has the opposite qualities to Vata. Since vata is cold and dry, this includes warm, oily, or naturally fatty foods. Since Vata is associated with wind and air, Vata people need food that contains grounding qualities. Since root veg grow under the ground, they are a perfect food for providing those comforting, grounding qualities to a Vata imbalance, especially if we roast them in olive oil (offering the warming, nourishing element, and the good quality oil that Vata people, who are naturally dry, need).
If you’re reading this and to relate to any of the Vata qualities, try adding in some root veg to your diet, and see if you start to notice a difference!
3. During pregnancy and post-partum
From an Eastern medicine perspective, where we associate different parts of the female cycle with different seasons, pregnancy can be viewed as a continuation of the menstrual phase (but with additional nutrient requirements and recommendations). This means focussing on warming, nourishing, and easily digested foods, as opposed to raw, cold foods (so rather than a big raw salad, it would be advised to eat a big plate of roast or cooked veggies).
In particular, from an Ayurveda perspective, the general nutrition recommendations are for foods that are liquid, warm, naturally sweet-tasting, oily (good quality fats, avoiding vegetable oils), and whole foods. This is partly because pregnancy is seen as a time of increased vata, especially during the first and (late) third trimester, and post-birth.
If you’re interested in learning more about Ayurveda and pregnancy/postnatal, keep a lookout for my ‘Ayurveda for pregnancy’ online workshop which will be available soon!
So there you have it: three other 'seasons' in which root veggies are King! And since you made it all the way to the end you get a special bonus... ;) If you’re not sure what to do with root veggies, check out my root veggie buddha bowl recipe:
Root Veggie Buddha Bowl Prep time: 15 minutes Cooking time: 25-35 minutes Serves 4 Ingredients: 1 sweet potato, washed and cut into small cubes 2 parsnips, peeled and chopped into long wedges 2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds 2 fresh beets, peeled and sliced into thin rounds 1 daikon radish (or substitute/add in other favourites, like butternut squash), washed and sliced 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil salt and pepper ½ tsp cinnamon 1 generous cup dry quinoa or millet 3.5 cups vegetable stock 4 tbsp sauerkraut Optional: Roast chickpeas or tofu or tempeh 4 tbsp seeds (hemp seeds, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds) For the dressing: 4 tbsp tahini 3 tbsp tamari (gluten free soya sauce) Water, to thin
Method: Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Prepare the veggies. Place in a large baking dish/tray with sides (you might need to use 2 trays so they have enough space). Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, pepper and cinnamon. Mix well to coat the veggies. Bake uncovered for 25-35 minutes until vegetables are tender and golden brown, checking every 10 minutes to stir and make sure veggies are not sticking. In the meantime prepare the quinoa. Rinse under cold water and fry lightly in a pan for 1 minute. Add 3.5 cups vegetable stock, and bring to boil. Boil for 1 minute, then cover and leave for 10 minutes (checking towards the end of cooking time that there is still some water in pan). Turn off heat and leave for another 5-10 minutes. (If using millet then cook according to the packet.) Make the tahini sauce by combining the tahini and tamari in a jug or bowl until combined. Slowly add the water a little at a time, stirring continuously, until desired consistency is achieved. Arrange the veggies on a plate, with the grain of choice, 1 tbsp sauerkraut, 1tbsp seeds, and protein source of choice (tempeh, chickpeas or tofu). Drizzle with the tahini sauce and enjoy! Tip: Any combination of vegetables will work. Roasting only one kind of vegetable also makes a nice side dish.
Let me know how you get on with this recipe in the comments below! Or take a photo of your beautiful bowl and share it with me on social media (@drcharlottehay on Instagram)!