Strategies to stay well throughout the winter are really no different than any other time of the year:
- watch your stress levels
- get plenty of sleep
- eat well & stay active
- avoid tobacco & watch the alcohol
When it comes to healthy eating and winter, clients often share a sense of doom and gloom. We’ve been led to believe that good nutrition and healthy eating is inextricably linked to seasonal fruits and vegetables that abound in the summertime but nothing could be further from the truth! There is plenty of good nutrition to be found in the winter (foods are grown in the summer keep well over the winter) and it’s not always just about plant foods – why do they get all the attention? There are loads of nutrients in animal foods too.
Eating well during the winter is also about supporting your immune system. A strong immune system can help us to avoid colds & the flu; we are constantly exposed to cold & flu viruses 24/7, 365 days a year and we usually only get sick on the rare occasion. Why? Because our trusty immune cells are fighting an endless battle against would-be invaders. The following foods are pretty inexpensive & fairly accessible by most people; i.e. they don’t require a complicated users manual to include them; good for all skills levels when it comes to cooking.
Fight Back With These 7 Top Winter Superfoods
1. Squash & Carrots
Dark orange veggies have a lot in common; they are loaded with potassium, alpha & beta-carotene (which the body can convert to vitamin A in small amounts), fiber, lutein & zeaxanthin all of which temper inflammation. Cooking these guys is as easy as boiling them and seasoning with butter or olive oil, salt & pepper. For a sweeter slant, try adding a little maple syrup & cinnamon. Leftover cooked squash and carrots can be added to smoothies for added nutrition.
Winter is actually the season for these red beauties!! The seeds can be eaten as is, added to smoothies, tossed on yogurt or muesli or stirred into oatmeal. For eye-popping salads, sprinkle these red gems on top; contrasting against the green of mixed lettuce or spinach, you’ll really be eating with your eyes and your mouth. Pomegranates have modest amounts of vitamins & minerals but where they really stand out is their abundance of phyto-nutrients called polyphenols. These compounds support the body’s natural detoxification process, as well, polyphenols have been shown to turn off several disease-causing genes.
3. Fatty Fish
Salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring etc. These fish have it all; truly superfoods that stand head & shoulders above many others. Not only are they a multivitamin/mineral for your body but your immune system too!! They have lots of nutrients that feed the thymus gland, lymph nodes, bone marrow – all players in a functional immune system – such as vitamin A, D, zinc, selenium, & lots of omega-3 fats, potassium and calcium to boot.
While available year-round, oysters, raw or smoked, are chalk full of protein, potassium, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, zinc & 3 minerals vital for a healthy and robust immune system: iron, zinc & vitamin A. You don’t need to have a full-on clinical deficiency in these minerals before your immune system feels the effects, a functional deficiency can leave your immune cells & bone marrow hungry for more leaving you at increased susceptibility to getting sick.
5. Eggs, Liver Or Pate
In a word, vitamin A. Not to be confused with beta-carotene, vitamin A (retinal, retinol etc) is the preformed nutrient. Unlike beta & alpha carotene found in plants which have to be converted to vitamin A, vitamin A from animals foods is already in the preferred form. This is important since not everyone converts carotenoids to vitamin A like yours truly – I know this after taking the Nutrigenomix test. This gene mutation is also one of the reasons why not everyone does well on vegetarian & vegan diets.
Vitamin A, and it’s active hormone form, retinoic acid, plays a central role in immunity by enhancing (turning on) genes in certain white blood cells called lymphocytes; in short priming them to fight off invading germs, bacteria & viruses
Long before there were goji or acai berries, or kale’s almost overnight celebrity, there was the unassuming apple. Plentiful throughout the winter, apples are a cheap & portable superfood offering fiber [including pectin, a fiber that gets fermented by gut bacteria which they like while we reap the benefits], potassium, with small amounts of vitamin C, calcium, and carotenoids like lutein & beta-cryptoxanthin. Apples also have 100s of phytonutrients that promote health in ways we’re just beginning to understand. There’s a reason for the expression ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’.
7. Vitamin D
I know, I know, vitamin D is not a food but a nutrient but I couldn’t talk about winter health without talking about vitamin D. Simply put, Canadians are deficient most of the year and it’s only worst in the winter. In fact, in the Northern Hemisphere, there is not enough UVB to make vitamin D from late fall to mid-spring in most places. There are very few foods sources that can offer enough vitamin D to raise our blood levels of vitamin D to an optimal level which is why supplements are advised in addition to eating more vitamin D rich foods like eggs, milk, and fish.
- Vitamin D primes the immune system to make some 200 + ‘anti-microbial peptides’, otherwise known as the body’s natural antibiotics.
- Vitamin D also tempers the immune system making sure it doesn’t get overstimulated and produce too many cytokines (proteins used by the immune system to fight infection); while beneficial, excessive cytokines can complicate and delay recovery from colds and the flu.