“Boost Foods” for your immune and health

It’s that time of year again, where people become sniffly, sneezy, weezy and generally queezy. So, along with the general pandemonium being kicked up by the swine flu, I thought it was a good time to share with you a few foods that are worth considering adding to your gastronomic repertoire during the winter months to help combat those nasty cold and flu attacks.

Italians (well all Mediterraneans really) have always known that Garlic is nature’s antibiotic. Scientists have now confirmed the age old wisdom of thousands of wrinkled up old women across the Mediterranean and have confirmed that it is an antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal which increases immune function as it does increase the potency of two important cells of the immune system: T-lymphocytes (aka T-Cells) and macrophages. It’s also a good source of selenium, an important trace element, and sulfur, which is important for healthy liver function. So, raw, steamed, baked, fried or pureed – keep as much of the oils as you can and just enjoy it for your health! While not as potent, Onions are also a good source of most of the trace elements provided in garlic.

Chilli (or most peppers really) are another one of my favorite boost-foods. Full of vitamin C and Vitamin A and containing beta-carotene and folic acid – it’s a mega-feel good food. The powerful antioxidant, detoxifying, metabolism boosting effects of chilli are just now being documented with (currently unscientifically substantiated) claims of arthritis relief and that it can increase human resistance to cancer. All I know, is that we have a long Mediterranean tradition of eating chillis and of old grannies recommending them to “clear the lungs, nose and mind”.

Horseradish is another one of these “boost foods” – while not a traditional Mediterranean staple, I have come to love it almost as much as the Asians and Indians It is a claimed herbal remedy (not just a delicious accompaniment!) that can be used in order to release pain or to treat health disorders. For example, the raw leaves of horseradish pressed against the forehead are said to practically instantly chase away headaches; the root is said to cure tonsillitis; tea made from horseradish flowers can treat the most serious cold and flu; it can be used as a natural treatment against rheumatic and respiratory disorders and there are (again unsubstantiated) claims that it can increase human resistance to cancer. It’s a natural antiscorbutic, expectorant and emetic and along with the high amount of vitamin C and B complex, nutritive minerals (potassium, calcium, iron), natural antibiotics and enzymes – it’s worth placing on your intake list. So, horseradish paste, wasabi or boiled horseradish slices – whatever floats your boat, just start placing it on the table.

While I’m on the condiment side of foods, let’s talk Mustard. Along the same lines as Horseradish, mustard has been used as a herbal medicine since he Spaniards brought it back from the America’s – with reducing high blood pressure, relieving migraines, speeding up metabolism, reducing asthma attacks among it’s many listed claims. Mustard seeds have antibacterial, antifungal, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, they are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids as well as calcium, dietary fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, protein, selenium and zinc. Do I really need to go on about this?

For over 6,000 years, it is claimed, the Goji berry has been used in Chinese medicine to help protect the liver, help eyesight, as an aphrodisiac, boost the immune system, prevent cancer, and promote longevity. What has been shown is that goji’s have an anticoagulant effect and assist in the reduction of blood pressure and cholesterol. Goji berry juice also contains very high levels of vitamins, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, Cyperone, Anthocyanins and Physalin. A definite booster for the winter months!

Beta-Carotene is an essential immune system enhancer, that promotes T-cell groeth. Foods rich in beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro and fresh thyme. As always, fresh, blanched or steamed vegies are best to keep all the nutrients and not kill off the beta-carotene.

Studies have shown that a zinc deficiency can impair a number of white blood cells and platelets (blood cells involved in clotting), and can increase susceptibility to infection. Zinc rich foods such as oysters, liver, lean beef, pork, turkey, lamb, lentils, pumpkin and sesame seeds, garbanzo beans and yogurt are all must haves for a healthy circulatory system. For men, there’s added benefits that are normally only talked about in some of those spam eMails that you pretend to never read.

Omega-3 fats has been making the rounds of the media over the last few years. They are essential immune boosters, they boost phagocytes activity (the white blood cells that eat up bacteria), strengthen cell membranes, and are good for that important peice of grey matter between your ears. Omega-3 fats can be found in foods such as fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna), flax oil and flaxseeds, some eggs, nuts and seeds.

So, those are the “big ticket items” in my book … what else should you include in your boost foods repertoire? well, how about:

Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower) – while also good sources of betacarotene, they also contain vitamin C and calcium and help protect against free-radical damage.

Vitamin C rich foods such as Raisins, kiwi fruit, blueberries, red pepper, cantaloupe, broccoli, kale, spinach, goji and, yes, oranges. Numerous studies have illustrated vitamin C’s beneficial effects on health. OK, so there’s no conclusive evidence to indicate that it can prevent a cold, but it can support a healthy immune system and aid in your body’s ability to recover better if and when you do get sick. It is a powerful antioxidant, and takes on cell-damaging free radicals.

Avocados, are rich in vitamin A, potassium, folic acid and magnesium.

Shiitake and maitake mushrooms increase the body’s production of white blood cells.

Ginger helps the body fight off infection and has traditionally been used in treating colds and flu.

So, how do you use all of this? Well, it can assist you in chosing what to eat (e.g. a Salmon & Tuna sashimi with Wasabi Lunch followed by a Ginger/Lemongrass Tea just became an Omega-3 boosting, Vitamin C and B complex adding, cold fighting, immune boosting power lunch!) … or if you are more gastronomically minded, can become the basis for your own Chicken Soup for the soul creation.

While it will be a long time before I have my recipe book ready, I thought I’d share one along those lines :

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL

A whole chicken
Spinach
Broccoli
Cabbage
Pok Choy
Shitake Mushrooms
Green pepper
Garbanzo Beans
Barley 
Carrot
Potato
Garlic
Onion
Mustard Seeds
Pepper
Salt
Herbs
& Spices to taste

 
Start of by steaming the Whole Chicken, place the cleaned chicken in a stockpot, add 3 glasses of white wine, cover and steam for 20 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven on “Fan Grill” to 200*C.

Meanwhile, begin chopping all the vegetables into 1cm by 1cm cubes (or use the food processor to shred them).

Take the chicken out of the stockpot (leave the juices behind) and place under the grill for 20 mins to colour and melt off the fat.

Meanwhile, skim any scum off from the pot, add the chopped garlic, onion, mustard seeds and barley.

Allow to stock up and then add the beans, potato and carrots.

Take the chicken out of the oven, allow to cool enough to handle, and begin ripping meat of the carcass roughly.

Place the ripped meat and carcass back into the stock pot, add water to cover and allow to high simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, turn the heat right down low and allow to cook slowly until the vegetables have become a soft puree like consistency.

Take the carcass out of the pot, shred off any remaining meat and return the meat to the pot. Add any final herbs or spices to suit your tatstes and serve.

I like to add some fresh chilli and coriander on the top – but this is not to everyone’s taste. Additionally, a nice accompaniment is some fresh sourdough that’s been placed under the grill and had some fresh garlic and buter slathered on top. Yummo!

Here’s the last batch I made for lunch and dinner a few days back.

lunch; Chicken soup fotr the soul, baby fennel and tomato sal... on Twitpic dinner; soup, fresh bread with both french yellow cow's and w... on Twitpic

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