3 immune-boosting recipes for winter from Lee HolmesCredit: Lee Holmes
If every winter without fail you end up in bed with the flu, making best friends with a hot water bottle and a jumbo-size box of tissues, then it may be time to examine your diet to ensure it’s not leaving you vulnerable to nasty bugs.
Immunity is your body’s natural defence against disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Considered to be the holy grail of health, a strong immune system can help fight colds, coughs and chest congestion, as well as protect against more serious diseases and ailments.
Eating plenty of immune-boosting foods, especially during winter, is crucial to building and maintaining a strong immune system. Here are some of my key ingredients.
Although vitamin C is often hailed as the star nutrient for immune functioning (it is very important), equally crucial is zinc.
In Australia, very few of us suffer vitamin C deficiencies and it’s more common to have a low intake of zinc, particularly among women, children, vegetarians and vegans, as this nutrient is most commonly found in and easily absorbed from animal products.
Zinc is predominantly found in lean red meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and in smaller quantities in whole grains, nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin seeds) and fortified breakfast cereals.
This mineral is incredibly important in the development and functioning of the body’s infection-fighting white blood cells. A number of studies have revealed that zinc-deficient people experience increased susceptibility to a variety of diseases.
It’s important to note that how well we absorb zinc depends heavily on the foods with which it’s consumed. The amount of protein you eat is a factor contributing to the efficiency of zinc absorption, as zinc binds to protein.
Adult men should aim for 14mg of zinc daily, while women should aim for 8mg, which can easily be achieved through a balanced diet.
Jolly Good Butter Chicken
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1kg free-range chicken breast, thickly sliced
- 70g unsalted butter
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 10 cardamon pods
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin (optional)
- 1 tsp ground chilli (optional)
- 400g tinned diced tomatoes
- 1 tbsp sugar- & additive-free tomato paste (concentrated purée)
- 400mL additive-free coconut milk
- 1 ripe banana, sliced
- 1 tsp shredded coconut
- 2 cups steamed brown rice
- 1 Lebanese cucumber, diced & chilled
- 1 dollop mango chutney (optional)
- Place a large, heavy-based saucepan over high heat and add the sesame oil.
- Cook the chicken in two batches, turning regularly for about 5 mins or till browned. Remove from the pan and set aside while you cook the remaining chicken. Remove it from the pan.
- Reduce the heat a little and add the butter. When the butter has melted add the spices and cook, stirring, for 4–5 mins, until fragrant.
- Return the chicken to the pan, along with the tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir and simmer for about 20 mins. Turn down the heat to low and stir in the coconut milk. Simmer for about 5 mins.
- Mix the banana and coconut together in a small bowl.
- Serve the butter chicken with brown rice, chilled slices of cucumber, banana with coconut flakes and mango chutney if using.
Once your zinc intake is taken care of, then you can concentrate on fresh fruit and vegetables: rich sources of powerful antioxidants including vitamin C, which helps to protect the body’s cells against damage and infection.
Research shows that the brighter your vegetables and fruits, the higher they are in antioxidants and immune-boosting properties.
Flavonoids — the natural pigments that give plants their colour — have antioxidant, or cell-protecting, properties. Beetroot, broccoli, sweet potato, oranges, red capsicum, berries and pumpkin are all high-antioxidant options; however, many of these foods are only seasonally available.
Garlic is an immunity-boosting superstar that is available all year round. One garlic clove contains more than 100 sulfuric compounds that are powerful enough to wipe out bacteria and infection.
Raw garlic is most beneficial, since heat and water inactivate sulfur enzymes, which can diminish garlic’s antibiotic effects. In clinical trials, garlic’s toxin-fighting properties seem to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, fight tumorous cells and inflammation and kill parasites in the body.
Immune-Boosting Garlic Soup
- 3 garlic bulbs, whole, unpeeled
- 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 40g unsalted butter
- 1 large brown onion, finely chopped
- 1L homemade vegetable or chicken stock
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 60mL apple cider vinegar
- 1 tsp Celtic sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp dried mixed herbs, such as oregano, thyme & sage (optional)
- 60mL additive-free coconut milk (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 175°C.
- Cut the top off each garlic bulb, place on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Transfer to the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Remove and leave to cool.
- Once cooled, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins into a small bowl. Transfer to a food processor and whizz for a few seconds. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 10–15 mins, or until translucent. Stir in the stock, turmeric, cumin, vinegar, blended garlic, salt, pepper and herbs, if using, and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to medium–low, cover and cook for 30 mins. Serve hot.
- Note: If you would like a creamier soup, stir in the coconut milk just before serving and heat through.
Ginger & turmeric
Finally, during the cooler months it’s important to keep your fluid intake up. Dehydration can not only make cough and flu symptoms much worse, but it can also compromise your digestion and overall immunity.
If you find you’re drinking much less water, switch to soups and teas, which will help keep you warm, hydrated and nourished.
Ginger and turmeric are powerful ingredients, having been commonly used in Ayurvedic and Unani medicine for centuries.
Studies have shown that ginger has powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It helps to boost immune function and combat cellular damage.
This gut-friendly spice also stimulates digestion and bowel function, while helping to relieve bloating, cramping and nausea. This is especially important during winter, when it is common for digestion to be a little compromised as we tend to load up on carbohydrate-heavy, rich meals.
Ginger also promotes sweating, which detoxifies the body and can help prevent illness.
Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound that increases the level of immunity-boosting proteins in our bodies. These proteins help to fight bacteria and viruses when they try to attack. It is also a natural anti-inflammatory and painkiller.
Cleansing Ginger & Turmeric Tea
- 250mL almond or rice milk
- 2 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp finely grated ginger
- 6 drops stevia liquid
- Add the almond milk to a small saucepan and heat gently until it reaches room temperature.
- Add the turmeric and ginger to a mug. Pour a small amount of warm milk into the mug and stir to create a liquid paste, ensuring there are no lumps. Add the remaining milk and sweeten with stevia.
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