Easter always signals the start of Spring for me, with daffodils, chicks and lambs signifying new beginnings. The weather is often better and with lighter mornings and evenings, it can feel like a physical awakening from hibernation. Both my body and mind feel more energetic, with the promise of warmer months ahead.
This is the perfect time for some Spring cleaning – and I don’t just mean the house! Winter can often mean longer periods inside, with central heating on high and windows closed, less-than-healthy food and alcohol consumed, as well as a reduction in physical activity. And many of us are still reeling from the effects of Covid, not quite feeling ourselves again, from those long winter months.
So now is the time to put those promises of more exercise and healthier eating habits into practise! Try getting up a bit earlier and getting outside into the light for some physical activity, even if that means walking round your garden or the local park. Not only will your heart thank you for the cardiovascular exercise, your nervous system will be primed to face the day ahead better, with the positive effects of being in nature, hopefully with some sunshine.
Fresh spring foods provide the perfect opportunity to replenish any micronutrients depleted over winter, especially vitamins D and C, as well as magnesium, zinc and selenium. This is especially the case if you’ve just recovered from Covid, a heavy cold, or are experiencing the enduring symptoms of ‘Long Covid’. Think wild garlic, spring greens, rocket, purple sprouting broccoli, young spinach and asparagus 1. There’s nothing better than spring greens and garlic sautéed in butter or olive oil (not extra virgin, due to the higher cooking temperature); add ginger and a bit of tamari (gluten-free soy) sauce or some parmesan. I’ve left out avocados, only because they incur a lot of travel miles 2, which is not good for us nutrient-wise or for the planet: over the last five years, 84% of UK avocados were imported from South America, South Africa, Israel and Spain (in that order) 3.
And if you’re wondering about fruit, this is the season for rhubarb. You may be retraining your body back to fitness but try retraining your taste-buds too. Cook the rhubarb with honey instead of sugar – for those with seasonal allergies, using local honey can help mitigate symptoms 4. But remember, honey is still sugar, so gradually replace it with anti-inflammatory aromatic foods such as nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger 1.
If you eat animal products, eggs, dairy and lamb are all in season. But if you suffer with seasonal allergies, allergic rhinitis, hayfever, eczema or asthma, dairy foods might aggravate your symptoms. If possible, try to ensure your eggs and meat are organic and free-range. For those seeking a bit of inspiration for your lamb dishes, think lamb flatbreads with dill yogurt or lamb hummus.
And for the fish lovers amongst us, what ever happened to kedgeree? Originating from colonial India as part of the Ayurvedic khichari diet and typically eaten at breakfast, it’s packed full of nutrients, protein and healthy fats which will help keep us satiated throughout the day. But eaten any time, hot or cold, it’s a tasty versatile dish – and replacing white rice for brown or wholegrain basmati will increase your fibre intake too. There’s lots of different recipe variations, but if cream is on the ingredients list, try using full fat, live natural yogurt instead.
And of course, Easter always means chocolate. If you’ve given up chocolate for Lent, try not to dive head-first into the crème eggs! Dark chocolate can provide some health benefits if it’s made with 70% or more cocoa solids. Cacao is rich in magnesium and zinc, and also contains anti-inflammatory flavonoids, one of which, epicatechin, has been associated with mood enhancement 5. And dark chocolate contains anandamide, a chemical which also helps modulate mood 6, which is possibly why we feel so good when we eat it! And it doesn’t have to be just Easter eggs; with strawberries coming into season in late Spring, dip them in melted dark chocolate for a healthier snack or dessert - eating chocolate after a meal rather than on its own, helps moderate the rise in blood sugar.
Above all, moderation is key. Enjoy these seasonal treats by taking your time to savour the taste...rather than stuffing your face!
Goodman, J. 2020. ‘Staying Alive in Toxic Times, A Seasonal Guide to Lifelong Health’ pp71-72. Hodder & Stoughton: London