Crisp days, dark days, scraping the windshield while you curse Mother Nature days. Catching snowflakes, carving some sweet curves on your snowboard, and enjoying a day on the ice with your kids. Some of us love winter and others start to count down til the first day of spring! No matter how you feel about winter it is here! After a smoky summer it can feel like we have popped from spring right back into winter, so hold on, it might be a bumpy ride! Long winters can often bring cold and flu season in a dramatic way, so let’s discuss some ways to keep yourself and your family well this winter.
The sore throat. The throbbing headache. The fever and chills that make you throw off the covers and then bury deeply into the down comforter. Most colds and flus can be treated simply with rest and simple herbal medicines. Some illnesses may require more medical care, but there are many ways to improve recovery time and prevent the merry-go-round of phlegm sharing in offices and schools. We expect our immune systems to need a bit of exercise and getting a minor illness is actually a sign of a proper response system. Major reoccurring illnesses can be a sign of a depleted immune system or chronic inflammation that is limiting a normal immune response. Regardless of the cause or severity of the illness, using food as medicine can be a wonderful way to boost the immune system and buoy it up for the season!
Avoiding sugar—all forms of sugar and artificial sweeteners—will help the immune system. Ironically we often are given sugar as children when we are sick because we need a “treat” to help us feel better. That Jello/juice/ginger ale that soothes the sore throat also gives the infection a huge boost in its survival. Sugar suppresses interleukin-6, an inflammatory cytokine that helps fight infections. Sucralose, an artificial sweetener, reduces interleukin-10, a protein produced by the immune cells that promotes healing and antibody production. Sugar also increases overall inflammation. Consider options to help soothe throats that are not sugar-laden, such as frozen fruit popsicles (blended berries frozen in ice cube trays) or warm teas with herbs such as echinacea or elderberry to help boost the immune system.
Foods that are rich in antioxidants are important in helping the body fight off foreign invaders. Nutrients such as Vitamins C, D, and A are able to combat bacterial and viral infections and improve the strength of the immune system afterwards as well. We all know we need to eat our fruit and veggies and their impact on the immune system is another reminder of how effective these foods can be for overall health.
Great options for immune boosting foods would be soups made with a rainbow of colours. Broccoli, leafy greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, and peppers can be added to a bone broth or a veggie soup to help boost Vitamins C and A. Warming foods are particular helpful during cold weather and soups can be creative or simple if you aren’t feeling up to cooking when ill.
A quick and easy soup I recommend for patients when they are under the weather is to sauté an entire head of garlic and a whole onion in some olive oil, and then blend it with broth and spinach in a blender. You will stink from all the sulphurous foods but will most likely not notice because your nose is too stuffed up! Eat this regularly and not only will you bounce back from your cold but your coworkers will steer clear when you return to work as well!
Natural medicines abound to help boost immunity but simple foods and awareness about the impact sugar can have are important ideas to emphasize as we segue into winter. Enjoy the snow (or not!) and keep healthy for the upcoming winter season.
Dr. Shelby Entner, nd is a licensed Naturopathic Physician and the owner and founder of Vero Health Naturopathic Medicine in the Okanagan. She earned her doctoral degree in Naturopathic Medicine in 2002 after ten years of studies. Dr. Shelby empowers patients to make changes that are in alignment with their health values and goals and seeks to find answers by looking at the whole picture, instead of simply at a symptom.