Boosting your immunity and staying healthy in every season

As the leaves continue to fall and the days and nights become colder, nature naturally turns inward for the season of hibernation. We humans are not immune to this, turning to more inside time, and the coziness of fires and slow cooked and simmered foods. Nature has its cycle and according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), if we take the time to listen and change our ways during these colder months, we can help strengthen ourselves and optimize our health. We often lose sight of this in our busy and overly scheduled lives. We often eat the same foods year round (often thinking were doing our body good by eating salads year round) or pushing ourselves to the same social and work schedule we have in the height of the lighter and naturally more active times of spring and summer.

When we slow down and listen to our bodies, shifting not only our activity levels but also our sleep patterns and the foods we eat, our bodies (and minds) will thank us.

In Chinese Medicine the fall and winter are times to nourish and emphasize the ‘yin’ time. Yin in Chinese Medicine includes the more passive restful states (think hibernation, warm fire, good book, slow cooking foods that make the whole house smell good). It’s a time to move slowly and recharge for the more active seasons to come.

Our activity levels and energy output are an important part of this process, but so is our food. We live in a time where we have such amazing access to delicious foods from around the world. This is great, but nature is smart. Given nature and health is all about balance, the foods naturally grown in a particular spot have the properties to help balance out that climate. For example, foods grown in the tropic (think mango, papaya, pineapple) are all naturally ‘cold’ in property, helping to balance the heat and humidity there. Likewise, foods grown in the heat of a Canadian summer (lettuce, cucumber, mint, tomatoes, etc.) are all cold in property as well (think of how refreshing and cooling it is bite into a fresh piece of cucumber on a hot day). The challenge in having all the delicious, but cold property food around all the time is that we’re doing a body a disservice. By eating ‘cold’ foods on cold days, we’re actually causing our system to be out of balance. BUT, if we’re able to focus on foods that are naturally growing in our climate and season (think kale, onion, beets, carrots, parsnips etc.), we can actually help strengthen our system and help stay strong and prevent some of the colds and flus that predominate these colder months. Often when I talk with people about this, they get the a-ha look on their face and when they really check in to what their body wants (not what they ‘think they should have’), and the warmer spiced and cooked foods just feels right.

Here are some basic guidelines for seasonal eating in Canada’s fall and winter months. I’m also including a change of season soup with some herbs that you can add in to help keep your immune system strong and healthy for these upcoming months. Try it any time you’re feeling rundown or need an extra boost.

Foods to highlight:

  • Warm cooked foods. soups, stew or slow roasted foods are ideal.
  • All the root vegetables: carrots, yams, beets, onions, parsnip, kale, collard greens, garlic, fennel, pumpkin and winter squash, potatoes, leeks
  • Warm spices: turmeric, cardamom, fennel, cumin, ginger, pepper, cinnamon
  • Fruits: apples and pears are great. Try slow baking them with a small amount of cinnamon and maple syrup or a simple tasty treat
  • Proteins: It is never recommended to eat HUGE amounts of protein in one sitting, but protein during the winter months can help build up your reserves. Many people tend to over-eat animal protein so it’s always good to be mindful of portion sizes and be sure to highlight vegetables at every meal.
  • Vegetarians should also highlight proteins at this time of the year and make sure to avoid frozen raw foods and highlight the warming spices listed above
  • Animal sources of protein: beef and lamb are highly recommend during the colder months, with chicken, turkey and salmon also beneficial
  • Legumes: black beans, black eyed peas, kidney beans, great northern beans