What do you think of when someone mentions winter? Heavy, itchy woollen clothes? Chapped lips and cracked heels? Sure winter is all of this, but did you also know that winter is the best season to improve immunity? During this time, people feel hungrier. Amazingly, the body engine works better in the winter and foods are better digested. This aids in providing more nourishment to the body.
So how does one boost immunity during winter? As we are aware, immunity-boosting foods are those that are fresh, organic, easy to digest,pure and wholesome. These include fresh vegetables and fruits/dry fruits, dairy products, nuts/oilseeds, whole grains
/legumes and ghee. Besides these, some spices also have anti-microbial properties that protect us from colds and infections. They also act to increase digestive enzymes and cellular metabolic function, and ensure complete assimilation of nutrients.
Foods To Warm In Winter
In winter, our body craves for rich food which provides warmth along with nourishment. We need warming foods to satisfy this craving. Any vegetable that takes time to grow, and in which the edible part grows beneath the surface of the ground is usually warming and a good vegetable to eat in winter. Certain dry fruits (dates), nuts and oilseeds (sesame seeds) are also warming. It is also a time of the year when you may want to eat more spices than in the summer months.
All animal foods fall into the warming category, including lean dairy, meat, fish and poultry. Whole-grain cereals, proteins and healthy fats too provide much-needed energy to keep warm. The most warming vegetables that are good for your body are root vegetables like carrot, potato, onions, garlic, radish, yams, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips, etc, and hearty winter greens like palak, methi, sarson, muli, pudina, etc.
Carrots ('gajar-ka-halwa', 'gajar-ka-ras', 'gajar-shalgam-ke-achaar'): The beta-carotene in carrots is an excellent source of vitamin A and a powerful anti-oxidant.
White radish, onion and garlic (dry and spring varieties): Rich in isothiocyanates and indoles, phytochemicals that help prevent cancer. Their strong flavour helps to pep up the taste of food.
Potatoes and yams: Help to provide much-needed energy.
Leafy greens: Methi, Palak, Sarson... ('methi-theplas', 'sarson-ka-saag', 'palak paneer'): A good source of beta-carotene and Vitamin C - both powerful antioxidants that help fight disease and build immunity. Others in this category are coriander, amaranth, celery, radish greens, etc.
Other vegetables: Green beans (broad beans, valol, papdi) and peas: these are all high energy and high-protein vegetables.
Whole Grain Cereals And Pulses :High energy and protein foods provide the required fuel to combat the cold. That's why many Indian households make 'sheera' (rava, whole-wheat flour, moong-dal, vermicelli, daliaa, badam); 'halwa' (gajar, doodhi, pumpkin); 'paak' and 'ladoos'. Fresh green fresh whole grains, available in Gujarat, called 'ponkh' are considered a winter delicacy. Makai and bajra rotis have the warmth-giving quality.
Fresh And Dried Fruits
Papaya and pineapple are believed to provide warmth. Amla is loaded with Vitamin C, and is very good to step up your immunity. That's the reason why 'amla juice' and 'amla muraba' are available in plenty during winter.
Dates are warm in nature and are highly recommended in the winter months. Not only are they a good source of fibre, iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamins (C and B3), they are also a good source of energy. Consume them as they are or as a barfi, pulp or added to milkshakes and smoothies.
Mustard, asafoetida (hing), black pepper, fenugreek, ajwain and suva (dill) seeds are all warm spices to be used freely. Mustard, ajwain and suva seeds are a valuable remedy for winter coughs and flu, stimulating appetite and digestion and increasing blood circulation. Methi (dry or sprouted) is very beneficial in bone and joint problems that surface more in winter. Turmeric, especially the fresh light and golden yellow variety (resembles ginger), is a potent anti-microbial immunity builder.
Herbs And Seeds
Basil (tulsi) is a herb that protects against colds and fever and helps strengthen immunity. Ginger, (fresh and dry varieties) is very warming. Sliced ginger with lime and salt is a common accompaniment with meals, while ginger can be added to tea, dals and vegetables. Dry ginger powder made into tiny ladoos with jaggery and ghee is excellent for combating winter chills.
Til ladoos and til chikki need no introduction to an Indian. The warmth-giving quality of til or sesame is also tapped when you sprinkle them on salads, breads, pastas and pizzas.
Keeping Healthy In Winter
The cold weather can interrupt your workout routine and can even send you on a mood roller coaster that can lead to overeating due to stress and boredom. Include proteins as well as carbohydrates in your diet. This will help balance serotonin, a calming brain chemical, and will not trigger low blood sugar-induced hunger pangs. The best balance is one-third protein and two-thirds vegetables and salads.
Pay attention to your lifestyle, too. Staying up late, working at night, eating at irregular times, exposing the body to stress and fatigue, and sleeping during the day can all affect the digestive and body rhythms - and thus compromise rather than strengthen the immune system. So this year, spend the cold season staying warm and healthy.