Our diets tend to change as the days get shorter and the air gets cooler. We often forego the out-of-season cold cucumber salads and replace them with slow-cooked warming vegetable stews. This shift likely comes naturally, often with little thought given to the importance of eating seasonally, but it can actually make all the difference in your winter immunity. At this point, many of us know that pre-packaged and processed foods and beverages are highly inflammatory. But did you know that it’s also this inflammation that can weaken and suppress your immune system? This unfortunately means that snacking on unhealthy items throughout the winter could very easily be a contributing factor to winter illnesses and blues. It’s also very unfortunate that winter tends to be the time we spend most at home and with the most cravings for snackable sustenance. It’s for this reason, and many others, that it’s so important to stock your pantry carefully for the winter with items that will not only see you through the bitter cold (or honestly, here in Richmond, mostly mild but still kind of cold) winter days as well as will help boost your immune systems to fight off any invading pathogens. Here are just a few tips on how to use food items to stay healthy and rejuvenated this winter!
Choose fresh, in-season fruits and vegetables: It may seem like I’m biased: I work on a farm so of course, I would suggest eating fresh produce. And yes, I may be just a bit, but I also recommend this for a boost in immunity! Refined sugar is pro-oxidative and highly inflammatory and therefore actually causes a cascade of depressive reactions on the immune system. Swapping the sugary treats out for local, in-season items will instead help provide your body with the important vitamins and minerals it needs for this time of year. Carrots are always best in the late fall and winter after their starches have had a chance to transition into sweeter natural sugars. It’s also at this time that they provide the most nutritional benefit. They’re full of vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin C, to help combat illnesses. I’m also a firm believer that every good meal starts with garlic and onions. Not only are these two items delicious, but they’re also found to contain natural antibiotic and antiviral components.
Elderberry Syrup or Tinctures: Elderberries have gained a lot of popularity over the last few years due to their potent antiviral capabilities. Taking some every day by either tincture or syrup helps give your immune system a good daily boost. You can either make your own very easily (but this option does take some time so you may want to start now) or purchase some already made. However, it’s important to make sure you choose an option that has low sugar content. As an added bonus, you can sometimes find a local health practitioner who makes and sells their own. If you’re into this option, maybe try out Hanover Health and Wellness. Beth Boston is a local health coach and was at our Health and Wellness Fair this past January.
Pay attention to your Digestive System: Our digestive systems are usually our first line of defense when it comes to outside pathogens, as a large majority of our immune systems actually live in our gut. This means that sluggish or malnourished digestive systems and microbiomes can actually lead to weakened and compromised immune systems and seasonal illnesses. Therefore, taking a high quality probiotic as well as eating lots of fermented foods is even more important in the fall and winter. This is a good time to try foods like kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. All of these items help feed your good gut bacteria, which in turn helps keep you healthy.
Get Appropriate Sleep and Rest: Winter is a time for rest and reflection. Adhering to the natural rhythm of the season will help ensure that you don’t overextend yourself and your energy reserves. However, this also doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a good idea to sit around like a bump on a log for the whole season either. Getting up and moving is almost always a good idea for the human body, but so is knowing when to take it easy. Perhaps this is the best time to try out a new Zoom yoga class you’ve been eyeing or maybe set a goal to go for a brisk walk every day this fall and winter to get out of the house and get the blood flowing. Whatever it is, make sure you have fun!
Fall and winter aren’t always my favorite months, but I definitely enjoy them more when I feel well. I hope you can use these few tips and other natural health options to help stay in your best working order this winter!