I feel fortunate to have been asked to write for the National Association of Holistic Aromatherapy Journal as their plant based nutrition expert. I wanted to share my first of what I hope will be many articles.
Autumn is my favorite time of year. Here in the northeast it is an array of beautiful colors and the crisp cool air that reminds us the end-of-year holidays are near. The fall and winter months are a time of looking inward, reflecting on the year that is coming to an end and the new one that is about to begin. It is also the time of year we start getting sick. I am always asked what can be taken to prevent colds and flu as the weather changes. A healthy immune system comes from taking care of the body all year long with exercise, having fun, getting proper rest and relaxation and especially eating healthy. Nutrient dense, whole, fresh and organic (whenever possible) food is the best way to sail through the winter without too many sniffles.
When it comes to nutrition one size does not fit all. Some people fair well on a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle while others don’t feel well unless they are eating good quality animal products. What is certain is that eating too many refined carbs such as sugar, bread and pasta, along with processed or fast food regularly can harm your health. Balance is important – but it must be the right balance of the right foods.
The ancient Indian health system of Ayurveda is also a philosophy for living life. Ayurveda means “science of life.” It is a system built on seven thousand years of science and according to Ayurveda it is important to eat warming foods during the cold months. It goes with the natural rhythm of the season. If you are in a warm climate colder foods such as salads and a raw diet are fine, but in a colder climate hearty soups and stews, especially with the wonderful winter squashes, warm the body and are nutrient dense to help fight off the winter bugs.
An array of colorful foods, especially leafy greens like kale, spinach and collard greens, cabbage, broccoli, pumpkin, sweet potato, peppers and carrots, and beans like lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and black beans, whole grains, garlic, leeks, onions and scallions should all be part of your daily diet. Both onions and garlic act like antibiotics. Adding spices such as turmeric, ginger, clove, cumin, rosemary and sage will enhance the food and add even more nutrients to what you eat. Try to diversify your diet to get all the antioxidants and nutrients the body needs for optimal health. Many people take supplements such as ginger, garlic, mushroom and turmeric in capsule form for the immune system, and while they can be very beneficial I suggest incorporating the actually food form into your diet. I have included a recipe for a delicious mushroom soup that packs a healing punch! Mushrooms are immune boosting, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, help lower cholesterol, control blood pressure, protect the liver, may inhibit the growth of tumors and have anticancer properties. If you eat meat don’t forget a grandmother’s cure for everything…chicken soup! Warm tea, especially green, provides catechins which are a type of antioxidant that can help combat a virus. I also recommend cinnamon, ginger or chai tea in the winter. Ginger and cinnamon can help improve immune function as well as the digestive process. This leads me to another important function – which is digestion. Studies on the link between the gut and the brain (calling the gut “the second brain”) are showing that there is a direct correlation between gut health and the immune system. Without healthy digestion you cannot have a healthy immune system. Fermented products such as yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut are helpful to maintain a good level of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. Make sure you eat plain yogurt or kefir to avoid sugar as much as possible. If you do not eat dairy, try supplementing with a probiotic. This is especially important if you have been taking antibiotics since they destroy healthy bacteria.
Minimize sugar as best you can. I would say eliminate it but I am a realist, and especially at the time of year that’s filled with apple pie, pumpkin bread and all the holiday goodies, I think we can set ourselves up to fail by an all or nothing approach. Enjoy what you eat but don’t over-do the bad stuff and remember to eat in season.
What we do while we eat is also important. Consciously give thanks for the nourishing food and try to eat slowly in silence without the TV on. If you are distracted by texting or watching TV you won’t be able to properly digest your food. If you are conscious of chewing and enjoying the flavors, your body responds better. Try it for a week. You will notice the difference.
If you constantly fill your body with whole, local, organic food, not only will you increase your odds of not getting sick, mind and soul will thank you as well!
Here is a recipe for mushroom soup that will warm you up in the winter months and boost your immune system at the same time!
Immune Boosting Mushroom Soup
4 ounces of shitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)
4 ounces of maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) – if you can’t find them just double up on the shitake.
1/8 inch slice of chopped ginger (Zingiber officinal)
2 tablespoons shallots (Allium cepa)
1 large clove of garlic (Allium sativum)
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon pepper (Piper nigrum)
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
32 ounce box of organic mushroom broth (you can use chicken or vegetable if you can’t find mushroom)
Salt/pepper to taste
Add all the mushrooms, shallots, ginger slice and garlic clove in a food processor and puree. Add two tablespoons of sesame oil in a large pot on medium heat. Add the mushroom mixture to the oil and cook on low heat. After about 5 minutes add the broth, salt, pepper and rosemary. Cook on low for about 20 minutes. Then add the cilantro, parsley and toasted sesame oil. Once the soup is turned off and cools put it in a blender to puree all the ingredients into a creamy soup. You can add salt and pepper depending on how salty and spicy you like it.