Posted on December 6, 2011 - No Comments
The following material is based on the Oriental medicine perspective. We here in the West have lost sight of how to eat with the seasons, since we can have tropical foods year ‘round and because with indoor heating we can counteract the needs that the seasons impose on us. For example, those living in cold areas need more calories to warm themselves than those living with central heating would require. But immunity comes into play here as well.
Because fall and winter are damp seasons, Oriental medicine advises that we avoid “damp” foods so as not to create imbalance in the body. Foods that create dampness in the body include sugars, dairy products (less so for goat milk products), fruit juices, tropical fruits, white flour and raw foods. Those who are part of the raw food movement might take offense at this, but you will find that if you depend mostly on a raw food diet you will more often be cold in the winter months. Being cold a lot can also be a sign of iron deficiency, but don’t take iron if you are fighting a cold since iron feeds bacteria.
Also bad for immunity are trans-fats which are found in overheated vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils (such as margarine). However, a good amount of quality fats will provide healthful calories and help to keep us warm. These include animal fat, butter, fish oil and olive oil. Other nutritional oils of benefit include flax and hemp oils and the mixed omega nutritive oils.
While raw foods are cooling and damp in nature, cooked foods are not. And those with weak digestion (especially the elderly and infirm) benefit from having foods well cooked. The cooking makes the food easier to digest, freeing up energy in the body that can be used for healing rather than digestion. Rest assured that if you are in good health small portions of salad or other raw foods are not going to be an issue during the cold seasons. And fermented foods like sauerkraut can be of great benefit for digestion and immunity.
Fruits that are acceptable for use in the colder months are those that are local (within a 500 mile radius, on average). So, for us in Canada, suitable fruits include apples, pears, plums, berries, which can be raw, in moderate amounts, or naturally preserved (apple sauce, dried, canned, and should be organic).
Quality proteins are required more in the winter than the warmer months, when we can get away with a lower protein diet. This is why vegetarian cultures tend to flourish in hot countries and are not found in the colder climates. Lean animal protein (appropriate for your blood type), fish and tempeh are all good options. Tofu, unlike tempeh, is cooling (as is soymilk) and should not be a large part of the winter diet.
Shitake mushroom is another food that is a valuable immune supportive that can be added to meals and/or miso soup. Remember that mushrooms will absorb toxins from soil, so when using them be sure that they were grown in a clean environment, or are defined as organic.
With the right diet we are essentially trying to keep the body alkaline, which creates a terrain that is inhospitable to bacteria and virus. Superior foods to use throughout the colder months, and especially when ill, are garlic, onions (and members of the onion family), the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage), seaweed and miso soup. The cruciferous vegetables are best cooked, not only for the reasons mentioned above, but also because they can inhibit thyroid function when consumed raw in large amounts.
Garlic on the other hand is best eaten raw for the antiseptic benefits. The killing agent in garlic is known as allicin, and is very sensitive to heat and oxygen. Each surface of the garlic that is exposed to oxygen allows the allicin to dissipate quite quickly. Thus mincing is the wrong way to go. It is best to cut the garlic clove into a few large chunks and pour hot water over it, then use it to make miso (or add to soup that has been served up, so as not to over-cook it).
Another approach to using garlic is to cut the clove into about 4 thick slices and put that between some bread, or toast, and chew it up. This releases the allicin into the mouth, where it both kills local bacteria (sore throat), and begins to absorb into the blood through the mucous membranes. If you are afraid of odor, just do it once at night, before bed, and the body odor will be gone by morning.
Miso soup is the chicken soup of vegetarians (chicken soup does have immune enhancing properties), though you don’t have to be one to enjoy it. As discussed in the radiation blogs, miso can remove radiation from the body and is an alkalizing food. Macrobiotics like to say that if you give your children one cup of miso a day you don’t have to worry about what else they eat that day.
When I am ill, and often with little appetite, I will make a super charged miso by pouring hot water over the cut garlic, then making miso (miso should never be boiled as that kills the friendly bacteria that it carries) by adding an appropriate amount of the miso paste. To this I will add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, some fresh ground black pepper or cayenne, and some engevita (nutritional) yeast. And, it actually tastes pretty good for a medicine. If you don’t have garlic, or can’t stomach it, you can use any member of the onion family (including green onions) as a milder alternative.
Normally, when we are ill, we should avoid sugars since they make the system acidic and allow bacteria to flourish. But, when there is a cough present honey has a valuable advantage. According to oriental medicine, honey moistens the lungs, helping with a dry cough, and allowing the body to discharge mucous with the coughing. A recent study showed that honey was more effective than conventional cough medications to treat coughs in children.
Certain herbs have expectorant properties (helping the lungs to rid mucous), and these made into a strong tea and sweetened with honey can be very effective at treating lung problems. Such herbs include fennel, fenugreek, ginger and licorice. Because these herbs are seeds and roots they must be simmered for 3 to 5 minutes, unlike herbs that are comprised of flowers and leaves which can just be steeped for 3 to 5 minutes. The standard recipe for herb teas, if you aren’t using teabags, is one teaspoon of herb (or mix thereof) to one cup of water.
A recent examination of honey products in the U.S. showed that up to 76% of honey purchased from supermarkets and big box stores actually contained no real honey. Honey given out at KFC and McDonalds were 100% devoid of real honey. Thus, when buying honey try to get organic and as local as possible. Good honey has natural antibiotic properties and certain honeys, like manuka honey, have very strong bacteria killing components. So much, that manuka honey is used to help kill H. Pylori bacteria (the one that causes stomach ulcers).
When treating a sore throat effectively we can sometimes stop a cold in its tracks. For me it feels like the bacteria starts there and works its way into the body, perhaps since I, like most of my generation, have no tonsils. I find that if I catch the scratchy throat feeling early and knock it out with antibacterial means, the cold never really gets any further.
My approach is to gargle with salty water or diluted apple cider vinegar (both should taste quite strong) a few times daily. Add to this Echinacea tincture taken undiluted, at least 6 times during the day (180 drops or 6 ml is where the science on Echinacea shows it to be medically effective). The Echinacea is best taken straight, shot to the back of the throat or put under the tongue, in order to target the bacteria residing in the throat.
Alternating the Echinacea with zinc lozenges over the day gives the body a constant supply of antibacterial materials to fight the infection with. Zinc should not be taken on an empty stomach, or it can make you nauseous, and it is important to note that you cannot taste zinc when you are deficient. When you start to taste the metallic, acidic or astringent nature of the zinc, you have had enough for the day. This will occur at a lower dose with women than men, but in either case it is best to get a low dose lozenge (5mg, or break the lozenge in half) so that you can take the zinc more frequently before you are saturated.
Hopefully this material will help some of you get through the winter with fewer colds and flues. And don’t forget, stress is a big assault on the immune system, so it is important to keep it to a minimum, as much as is possible during the Christmas season. Sorry to say, but Christmas flies in the face of good health, again, based on the systems of Oriental medicine. As any good squirrel knows, fall and winter are times to store up energy and sequester, whereas we have turned the season into one of giving out energy, often to the point of exhaustion.
May your holiday season (non-denominational) be mellow and merry (and at least merry is good for your immune system).