Our bodies follow rhythms that are very much in-tune with the season. Honoring these rhythms allow for a transition that aligns with nature’s intent. For example, did you know that a deer’s stomach secretes enzymes that change drastically from the hot summer months to the cold winter ones? That’s because a deer has to resort to eating bark in the cold months when fresh greens aren’t available. For that reason, the enzymes need to change accordingly with the seasons so digestion is still viable and life sustaining. Why am I mentioning this? Because we, too, are creatures of nature and we have evolved from a way of life that was once purely seasonal eating – in tune for wellness by nature’s design.
Syncing into our seasonal changes and responding to your body’s needs will optimize your immunity for all seasons. Here’s a good plan for the cold winter months ahead. The following are key groups of foods and spices that can be included in your daily diet this winter to keep your system strong and your immunity high.
VEGETABLES are the powerhouse filled foods for nutrient dense vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which are necessary for building and maintaining a high functioning immune system. The following are the best choices for wintertime:
- Garlic, onion, scallions *
- Dark, leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, collards, and spinach
- Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage
- Beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, and winter squashes
* These vegetables are particularly strong immune builders to include in your everyday meals as often as possible.
WHOLE GRAINS have warming properties in nature and provide a broad range of vital nutrients, along with necessary fiber for optimal digestion. Try adding in whole grains such as brown rice, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, farro, or some good old fashioned oats. Or consider trying a new one. There’s many to choose from and you may end up finding a new favorite.
OMEGA 3 FATS are powerful anti-inflammatory fats. They balance out our diets, which tend to lean towards pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats. Among its many benefits, omega 3 fat strengthens your immune system, reduces cellular inflammation, and may even help reduce incidences of depression. The following are good sources of omega 3 fatty acids to include in your diet:
- Quality Salmon, sardines, and anchovies
- Coconut oil
- Chia seeds
- Pastured eggs
- Grass fed beef
PROBIOTIC FOODS contain beneficial bacteria, which strengthen our immune systems by fortifying the good bacteria in our intestinal tract. It is now scientifically believed that over 80% of our immune system resides within our digestive tract. That is why it’s critical to keep the good bacteria well fed in order to maintain a strong gut, and thereby strong immunity. The following are good choices for probiotic health (and keep it varied to build diversity among the good guys).
- Quality yogurt with live cultures (try adding your own sweeteners to control the sugar)
- Water, coconut, or dairy Kefir
- Live fermented vegetables like sauerkraut or pickles
BROTHS & WARM LIQUIDS feel warming to our souls and nourishing to our bodies. They are both healing and immune supporting when you add them in to your plan for the winter months. Here’s a good list to follow.
- Homemade (or quality store bought) bone broths are long simmered, nutrient dense elixirs that can sooth a digestive tract and provide a range of vital nutrients.
- Vegetable stocks
- Green and herbal teas
- Hot water with lemon is not only good for sipping throughout the day, but especially good to start the day with.
Healthy Eating Tip: Try adding in more good food rather than focusing on what to eliminate. Miso, vegetable, or a light chicken soup are excellent meal starters during the winter months. They fill you up with vital nutrients and warm your body and soul.
SPICES & HERBS conjure up heat for a healthy immune system in the winter. With the increase in heavier foods for the winter months, be sure to increase spices and foods that keep your digestive system moving. Many of the spices that traditionally fill the air with winter charm are also the ones to focus on and include. Here are some good choices.
Health Eating Tip: For the healing benefits of spice, try warming 2 -4 tablespoons of your favorite blends in butter, coconut, or olive oil until fragrant and then toss into 3 cups of cooked grains.
Think about changing pace with slow cooked foods that fill the air with aroma and build the appetite. Bring out the crock pot and build meals that nourish and delight. Slow roast root vegetables and oven braised meats for melt in your mouth deliciousness and keep that soup simmering on the stove. Remember, many hearty winter meals store well. Consider doubling up your recipes so you have plenty on hand for the months ahead.
Above all, for the ultimate winter wellness, embrace the winter season for all that it is: a time to change the pace with the rhythms of the natural world around us and cozy up just a little bit more (or a lot). It’s a time to fill your senses with citrus and spice, experience the warming light of a fire or candlelight, have a long and soothing bath, enjoy a warm mug of goodness, and keep some extra time for reflection about where you’ve been and where you want to be.