Smart Nutrition Notes – February 2016
Bolster Your Immune System
It’s been an interesting winter here in the foothills of the White Mountains. On Valentine’s Eve temperatures plunged to twenty below zero! Two days later we were enjoying 50 degree temperatures (and that is a seventy-degree difference) but it was pouring rain to beat the band. Today is a gorgeous and sunny 40 degrees and you can tell that spring can’t be that far away.
But it is still winter and you can never be sure exactly what will happen in New England. So that means the cold and flu season it still upon us. Did you know the rhinovirus which causes the common cold likes to take up residence in our nose because it is 7 degrees lower that the rest of our body? A recent Yale study found that in colder conditions this virus reproduces quicker and our immune system has a harder time fighting it. So when the cold winds blow, make sure to get more rest, take more fluids and watch your nutrition. We have some great ideas for you this month.
We’ll talk to you next month when official spring will be upon us and the spring thaw will be well underway.
10 Tips to Boost Your Immune System
This is the perfect time a year to catch a cold or flu. So if you want to dodge that office cold or your spouse’s flu, in addition to getting more sleep and managing your stress, a better diet can help.
- Chicken soup—It’s pretty well known that Jewish grandmothers knew what they were talking about but I think it always makes good sense to know why. A study at the University of Nebraska demonstrated that chicken soup slowed the migration of white blood cells which helps to reduce upper respiratory symptoms. This may be because cysteine which is an amino acid released as the chicken cooks is chemically similar to the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine. Just another example of how food is medicine.
- Mushrooms— White blood cell production and activity increase when you eat these fungi which is a good thing when you have an infection. Shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms are the best choices. Add them to sautéed or roasted veggies, soups or most any casserole. Or better yet, make yourself some mushroom soup with chicken broth. Check out this month’s recipe for Healing Mushroom Soup.
- Ginger—In addition to being widely used as a spice in our diet, ginger acts as an antiviral for the treatment of colds and flu. A simple way to add fresh ginger to your diet is to add a little chunk (about the size of your thumbnail) to your protein smoothie. A great side benefit in the cold weather is that the ginger will help to warm your body. See the recipe for Rejuvenation Strawberry-Chocolate Smoothie.
- Fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, many of us don’t get enough. It helps to start thinking about how you can add more of these nutrient packed foods to each meal. Think color! For breakfast, you can always add red strawberries and greens to a protein smoothie. I know it might sound a little odd to add greens to your shake but the truth is you will never taste them and it will go a long way toward supporting your immune system. You can also add sautéed onions, red peppers, mushrooms and a little green spinach to your breakfast as a side dish to eggs or just add them right to the eggs as you cook them. Or just add some blueberries to your morning oatmeal.
It’s easy to boost your lunch nutritionally by adding vegetables like onion, dark green lettuce like romaine or mesclun, avocado and red tomato to your sandwiches. Soups are an easy choice and great way to get lots of nutrients and color at this time of year.
- Garlic—Numerous studies have shown that garlic takers are less likely to get a cold. It contains allicin, an active ingredient that fights infection and bacteria. Garlic is easy to add to salad dressing, soups, sautéed or roasted veggies or casseroles.
- Onions—Garlic and onions are related so onions also contain allicin. Plus, they have an additional ingredient called quercetin which is a nutrient that breaks up mucus in your head and chest while boosting your immune system.
- Probiotics— Fermented foods like plain yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, fermented miso, unpasteurized pickles and sauerkraut provide healthy bacteria which help to keep the digestive track free of disease-causing germs.
- Shellfish–Oysters, lobsters, crabs, and clams are a great source of selenium which helps the body to produce cytokines. Cytokines help rid the body of the flu virus.
- Beef—Zinc is one of those nutrients that American fall short on and beef is a great source of this nutrient which is important to the production of white blood cells. Stick with lean, grass fed beef and if you are not a beef eater, oyster, fortified cereals, pork, poultry, yogurt and mild are good alternatives.
- Herbs and vitamin C—The data is still inconclusive on vitamin C. Some say that while Vitamin C won’t stop you getting a cold, it might reduce the severity, so including strawberries, sweet potato, peppers, kiwi and citrus fruits in the diet can be helpful. I also take a vitamin C supplement along with some Echinacea when I feel really tired for no reason or the symptoms of a cold coming on and it usually works. Echinacea is another supplement that get mixed results. Some studies show that it gets no benefit while others show reduction in the severity and duration of a cold. This practice is fine for a healthy person but if you are taking a medication, it is best to check with your health care provider because Echinacea can cause an unhealthful interaction with some medicines.
So this winter despite doing everything I usually do to avoid getting a cold that had been banging on my door for about a month, I found myself spiraling down with a nose running like a faucet and constant sneezing. I decided to try a product that I had heard about called Umcka. 24 hours later I was back to normal health.
Umcka is a geranium plant native to South Africa. Long used in traditional African medicine, it has recently become popular, particularly in treatment of respiratory problems. It has shown both antiviral and antibiotic properties important to killing both viruses and bacterial infection. Studies have shown that it may decrease the severity of cold symptoms and shorten the cold’s duration especially if taken within 48 hours of the onset of a cold. I think it is a smart product to keep on hand in your herb cabinet.
Keep in mind that the safety of this product in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established so check with your health care provider.
In addition to adding certain foods and supplements to your daily routine, foods to avoid to make your immune system stronger include sugar, refined foods like white flour (and food products made from white flour including pasta, bread, crackers), white rice, as well as packaged and processed foods.
If your immune system is particularly vulnerable you might want to try a probiotic supplement. I like UltraFlora Spectrum. And if you live in a region of the country with really short days in the winter take at least 1,000 IU of Vitamin D3. You may need more and it is smart to get your level tested by your physician so you can be sure.
Here’s to a healthy transition through the rest of the winter and into (let’s hope) an early spring!
Recipes of the Month
Two great – and very different recipes – both mentioned above:
First a Delicious Healing Mushroom Soup
And, a Delicious, Healthy Rejuvenation Strawberry-Chocolate Smoothie