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Winter Time Immune Boosting Nutrition Tips

Posted Jan 22 2011 12:00am
Jill Nussinow-The Veggie Queen(2)
 by Jill Nussinow, MS, RD 

We are so lucky to live in Northern California where our days of fog and rain are punctuated with periods of sun and a bit of warmth. Still it’s a season when germs and viruses take hold, and people spread them like puffs of dandelion flowers. Precautions must be taken to maintain health.

My first recommendation has nothing to do with food. Wash your hands more times than you think that you need to. Avoid antibacterial washes but if you find you must use something like that, I prefer Clean Well which is easy to stick in your pocket and is made from natural ingredients.

Now, The Food

Our good fortune continues when it comes to local, seasonal, sustainable and organic food choices in winter. When I post on Facebook that I’m eating from a bunch of multi-colored carrots, people in Northern Michigan are drooling on their keyboards since they are up to their eyeballs in root vegetables. (And there, they actually have root cellars in which to store them.)

Winter is what I refer to as apple-pear-citrus season for fruit. For vegetables, we have an abundance of roots such as celery root (celeriac), parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes and more, brassicas which includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and all manner of greens including bok choy and Napa cabbage.

Additionally, we live in, or near, mushroom country, and even if you don’t hunt for them yourself (and only do so if you know what you are doing), you can purchase them from local companies such as Gourmet Mushrooms or Far West Fungi. Mushrooms are not vegetables, they are fungi and provide incredible nutrition for you. Shiitake and maitake both have immune boosting properties but all mushrooms (that are non-poisonous) are good for you in moderate amounts. They contain chitin, which is not found in anything else that we eat, as well as beta-glucans which have a host of important functions.

Examining the list above, it should be obvious that there is plenty of locally grown produce available in winter. Despite the abundance, I find that most people eat less produce in winter which is essential for a strong immune system for at least two reasons: first, produce provides important antioxidants and phytochemicals and second, the fiber in these foods helps keep your intestinal immune system healthier by providing prebiotics which help your body make its own probiotics that are taking a starring role in many TV commercials these days.

You still need your 9 to 11 servings of produce each day. I know that it might sound like a lot but if you work your way up to this amount, you can get there over time. The sooner, the better for your health.

Citrus plays a starring role in winter and I encourage you to explore the varieties that are available by taking a trip to your local farmer’s market. Just recently I bought Rangoon limes, sweet limes and tangerinequats. The limes are orange, inside and out, and look like tangerines but have the sourness and pungency of limes. The sweet limes are yellow like lemons but light green inside and have a sweet flavor. The tangerinequats are similar to kumquats but are larger, with a sweeter flavor. The entire fruit is edible. The outer peel of citrus contains potent antioxidants with anti-cancer properties so often before juicing a fruit to perk up winter vegetables, I grate the zest into that dish or add it to salad dressings.  Tangerines are at their peak and make wonderful snacks. My husband gets two each day with his lunch.

If you include the foods listed above regularly they’ll help keep you healthier all winter. Should an errant germ or virus come your way, and you start feeling a bit under the weather, then I recommend that you eat the following soup, which seems to have magical healing qualities.

Immune Boosting Bowl or Jill’s Wonderful Wellness Soup

Makes 2 servings or 1 large bowl

1/2 medium onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 teaspoon grated or minced ginger root
1/2 jalapeno, cayenne or other hot pepper, to taste
3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water for 20 to 30 minutes or 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms, sliced
3 cups vegetable broth, include mushroom soaking liquid as part if using dried mushrooms
2 to 3 cups sliced kale or other greens
1 to 2 tablespoons miso, my favorite is South River Miso
Drizzle of toasted sesame oil, tamari and sliced green onions, for garnish

Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and dry saute for a few minutes. Add half the garlic and ginger. Saute another minute, adding broth, if the vegetables begin to stick. Add the hot pepper and mushrooms and saute another minute. Add the vegetable broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the greens and cook until bright green. Stir in the remaining garlic and ginger. Remove from the heat and stir in the miso, to taste. Drizzle with sesame oil, tamari and top with sliced green onions, if desired. Eat hot, right away.

If you do not eat all the soup, reheat over gentle heat. Boiling the miso inactivates it's live fermentation properties. 

South River is my favorite miso. For this recipe, I like to use either the Mellow White, Red Pepper Garlic, or Dandelion Leek.

©2011, Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, The Veggie Queen™,


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