Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Seasonal Diet

"The Seasonal Diet" from Of Men and Plants: The autobiography of the world's most famous plant healer by Maurice Messegue (herbalist par excellence), The Macmillan Company, NY, 1973, p. 324-327

Our parents and grandparents, who were closer to nature than we are, used to eat according to the season of the year. In their day you couldn’t buy Cape strawberries or Dutch hothouse tomatoes in mid-winter. Clearly, a well-balanced diet should reflect the difference in the seasons, just as our calorie expenditure and need for vitamins varies throughout the year. Our body cries out for foods that correspond to its changing needs, and it is up to us to satisfy these needs.

In the spring you must help your body to rid itself of the impurities accumulated during the winter and to renew itself. Eat more raw vegetables and greens, and instead of meat cooked in rich sauces, stick to plain grilled meat, especially spring lamb, free-range chicken and river fish. You will benefit greatly from all the fruit available at this time of year.

To help purify your blood and your whole system, start the day by drinking a glass of vegetable juice or eating fresh fruit, lettuce, celery, apples. Lunch should be light but sustaining, whole-rye bread and yoghurt. I am never in favor of milky coffee, but even if you love it, drink tea instead, until autumn. It will be better for the state of your liver, which has been overworked by all the rich foods you ate in winter.

Start each meal with one of the raw vegetables in season – young artichoke, radishes, celery – rather than the winter vegetables: carrots, etc. Follow it with grilled meat or fish and steamed greens, which you should cook as briefly as possible. Overcooking causes vegetables to lose much of their goodness. Eat salads of dandelion and young lettuce, and whatever fruit is in season. Compensate for the lack of fruit available in early spring with milk products.

Your evening meal is the time for spring vegetable soups, fish, boiled eggs an the first fresh fruits, stewed, which should be rapidly and briefly cooked. Overstewed foods are the enemy of your figure as well as your health.

Parsley, fresh onions, cheeses, black olives and the odd handful of dried fruits will build up your defenses against colds, for don’t forget the old saying; “Ne’er cast a clout till May is out.” Eat “lightly” but don’t waste your reserves, you’ll still need them.

When summer comes you will naturally tend to choose cold meals, to drink a lot and eat too many raw vegetables. Be warned, do not eat too many tomatoes or lemons, which are known for their demineralizing effect. You must be particularly careful if you go in for a lot of sports and prolonged sun-bathing, for you run the risk of decalcification. This is the danger of summer. Compensate for it by eating celery and Camembert cheese. Don’t eat the heavy meals you do in winter, drink plenty of liquids, for you are being dehydrated more, but do not touch iced fizzy drinks, however pleasant they may be.

Summer is the season when fruits and vegetables are at their best, full of natural sunshine. Make the most of them, but do not completely substitute them for your usual foods. Two [too] much cellulose can cause serious stomach and intestinal troubles. Remember that any severe prolonged imbalance in your diet is always disastrous. Start your day with fresh fruit or vegetables juices: cucumber, celery, apricot, grapefruit. You need vitamins to withstand the scorching rays of the sun. Instead of rye bread eat wholemeal bread, and eat yoghurt. If you spend a lot of time on the beach, eat light meals, but above all, cont go out on a n empty stomach. Grilled fish with herbs or some cold meat will give you the strength you need to go swimming and running and leaping about on the beach “like a native.” Some cheese and ripe fruit will tide you over till evening, and remember that strawberries, if they agree with you, are good for almost everything, that cherries remineralize and cleanse the blood, that apricots are good for anemia, that pears are diuretic and peaches are laxative.

Once the really hot season is over, return to more hearty meals of grilled meat or fish with herbs, fresh tuna, chicken salad. When you eat cold meals, let it be at lunchtime, but be sure they are not icy cold, and eat a hot meal in the evening. Avoid rich stews and sauces, and if you are by the sea, make the most of the shell fish and even crustaceans, for they contain anything you might be lacking. Eat plenty of garlic and onion, and in the evening try to eat stewed fruit which, provided it has been only briefly cooked and slightly sweetened, will retain most of its active qualities, while not being tiring to your liver and intestines. Contrary to common practice, eat melon in the evening rather than at lunchtime, and do not eat it ice cold. During the holidays, one goes to bed late, walking or dancing after dinner, and melon is easily digested, especially one is happy.

Be careful about drinks, for they are your enemy in hot weather. You will tend to drink anything that comes to hand, providing it’s cold and there’s plenty of it. Drink as much as you fancy, especially between meals, but not too close to eating fruit and raw vegetables, when liquid will cause distention and flatulence. Be wary of alcohol; it is an enemy of your liver and your figure. Choose instead drinks based on fresh mint, which are not only delicious but soothing and diuretic and good for the stomach.

In the autumn far-sighted animals, such as hedgehogs, dormice and squirrels, start laying up supplies for the winter. Do as they do – start to increase your daily intake of calories, calcium and phosphorus. This is also the ideal time to take a grape cure, which will prepare your system for the shocks winter has in store.

Begin the day by drinking grape juice, and start putting butter on your wholemeal bread and eating more mountain honey. Lunch can be a richer meal. Salads can give way a little to rice, preferably unpolished. This is the best season for cereals, fresh nuts, cubes of Gruyere cheese mixed with chicory and apple. Rabbits and well-fed chickens are good to eat, either grilled or roasted, and if you’re tempted to eat some game, be sure it is not hung or prepared in rich sauce. Don’t forget about ratatouilles, rich with olive oil and fragrant with the herbs of Provence, and choose mountain cheeses, especially if they are made locally. Grapes are still the best possible dessert.

Your evening meal, especially towards the end of autumn, should begin with beef bouillon or a vegetable soup like minestrone. Follow it with eggs or fish, and make the most of mushrooms, which are now at their best. Eat chestnuts too, cooked in milk, for they are a complete food in themselves. End your dinner with a bunch of grapes.

Your winter diet should take into account the climate you live in. The colder it is, the more calories you will expend and the more extra vitamins you will require.

You should drink plenty of orange juice, for this is the time of year to reinforce your natural defenses against colds and flu by stepping up your intake of vitamin C. Your breakfast should be more substantial, including perhaps a little mild cheese, and egg, and buttered whole-rye bread, which has laxative properties that will help you eliminate the toxins of a richer diet. Continue to eat plenty of honey.

Start your lunch with raw winter vegetables: grated carrots, red or green cabbage, celeriac, beetroot. Eat as much shell fish as you like, for the high iodine content will safeguard you in wintry weather. From time to time substitute a pot-au-feu or a succulent stew or a boiled fowl for your grilled beef or lamb. Don’t forget cod, which is rich in calcium and reputedly anti-carcinogenic. Eat plenty of watercress and, providing it agrees with you, lightly cooked cabbage.

This is also the one time in the year when you can indulge in a little bacon, pork, confit (preserved goose) and foie gras.

For your evening meal you can enjoy country soups, clear meat soups, gratinees, casseroles. Winter is not the time to neglect vitamins, so eat a reasonable amount of starchy foods and salad, as well as home-made compotes and jams.

Make sure you are getting extra calcium by eating cheese of any kind, and phosphorus from brains and fish. Apples are full of goodness, but remember the old saying about oranges: “Oranges are gold in the morning, silver at noon and lead at night.” Don’t drink too much tea or coffee, and never touch hot toddy, but, rather, mulled wine. A glass of vintage wine with your meals will help you to endure the hardships of winter.

With your system well protected by the food you eat, you need only wait for spring to start on the pleasant cycle of the seasons once again.

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