Pretty snow and cozy sweaters. Rosy cheeks and the crisp slice of skates on ice. Maybe cold keeps you indoors more than you’d like, but at least there’s some hot soup to wrap your hands around as you curl up for yet another hour.
What a great time of year to break out all the comfort food, to not worry about those few extra pounds. Even so, you might be waking with a dry mouth or crusty nose and feel like your skin will flake off completely.
Do you need to drink more water in winter?
It seems counter-intuitive. We usually think in terms of getting enough water in the heat of the summer, or when we exercise. It’s just as important, if not more so, to make sure to get a balance of liquid in the cold.
Using the logical lens of basic physiology, temperature extremes of both kinds require your body to work harder, and thermal regulation happens with the help of water flow in & out of your organs.
We eat more preserved food in winter. Roasting and baking dries food, and central heating evaporates our surface moisture.
That said, this isn’t a directive to refill that water bottle or down another glass of ice cold water. (***PSA: it is never wise to down a glass of ice cold anything, even in summer – it makes your body work hard to start heating up and wreaks havoc on your digestion.***)
This is not a call to drink more water.
This is a call to stay hydrated.
In Chinese Medicine, water is the element of winter. The time of deepest yin – turning inward both for introspection and storage of energy – reflected by the most yin of substances. It’s the season that strengthens your kidneys, your adrenals and your bones.
Like any of the elements in the Chinese spectrum, water needs to stay in balance. Too little and you lack energy, too much and you dispel that energy. In the conventional Western mindset, that means making sure that we take in as much as we put out – same way we tend to think about calories.
Your digestive tract secretes about 9L of water each day, though it resorbs most of it. Between healthy bowels, healthy kidneys, sweat and tears, you lose about 2L of water per day, which is where that average daily intake comes from.
In that overly simple equation we forget two important details.
First, the water we lose includes salt and other minerals.
Water, in its original state, necessarily contains minerals: the sea, la mer… la mère, the mother.
In order to be properly nourished, we need those minerals. Of course, you can’t drink water straight from the sea in vast quantities – the concentrations can mess with your cells and cause problems, which is why it makes you vomit.
Minerals make up part of the yin aspect of water. Do you remember that old rule from chemistry class, water follows salt? Having adequate minerals in your body draws more water, holds more water…and the water is what allows those minerals to stay in your body. The deepest nourishment of your tissues, the functioning of every tiny cell relies on those minerals.
Think of it this way: during these quiet months of a more inactive, hibernating lifestyle, your organs are soaking in that nourishment, replenishing and recharging for when things heat up and speed up again.
Yes, all those quiet, introspective activities you’re drawn to in winter are part of that nourishment too!
In drawing your metabolic focus inwards, that yin energy is keeping your core warm through the season. The happy side effect is that your extremities are cooler, which makes it easier to tolerate the cold weather.
Secondly, we forget that the water we drink is processed.
I don’t know a single person anymore who isn’t making a conscious effort to cut out or at least cut down on processed food from their life. We read food labels obsessively and look down on anything with added sugar or preservatives. And yet, we ignore the processed nature of the water we drink and use to cook.
Sure, you put the tap water through the Brita or have a reverse osmosis filter under your sink. In so doing, you’re also stripping some degree of minerals.
All that processing and refiltering also removes the life from water.
Don’t believe me? Take a sip of Brita-filtered tap water, hold it in your mouth and notice how it feels. Now do the same with a sip of high-end spring water, such as Evian or Fiji. Can you feel that? One is thin, flat, the other has a roundness to it – the very molecular-structure of the tap-water has been altered. (No, I’m not crazy – try it!)
No one has shown us the power water’s energetic nature better than Masuru Emoto. Google his work and look at the crystal formations of different water sources, and water exposed to different stimuli like music and words – watch videos of what happens to rice exposed to different energetic sources.
No matter the source of your water, drinking too much of it will just make you pee more: make your kidneys work harder at elimination rather than taking advantage of its prime regeneration time and toxin filtration and depleting you of yet more minerals.
We’ve established you need to keep water in balance at this time of year, and that drinking more water is not the solution, let’s jump to the part of how to hydrate yourself better in winter.
Like it long and slow.
You’re naturally going to be drawn to heavier, more dense foods at this time of year – the stuff that sticks to your ribs. In cooking any of it, you want to keep the temperature low and cook it longer.
Not only does this maintain the moisture in your food, long, slow and moist cooking makes it more easily digestible, preserving your energy in yet another way.
Stew meats and veggies.
Boil up a variety of roots and mash them together. Play around with combinations, as some work better than others. My newest favourite is cauliflower, celery root and parsnip.
Eat more legumes.
Roast winter greens gently (325-350° F).
Soups not smoothies.
In the winter, cooked veggies are the option of choice – save the salads, sprouts and frozen smoothies for another time. Steer clear of tropical fruit that’s grown in, well, tropical countries, which means they are cooling in nature. Think of hardy fruit: apples, pears, or (soaked) dried fruit. Coconut and its milk count here as they’re warming!
Steam your leafy greens – or throw them into your soup at the end. Yes, this includes lettuces and fresh herbs.
When you generally eat a diet high in vegetables, fruit and whole grains (think about it, every cup of brown rice or oatmeal holds 2 cups of water), you’re getting a good proportion of the necessary 2L right there – no one said you have to drink that much liquid!
Get enough salt…not too much.
No, I’m not suggesting you start pouring the Sifto on everything, or giving you permission to eat chips daily.
While salt will draw water and your energy inward to keep your core warm, an over-consumption will reverse those benefits and have you purging the excess, as described earlier. In that sense, it’s even more important to steer clear of overly salty food, i.e. fast and processed, more than ever.
Think well-seasoned, not salty. When cooking salt-cured meats and fish, rinse well and/or change the water halfway.
Sodium is the key component that water will follow, but like our food and water, when stripped of its natural components, salt does more harm than good. Eat whole salt.
Use grey sea salt (the kind that seems a bit wet means it also has good iodine levels); pink or black sea salt; Himalayan salt; mix kelp powder with sea salt. Like your vegetables, vary your salt sources for a variety of nutrients as well as flavour.
Go for more seaweed, in soups, as a salad or as the salt source when you cook whole grains & legumes.
Drink warm, clear liquids in moderation.
Bone broth – think of all those minerals in there, giving your bones ALL the nutrients it needs, straight from the source!
Herbal tea – spearmint is warming, Indian spices (chai), fennel, ginger in moderation (too much can be too hot and cool you down), are good choices. Hibiscus-based fruit blends have a boost of vitamin C.
Celery broth is my new favourite – according to the Medical Medium, Anthony William, celery juice first thing in the morning is the ideal tonic – I have a couple of friends who swear by it. In the winter, though, I find raw food and fresh juice too depleting, so have gone for the heat extracted version and really love it.
Not too hot or your body will start trying to cool you down. When you do drink some water, be sure it’s at least room temperature.
Easy on the caffeine and alcohol which, other than making you pee more, dispel and deplete the energy needed to keep you warm.
That said, lightly steeped tea (black or green) quenches your thirst, as does a squeeze of lime in warm water.
Easy on the flour products.
If your skin is dry, before you up the water intake, try cutting back on the baked goods. All that pure starch will draw water to it in the digestive tract, which not only makes it hard to digest, it deprives your cells of some of that moisture.
Winter can be harsh – if the last couple of weeks have been any indication, this is going to be a tough one in Eastern North America. Work with the energy of the season, give yourself permission to close down to a certain degree and drink in the warmth of mothering yourself a little more.