Now that the weather is getting colder, there is a higher incidence of sicknesses and illnesses. The change in temperature alone can be an additional stressor on the body, which can contribute to this rise in sickness. It is not only important to eat nutritiously during this season, but to also keep the gut functioning properly. In fact, 80 percent of the immune system is in the gut and is strongly correlated to proper nutrition. Here are some dietary recommendations for keeping the body in functioning optimally this season.
With farmers’ markets now closed down, the diversity of local fruits and vegetables is diminishing. However, variety in produce is key in any season for maintaining optimal health. The typical go-to recipes in the winter are warm soups with potatoes, carrots and onions.
Squashes are also a staple during the wintertime; they can be used in dishes such as sautés, soups and baked side dishes. Try adding different varieties of seasonal winter veggies (squashes, potatoes, kale, rutabaga and parsnips) and fruits (kiwis, black currants, grapefruit and tangerines), experimenting with different grains, and keeping the dinner plate as colorful as possible.
Why is this beneficial? By keeping this variety in the diet, it helps to diversify gut bacteria. The more species of beneficial bacteria in the gut, the greater the body’s ability is to fight off pathogens and to increase generation of bacterial metabolites to keep the gut and intestines healthy. These foods also contain beneficial fibers, also known as prebiotics, which act as fuel to the bacterial community in the gut. The body is also getting an array of phytochemicals, or plant nutrients, when the diet is filled with an abundance of colored foods. According to recent studies, fiber is more of a determining factor in bacterial diversification than the nutrients in the food.
Each week this winter, try a new type of potato or sweet potato, add in a different variety of squash, and switch up the seasonal green leafy vegetables. Experiment and introduce the body to new variations of these fruits and veggies.
Bone broth is made by cooking the bones in water for about 18-24 hours; this exposes the bone marrow, which leaks the marrow’s immune components into the broth. Bone broth is also high in glutamine, which enhances the production of the body’s natural antioxidant, glutathione, and keeps the intestinal tract intact; the latter is important in the prevention of acquired food sensitivities and chronic disease. Low glutathione levels have also been linked to increased susceptibility of acquiring infection.1Bone broth can also be used as a base for soups to gain these added benefits and extra protein.
This drink is composed of turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg heated in nondairy milk. These spices act as adaptogens, or substances that help our body better adapt and slow down its response to stress. They are used in common Indian dishes such as daal, soup, oatmeal or as a hot drink before bed. Each of these components has antimicrobial, antiviral, antiparasitic and antioxidant properties that can further enhance resistance to foreign invaders. Turmeric, in particular, has been touted in India and China for its multiple medicinal properties. This spice contains polyphenolic compounds, known as curcuminoids, which have been shown to have antiviral and antimicrobial properties; these are helpful in terms of scavenging harmful compounds that increase oxidative stress and protecting the body from bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus,the culprit of pneumonia.2Pairing this with ginger and cinnamon enhances the antimicrobial effects of the milk. Cinnamon contains a compound known as cinnamaldehyde; it further protects the body from pneumonia-causing bacteria and ginger, in one study, enhanced immunity against the flu in mice models when combined with red grape, pomegranate, dates, olives and figs.3,4
Golden milk is beneficial for keeping harmful bacteria in check. In addition, it is excellent as a calm drink before bedtime to improve circadian rhythm and increase immunity by encouraging restorative sleep. Turmeric needs to be paired with specific components to activate the medicinal curcuminoids. For best results, add in coconut oil or a dash of black pepper.
Sources of Vitamin C
When sickness comes in, this vitamin is a go-to support for many people. Vitamin C helps to boost immunity and is a potent antioxidant. It acts as a powerful antioxidant to help fight off harmful compounds generated from internal and external sources of oxidative stress. It is also important for adrenal health, which may contribute to increased immunity. In one study, increased ascorbate levels decreased the levels of catecholamines in the adrenals, also known as cortisol.5This is the same concept as the role of adaptogens enhancing the efficacy of the immune response. Vitamin C also plays a crucial role in recycling antioxidant glutathione and reactivating the compound, thus demonstrating an added immune boost.6As an antioxidant in and of itself, it may also spare glutathione, thereby passively maintaining proper levels of it. Some great sources of this vitamin include broccoli, spinach, citrus fruits, and a South American fruit known as camu camu, which alone contains about 740 percent of the daily recommended intake for Vitamin C. Use them in whole grain or gluten-free pasta dishes as a sautéed topping, mix in with soups for added nutrition or add them in to morning smoothies.
- Ghezzi, P. Role of glutathione in immunity and inflammation in the lung. International Journal of General Medicine. 4:105-113. Article accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3048347/.
- Moghadamtousi, SZ. et. al. A review on Antibacterial, Antiviral, and Antifungal Activity of Curcumin.Biomed Research International. 186864. Article accessed from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4022204/.
- Awang, AFI, Taher, M, Susanti, D. The Mode of Antimicrobial Action of Cinnamomum bermannii’s Essential Oil and Cinnamaldehyde. Journal Teknologi.78(11-2). Abstract retrieved from https://jurnalteknologi.utm.my/index.php/jurnalteknologi/article/view/9942.
- A Functional Food Mixture “Protector” Reinforces the Protective Immune Parameters against Viral Flu Infection in Mice. 2018. 10(6). Abstract retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29890620.
- Patak, P., Willenberg, HS, Bornstein, SR. Vitamin C is an important cofactor for both adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla. Endocrine Research. 30(4):871-5. Abstract retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15666839.
- Lenton, KJ, et al. Vitamin C augments lymphocyte glutathione in subjects with ascorbate deficiency. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 77(1):189-95. Article retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/77/1/189/4689652.