Foods that Fight Flu Season

It’s the time of year that many of us dread…flu season. You try to take every precaution you can by washing your hands, sanitizing grocery carts and not touching your face—but sometimes even that isn’t enough to prevent the nasty flu bug! In the past, I would get sick at least once every fall/winter and would always have 1-2 sinus infections on top of that. That was until I changed my diet up a few years ago, and I have enjoyed the last few years sick-free!

Remember, no one single food will make you healthier and improve your immunity. But I do suggest that it may be more beneficial to get your vitamins from your fruits and veggies rather than a packet of Emergen-C.

Get your vitamins from your fruits and veggies rather than a packet of Emergen-C.

Antioxidant-Rich Fruits and Veggies

Ideally, your goal is to consume a wide variety of colors when choosing your fruits and veggies. Each color introduces a powerful antioxidant or plant nutrient into your system. For example, red-orange colored produce such as sweet potatoes, squash and carrots are great sources of Vitamin A and beta-carotene while blue, purple and dark red fruits like blueberries, raspberries and cherries deliver phytochemicals such as flavonoids that help reduce inflammation. Vitamin C can be found in red bell peppers, oranges, broccoli, kiwi and strawberries.

Eggs, Nuts and Seeds

These quick bites are good sources of zinc, which helps your T-cells and other immune cells function properly. Swap your afternoon wheat thins or granola bar for a handful of mixed nuts and seeds or even a hardboiled egg or two. In addition to the improved nutrient intake, you’ll also satisfy your hunger better and have more controlled blood sugars by choosing these good protein sources.

Proteins. Eggs, fish, chicken, lean or organic beef

Some studies suggest that inadequate protein intake can weaken the immune system by showing a decrease in the number of T-cells and antibodies being produced. A good goal to work towards is having protein with all your meals and with most of your snack choices.

Fatty fish and avocados

There are two great examples of healthy fats in the diet (omega-3 and omega-9s). Essential fats (fats that the body cannot produce) help decrease inflammation in the body as well as improve the integrity of our cell walls. I’ll explain in the next paragraph why this integrity is so important to immunity!

Immunity begins in the gut.

You gastrointestinal tract is your internal layer of skin. It can protect you from harmful agents invading your circulatory system; however, if its cell wall is compromised, you may be at a greater risk of getting sick this flu season. (This could be related to “leaky gut syndrome or intestinal permeability” however, not all practitioners believe in this concept). I know what you’re thinking—so what are the foods that damage my gut’s lining? Some of the main culprits could be foods high in sugar and simple carbohydrates such as candy, juice, soda, cereal, chips, crackers, pretzels, pasta and white bread. Three years ago, I pretty much cut out all of these foods from my diet. Could it be coincidental that I didn’t get sick the same time I cut out processed sugars and starches? Yes. However, I will remind you that I work in health care and am exposed to a lot of sick people on a daily basis during the flu season. In addition to not getting sick the past couple winters, I also noticed that I was less bloated, slept better and had more energy after changing my diet. While my results may differ from others following the same meal plan, it is certainly something to consider if you find yourself chronically getting sick all fall and winter long.

Remember—your immune system is exactly that—a system, not one single entity. To function well, it requires overall balance and harmony between all your health habits: diet, exercise, stress management and sleep.

Amanda  Figge

Squash: The Flavor of Fall

Butternut squash is one of my favorite flavors of fall! It pairs well with other roasted vegetables, can be consumed in soups and is strong enough to stand alone in its own dish. Many people enjoy butternut squash when its sweetness is enhanced from cinnamon, nutmeg or brown sugar; however, I prefer the more savory spice flavors. I came across a scrumptious looking seasoned-breadcrumb squash recipe. The problem I faced with this recipe is that my husband needs to follow a gluten-free diet, which makes Italian seasoned breadcrumbs a no-no in our household. I decided to be creative and make my own gluten-free version of Italian bread crumbs. The flavor profile is spot-on but it didn’t crisp up like normal breadcrumbs do. To help the breadcrumbs crisp up, turn your oven on broil setting and cook at a high temperature for the last 5-10 minutes.

butternut squash

For the Squash

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4cup grass-fed butter
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup gluten-free bread crumbs (recipe below)
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1-2 Tbsp dried parsley

For the Gluten-Free Breadcrumbs

  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  1. Pre-heat oven to 375oF.
  2. Prepare the breadcrumb recipe in a small bowl. Simply mix all ingredients together. Add parmesan cheese and set aside.
  3. Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat. Once heated, add minced garlic and cook for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn the butter or garlic. Remove from heat after about 3-5 minutes.
  4. Peel and slice butternut squash into even 1-1.5 inch cubes. Cut the ends off first and then slice the butternut squash in half, long-ways. Once it’s halved, you can easily peel the skin and chop up.
  5. Put chopped squash in casserole dish and then pour garlic-butter mixture onto squash and toss so it’s evenly coated. Season with salt, pepper and dried parsley. Finally, add gluten-free breadcrumb and parmesan mixture on top.
  6. Cook squash for 30-40 minutes until fork tender. You also have the option of turning oven to broiler setting at the end to help brown gluten-free bread crumbs.

Fall in Love with Soup

For some reason, making soup is not one of my culinary gifts. I find that my soups always end up bland, so I end up throwing out the majority of the batch. After this cool autumn weekend, I thought I’d give soup-making another try. I came across this recipe from one of my favorite food bloggers, Danielle Walker at www.againstallgrain.com. This soup combines the savory flavors of roasted chicken with the richness of seasonal vegetables. When I make it again, I plan on increasing the vegetables by 50% so I can create a larger serving of vegetable puree, to give the soup a thicker texture. Of course, I always add extra garlic too! This soup was so delicious, my husband and I found ourselves fighting over the leftovers!

Fall Soup

 

Rotisserie Chicken Soup with Roasted Vegetables

  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cubed
  • 1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 sweet potato, cubed
  • ½ yellow onion, quartered
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cups of organic chicken broth
  • 3 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken (at least ½ the chicken)
  • ¾ tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp dried thyme
  • ½ tsp dried rosemary
  • ¼ tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach
  1. Preheat oven to 425o. Toss cut vegetables (except spinach) in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  2. Meanwhile, bring chicken stock in large pot to a simmer. Add the chicken, herbs, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes.
  3. Add half the roasted vegetables to soup and place other half in a blender or food processor. Add water and blend until pureed.
  4. Add pureed vegetables and fresh spinach to soup and continue to simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
  5. Serve warm and enjoy!

Fall – The Season of Sweet Potatoes

Taking advantage of seasonal fruits and vegetables is a cost-effective way to consume healthy and nutritious foods all year long. The sweet potato is one fall vegetable that happens to be one of my favorite starches. If you asked me a year ago if I liked sweet potatoes, I probably would’ve responded with a big “Yuck!” The first time I tried sweet potatoes was at Thanksgiving. They were smothered in marshmallows and brown sugar and in my opinion, were a mushy mess. I later tried sweet potato fries and was also very disappointed. Knowing that sweet potatoes were good for me, I was bound and determined to find a way to prepare them that was to my liking.

steamables_sweet_lgDid you know sweet potatoes are actually not related to the potato family? They are a member of the morning glory family. Personally, I enjoy sweet potatoes with my eggs in the morning or roasted with mixed vegetables as a side dish for lunch and dinner. My favorite way to spice them is with garlic, sea salt and pepper. However, most people prefer using cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves. Sweet potatoes served with egg whites also make an excellent post-workout snack. If I’m in a rush, I grab a bag of steamable sweet potatoes at the supermarket and can have a quick side dish on hand in a matter of minutes.

A small sweet potato (about 5 inches long or about 1 cup) contains 112 calories, 2 grams of protein, 3.9 grams of fiber and is also a good source of potassium and Vitamin C. Sweet potatoes are most known for their content of Vitamin A and the antioxidant, beta-carotene which is excellent for skin and eye health. Beta-carotene is found within the deep orange pigment of the sweet potato. Other sources of (orange-pigmented) beta-carotene include carrots, pumpkin and squash and it is also found in green-pigmented vegetables such as spinach, broccoli and kale. Beta-carotene is best absorbed when it is consumed with a small amount of fat. This can be easily accomplished if you use a small amount of olive oil when sautéing or roasting your sweet potatoes. They also are a good source of Vitamin B6 which is essential for red blood cell formation and protein metabolism.

Using sweet potatoes in unconventional ways is a great method for consuming nutrients, especially for individuals with food allergies.  Here is a kid-friendly, gluten-free and dairy-free recipe for making:

Sweet Potato Pancakes

  • 2 small sweet potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2-1 large banana
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • Pinch of salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger
  • Canola, olive or coconut oil (for cooking)
  1. Wash and pierce potatoes with a fork; cover with a paper towel and microwave for 5-6 minutes until soft.
  2. In a food processor, add the scooped out portion of the flesh of the sweet potatoes, eggs and ½ – whole banana (for sweetness) and puree until smooth.
  3. Add baking soda and spices, to taste.
  4. Heat oil on skillet over medium heat. Scoop ¼ cup batter onto skillet and cook 2-3 minutes on one side. Flip carefully and cook an additional 1-2 minutes on other side.
  5. Serve with fruit, yogurt or your favorite breakfast protein for a balanced breakfast or serve by itself for a healthy, sweet treat.

A zesty way to roast potatoes in the oven:

Baked Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges

  • 2 sweet potatoessweetpotatowedges
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Olive oil (1-2 tsp)
  1. Preheat oven to 350oF.
  2. Slice potatoes into even wedges.
  3. Combine spices in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, add potato wedges and drizzle with olive oil. Add spices and lime juice; lightly toss together.
  4. Spread potatoes on baking sheet and bake 30-35 minutes, turning half-way through.
  5. Enjoy!

 

**Extremely high intakes of Vitamin A can lead to toxic levels in the body. Please consult with your physician if considering taking a Vitamin A supplement.

 

Healthy Recipe – Creamy Baked Pumpkin Risotto

CreamyBakedPumpkinRisotto

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 cups arborio rice
  • 2 cups pumpkin or butternut squash, small diced
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup medium yellow onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400oF and arrange a rack in the middle.

2. Combine broth, rice, squash, puree, and onion in a 3-quart baking dish, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and stir to evenly combine.  Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake, stirring occasionally, until most the water has been absorbed and rice granules are puffed, about 35 to 30 minutes.

3. Remove from oven, stir in remaining ingredients, season to taste and serve. Serves 6.

Nutrition Information: Calories: 269.Total Fat: 11 g. Saturated Fat: 4 g. Sugar: 3 g. Fiber: 2.5 g. Cholesterol: 12mg. Sodium: 253 mg. Total Carbohydrate: 36 g. Dietary Fiber: 2 g. Protein: 9 g.

-www.foodnetwork.com- Recipe courtesy of Aida Mollenkamp; 2012 Television Food Network G.P.

 

Cholesterol Month – Part 1

September is one of my favorite months. It marks the beginning of fall, campfires, football season and hoodies. It also happens to be National Cholesterol Education Month. Cholesterol was a word that I knew at an early age. Grandma was always yelling out across the farm, “Karl, did you take your cholesterol pills?” As a child, I believed that cholesterol was a problem that only old people had. Today, we now know this is not the case. Thanks to the Bogalusa Heart Study, http://tulane.edu/som/cardiohealth/  we have learned that children as young as 5 can begin developing risk factors for heart disease. This study and others like it show how important it is to adopt healthy lifestyles in childhood.

It’s important to know your numbers. Everyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol levels checked at least every 5 years. This is an important matter because one does not feel symptoms of high cholesterol. When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it begins to build up on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this build-up can lead to a hardening of the arterial walls which can slow down blood flow to the heart or even form a blockage. Lowering your cholesterol can help lessen the risk for developing heart disease.

cholesterol numbers

The three most important factors that you can control to help lower your cholesterol levels are: DIET, PHYSICAL ACTIVITY and WEIGHT.

Check back on Monday, Sept. 9 for part 2 of the Cholesterol Month Blog series where we discuss diet in regards to cholesterol management.