It’s that time of year where we are extra concerned about our immune system – winter. I say, “extra”, because we now have the added worry of a global pandemic on top of our usual health concerns. While there is not anything you can eat to prevent the virus from attacking you, I believe that we can build up our immune systems with balanced nutrition so we can better fight and recover quickly, should we need to.
As a Holistic Nutritionist, I am to promote balance in all areas of life. This includes your plate, building balanced meals that support all of our body systems. If your plate is missing one of these ingredients, your meal might be carb-heavy, you might find you are not satiated for long, or you might be struggling with weight gain.
When you are crafting your meals, consider each of these components:
- Warm Complex Carbohydrate: Seasonally, we do well with warm, cooked foods in the cooler months. Complex carbs are rich in fibre to help keep our digestive tract healthy. These can come in the form of non-starchy vegetables, whole grains, leafy greens, beans and legumes. During the winter months, lightly steam, roast or bake your complex carbs for warmth and comfort.
- Protein: We are made up of protein and need it to help us build muscle, tissue, and bones. Protein builds us up, helps us recover and maintain strength. Plant-based proteins include beans, nuts, seeds, tofu, peas. If you choose animal protein, go with organic where possible, lean proteins such as fish, poultry, eggs, and limit red meats to once a week or less. Including protein in every meal ensures satiety and helps to regulate blood sugar.
- Anti-inflammatory Ingredient: Whenever you spike your blood sugar, you are increasing inflammation. Inflammation is the root of many diseases and it is beneficial for keeping inflammation down. This inflammation might present as acne, joint pain or swelling, diabetes, fatigue, abdominal pain, allergies, to name a few. Acute inflammation is sudden and typically does not last long. It is our body’s way of sounding an alarm and cries out to be healed. Chronic inflammation builds over time and can lead to a cascade of health problems, from weight gain to disease. Foods like refined carbohydrates, sugar and sweets, trans fats, sugary sodas, fried foods, animal protein (dairy, red meat), alcohol, gluten, nightshades, and grains can all contribute to inflammation. Aside from avoiding these foods in meals, it is important to include an anti-inflammatory ingredient in each meal, to fight inflammation, such as olive oil, coconut oil, leafy greens, nuts, fatty fish, garlic, or blueberries.
- Healthy fat: There are different forms of dietary fat. It is important to remember that the right type of fat does not cause you to gain weight! We need fat to insulate the body, help synthesize hormones, support skin cells, hair health, absorb vitamins, and to regulate blood sugar. The fats we need are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut, olives and olive oil. “Bad” fats that raise cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease are trans and saturated fats found in margarine, dairy, red meat, fried and processed foods.
- Immune-boosting Herb or Spice: For centuries, healthy diets included spices and herbs for flavour and healing. Turmeric, garlic, ginger, thyme, oregano, and sage all boost the immune system with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory properties. Some spices, like cinnamon and cayenne pepper, help to stimulate blood circulation (beneficial for clearing toxins) and are warming in the body. Cilantro, parsley, and dandelion help to support the liver and detoxification. Try adding a flavourful herb or spice into every meal, especially if you are trying to avoid salt!
Here’s to your winter health and happy meal building!