We’ve all been there: you wake up one morning with that familiar tickle in your throat or tightness in your chest. Your head feels light and your body aches. Dammit, it’s official: you’re getting sick.
Every year, most adults suffer from an average of two to three colds per year, typically between the months of October and March. And although it’s probably your first reaction to head to the nearest pharmacy and drug yourself into a NyQuil induced coma until it’s over, can I make another suggestion? Forget the pharmacy and instead head to your kitchen! Nutritious whole fruits and vegetables really are the most authentic and effective way to fight (and prevent) a cold or flu. And with the season upon us I wanted to use this post to chat about some amazing seasonal fruits and veg (including the star ingredient in this week’s Roasted Red Pepper Soup recipe) that not only taste amazing and look pretty in holiday dishes, but are literally designed by nature to help power you through the cold and flu season alert and sans the red nose that really only looks good on a certain outcast Reindeer.
So, let’s get started…
Although they can be a bit of a pain to eat, pomegranates are definitely worth the effort (and the stained fingers!). First, they have a big dose of immune boosting vitamin C, which is greatly depleted in winter months but crucial for your immune system. They also offer vitamin K, A and E, folate, and potassium along with a fantastic dose of gut-friendly fiber (7 grams per cup!). Plus, their beautiful bright colour makes them the ideal addition to any dish – especially during the holidays. Try sprinkling the arils into a vibrant green salad, a warm quinoa dish, or even on top of your morning oatmeal for a colourful, nutrient-packed pop.
Many people associate citrus with the summer months, but some of my favourite citrus fruits are actually in season during the winter months, including blood oranges and clementines (which honestly scream Christmas to me. The smell alone is magic). Both of these sweet winter fruits contain a host of nutrients that will keep you healthy through the colder months AND the years ahead. Blood oranges’ red pigmentation contains anthocyanins, which have known anti-inflammatory properties that prevent against many diseases, including cancer, diabetes and bacterial infections (including the common cold and strep throat). And both of these orange gems are bursting with immune-boosting vitamin C, which is not only essential for immune health but also for digestive and bowel health because of its mild laxative effect. Bonus? Although they taste sweet, clementines are actually low in sugar. And since they come in their own carrying case (the peel) they are the perfect on-the-go snack.
You may be sick of hearing about kale from every fan and their sweatshirt – but like most dark leafy greens, kale is pretty much synonymous with good health—and for good reason: it’s a great source of beta carotene, vitamin C and phytochemicals, called isothiocyanates, that amp up the body’s detoxifying enzymes, helping to keep you healthy and energized all winter long. Speaking of energy, kale is also high in iron (even higher than beef), which is essential for the formation of hemoglobin and enzymes, transporting oxygen to various parts of the body, cell growth, proper liver function and lots of other crucial functions. And if that wasn’t enough, kale is a great anti-inflammatory food. One cup of kale has 10% of the RDA of omega-3 fatty acids, which help fight against arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disorders and other inflammatory illnesses.
Since winter is all about warming foods that are soothing to your digestive system, give your smoothie a break and instead enjoy kale in a delicious bowl of soup, like a minestrone or pureed green soup, or lightly sautéed with a little oil and garlic.
Nothing is better than a heaping bowl of hot, hearty pasta on a cold day – except that it comes with a caloric price tag of 200 calories per cup (and who the hell has just one cup?). Enter spaghetti squash – my favourite wintertime pasta alternative. Not only does it check in at only 42 calories per cup, it also boasts a nutrition profile that’s hard to beat. Unlike your traditional white pasta, this versatile squash contains vitamin A and vitamin C, which can help prevent free radical damage to cells along with boosting immune health. Spaghetti squash is also rich in the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin, and thiamin, which promote optimal cellular function and can also help prevent seasonal depression that can affect many during the colder, darker months. Furthermore, if you’re looking to spend your months indoors working on expanding your family (wink, wink), spaghetti squash is perfect for expectant moms because of its high amounts of folate, which is crucial for the formation and development of new cells and helps prevent birth defects.
Bad breath aside, garlic just might be THE superfood. Like, if your pantry was Lord of the Rings, this would be the one food to rule them all. It’s long been used for its powerful health and medicinal qualities, treating everything from digestive issues to heart disease. Garlic is a true nutrient powerhouse, boasting high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, selenium and various other important minerals. And when it comes to combating cold and flu, garlic just may be the most powerful tool in your nutritional arsenal. In fact, numerous studies have shown that taking raw garlic can reduce the number of days sick with a cold by more than half! Furthermore, enjoying garlic daily either in food or as a supplement can help protect yourself from getting sick at all. And the best part is it can be enjoyed in so many ways – from soups, to salad dressings, to homemade dips – the sky’s the limit.
Although admittedly not seasonal for winter, I just had to sneak these in there as they are literally my favourite vegetable (I buy about 9 peppers a week at the Farmer’s Market which blessedly sells them for a fraction of supermarket prices) and they are amazing immune boosters. When you think vitamin C, most think of a cold glass of OJ. But few know that red peppers actually have way more vitamin C than your standard orange (try 300% of your daily requirement). Red bell peppers are also a great source of vitamin B6 and magnesium, which in combination helps decrease in anxiety, helpful during the crazy holiday season. Bonus? Some studies have even shown that they activate thermogenesis and increase metabolism – and I think we can all use a little extra boost with the holidays ahead!
Which brings me to my flavour of the week – Creamy Roasted Red Pepper soup. Admittedly I have trouble with commitment in food relationships – but this soup is currently on heavy rotation in my dinner date list. Grain-free and dairy-free, it’s rich, creamy, full of flavour and contains less than 10 ingredients, so making it is simple and doesn’t break the bank. Easy and inexpensive? My kinda date!
And remember, as Hippocrates (and every other nutritionist who ever lived) said: “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. So unless you’re growing a Nyquil plant in your backyard, stick with what’s in your pantry this cold and flu season.
The Natural Blonde
P.s. Speaking of pomegranates – does anyone else who knows the Greek story of Persephone and the pomegranate seeds ever wonder why she didn’t just go for a banana?
Creamy Roasted Red Pepper Soup
- 2 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
- 6 medium red peppers
- 2 small turnips, peeled and diced
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- 4 cups organic chicken or vegetable broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
Place the red peppers whole on a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes. Turn the peppers and continue to roast for another 20 minutes or until the skins are blackened on both sides. Remove and let cool. Once cool enough to handle, remove the skins (should slide off fairly easily), remove seeds and dice. Set aside.
In a large stock pot or sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat before adding the onions. Sauté onions for 5 minutes or until translucent before adding the garlic, salt and pepper and sautéing for 2 more minutes. Add the turnip, roasted red pepper, dried basil and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 25 minutes or until the turnip is tender.
Remove from heat and puree until smooth (if you’re doing this in a standing blender, allow soup to cool first). Serve and enjoy!
Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.