While the temperatures in my little corner of Western Europe are worryingly mild, we are told that winter is drawing close, as are the numerous viruses and bugs that can really knock us. Seasonal change places greater demands on our immune systems so lets keep ourselves fighting fit through this winter and beyond.
The following tips are nothing new - but they work and both science and time have proved this. What’s more, your skin, gut, brain and body at large will thrive too. What’s your excuse?
I know some may readers think that choices are a little limited at this time of year, but if we think beyond the regulars there are so many colourful and tasty vegetables and fruits to carry us through the winter. We know seasonal eating is the best way of getting what our bodies needs with less processing and travel time too, so they are fresher, more nutritious and sustainable too. So load up on kale, cabbage, winter spinach, parsnips, courgettes, pumpkins, squash and fruits including pears and plums (poached with orange juice and a little cinnamon and maple syrup for breakfast - just fab!).
And some sneaky brownies are always on the menu regardless of season (recipe for those featured in main photo are in my GLOW book)
Feed your gut
Science tells us that the major part of our immune system is housed in our gut. I will not rant yet again on just how essential a healthy gut microbiome is, as I have done so many times (see here and here for more) with a full chapter in my GLOW book dedicated to our GUT. Load up on seasonal vegetables, oily fish, nuts, fermented foods (kombucha etc), polyphenol-rich foods (berries, flaxseeds, plums, green tea, raw cacao and a little organic/biodynamic red wine for good measure!). Get advice on the most appropriate probiotic for you.
Cook in batches
You need to be somewhat organised but even for the busiest amongst us can mange that over weekends. Obviously you need some freezer space too for wholesome, immune-boosting soups, curries and more. Cooking from scratch also minimises processed foods and helps reduce sugar intake (often hidden in prepared foods) so it really will pay off. Write your shopping list and get started
Don’t forget top quality protein - eggs, oily fish, nuts, seeds, quinoa, grass-fed meat and free-range chicken etc to help keep our hormones balanced and in check (especially the stress hormone, cortisol that can play havoc with our immune system).
In Ayurvedic thinking, autumn/winter are Vata dominant seasons (one of the 3 doshas or body types) as are our middle years. We are all vulnerable to Vata’s dry imbalances during the cooler months, but older women and other Vata types should be particularly vigilant about staying in balance.
The following timeless tips from Ayurvedic practitioner Andy Shakeshift of UK’s Essential Ayurveda retreat (see here) help reduce dryness, nourish and ground us from within through winter’s dark cold:
Choose warm, nourishing foods that are both satisfying and grounding - home made soups are great (as we know!). On days that feel warmer, increase the intake of bitter/astringent vegetables or lighter soups.
Try implementing some simple cleanses, a simple kitchari fast, or making your meals primarily seasonal fruits and vegetables together with a light grain or quinoa (for a couple of days only).
Vata reducing herbal teas packed with licorice, ginger and cinnamon amongst other herbs, can help dispel dryness from the body, while also flushing the kidneys and soothing a restless mind. There are many great brands on the market but making your own is so quick and easy - and far better for the environment - and your wallet. This yogi tea is the best ever: Combine 20 cloves, 20 cardamon pods, 1/3 thumb-sized chopped ginger and a cinnamon stick in a pot with about 2L water. Boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. Drink through the day.
Get to bed earlier. Darker evenings promote melatonin production regulating sleep/wake cycles. Minimize the stimulating white light from computer screens etc. (yes, yes we all know this already, right?)
Abhyangha, or self massage using a combination of grounding massage and warm Ayurvedic oils is excellent for rebalancing the body's vāta.
Ashwaghanda is the seasonal super herb that deeply supports a healthy Vāta. Triphala is known for its cleansing and detox properties, but it is also a great rejuvenating tonic for the bowel and digestive system.
Kate’s Creamy Squash and Red Pepper Soup
1 large squash, peeled and cut into chunks
3 large red peppers, deseeded and quartered
3 large tomatoes, quartered
2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped (use all of stalk)
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice and zest of 1 orange
1L vegetable stock (see recipe page XX) or choose low salt stock
2 tsp. harissa or smoked paprika (depending on taste)
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 180C. Place squash, tomatoes and peppers on a roasting tray with a splash of olive oil and a few sprigs of rosemary and/or thyme. Bake in over for 20-25 mins or until cooked and starting to brown.
Meanwhile, add 2tbs oil to a pan and sauté the chopped red onion on medium heat. Add smoked paprika after a few minutes. Once the onions have started to caramelize, add the roasted peppers, tomatoes squash, stock and orange juice and zest and bring to the boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat; allow to cool a little before whizzing in blender. Add more stock or boiling water, if required, for consistency. Serve with a dollop of natural yoghurt on top.
NOTE: You can play around with this soup mix to keep it tasty and seasonal and find what works best for you. Squash can be replaced with sweet potato and extra seasonal vegetables can also be added to bump up the ante nutritionally.