Cold weather and large temperature swings can wreak havoc on your immune system, making you more susceptible to catching a cold or flu. This is compounded by extra indulgences in holiday goodies that are mostly loaded with sugar, processed, refined flour, and fat because your body is likely running on a deficit of nutrients, which adds stress.
So what can you do to stay healthy this winter? Be sure to give your body the nutrition it needs. The best way is by eating foods that boost your immune system, including whole, plant-based foods that are naturally rich in antioxidants (vitamins A, C, and E), zinc, and selenium. Here are some suggestions for foods you can add to your diet that have these nutrients:
Foods like sweet potatoes or yams, butternut squash, pumpkin, carrots, and cantaloupe will give you vitamin A. Cut a butternut squash in half and roast it at 350 °F for about an hour, then puree the flesh and use it to make a soup or add it to your favorite marinara sauce to make a butternut squash marinara pasta sauce. It’s hearty and comforting in the cold weather! Add pureed pumpkin to pancake batter along with a little cinnamon to make incredible pancakes (be sure to cut back on the liquids)! Pumpkin is also rich in zinc, as are the pumpkin seeds (so are butternut squash seeds, and they are delicious roasted!).
Leafy greens such as spinach, kale, collard greens, chard, turnip greens, mustard greens, arugula, and even romaine lettuce are loaded with vitamin C as well as calcium, iron, vitamin K, and fiber. Eat a salad with your lunch or dinner that’s made with romaine lettuce or any other greens. You can always toss romaine lettuce or other greens such as spinach or kale on your sandwiches, and chop up some greens to thrown into anything you’re cooking on the stove: soup, stir fry, pasta sauce, rice, anything! If you don’t like greens, steam them, puree them, then add them to any foods you’re cooking and you won’t even notice they’re there. Spinach is best for this because it’s slightly sweet with absolutely no bitterness.
Eat some fresh fruit such as oranges, apples, berries, cantaloupe, mango, papaya, or pretty much any fruit. For example, peel and eat an orange first thing in the morning while you’re preparing your breakfast. Or, throw the fruit into your blender and make a smoothie. If you live in an area where fresh fruit is limited during the winter, keep frozen fruit on hand.
Make soups with beans or lentils to get more zinc. Bean and brown rice burritos with leafy greens tossed in are one of my favorites! Or you can easily toss beans on your salad. Pureed beans make delicious, “creamy” sauces with all the nutrients and without the saturated fat and cholesterol in dairy-based cream sauces (not to mention the mucus caused by dairy).
Mushrooms and garlic – one of my favorite combinations! And both are loaded with immune-boosting antioxidants. Start with garlic and mushrooms (I love to add onions too), then throw in some leafy greens, and you have nutrient-dense foundation that you can build into a delicious sauce or a soup.
These are just a few ideas that can help keep you healthy this winter. I’d love to hear your ideas. Please leave a comment!