How to Feed Your Immune System

The flu is on everyone’s radar and, according to the news, it’s one of the worst flu seasons we’ve had in, well, maybe even longer (but don’t quote me on that)! Our immune systems are working overtime and there’s only so much hand sanitizer and hand washing these hard working hands can handle and I know that at the end of the day, germs are hard to avoid. So, besides keeping my hands away from my faces and trying my best not to breathe when I’m sandwiched between two coughing people on the subway, the only other thing we can do is hope that our immune systems can pick up where we left off. And our immune systems are only as good as the vitamins we feed them. Indeed, think of each meal as an intimate date with your oh-so-sensitive immune system. Treat (or even spoil) your immune systems to the stuff it craves!

Rewind for a second, back to a few weeks ago when I made this delicious soup for my friends for dinner. When they entered my apartment they were immediately impressed by it’s overwhelming aroma and I said something like, “if anyone thinks they’re getting sick, this soup could probably cure you.” The smell, alone, was warm and nourishing and I knew, well sort of, that it was full of good for you stuff that could help with a cold. Which got me thinking. Why? And is there actually a way to cure a sickness with food. After lots of research, it seems like the answer is no, not really, or at least there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that food could actually cure or shorten a cold. There is, however, evidence which suggests that certain foods can strengthen your immune system and fend off bacteria and free radicals that cause colds and illness.

This soup is kind of like chicken soup on immunity steroids. Chicken noodle soup is what everyone thinks to make for a sick person and this might just be the next best thing. It’s full of ingredients that simultaneously gives your body what it needs to keep you healthy and nourishes a sick person at the same time.

The reason chicken noodle soup is so great when you’re sick is because it has lots of calories from the chicken, broth and noodles which the body needs to replenish in order for it to fight off viruses. The chicken also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. And it’s a warm liquid so it helps you stay hydrated and soothes a sore throat.

Without going into the details and biology of it all. There are lots of vitamins and nutrients that contribute to a healthy immune system. These are just a few:

Vitamin C

The most famous food source is, of course, oranges and citrus fruits. You don’t have to limit yourself to just one kind; the produce section is teeming with a large variety of citrus this time of year. Nature works in mysterious ways, doesn’t it? I love citrus salads with a medley of blood oranges, naval oranges and cara cara oranges (actually half orange/half clementine). You can throw in grapefruit too.

Broccoli, red peppers and Brussels sprouts are even better sources of Vitamin C. In fact, a cup of broccoli has more vitamin C than one orange. Leafy greens are also an excellent source and work great as an added boost to your citrus salad. Sweet potatoes might just be my favorite source of vitamin C. And they happen to be one of the main components in my soup. Sweet potatoes are also a source of Vitamin A, which help maintain your throats mucus membrane and therefore protection from infection.

Vitamin D

Another line of defense is Vitamin D, which plays a major role in immune function as well. It’s also one of the hardest vitamins to find in food, but it is present in wild salmon, making it a welcomed weekly menu item during the winter.

Anti-bacterial

Garlic contains anti-bacterial agents which help fight illness and there’s some evidence to suggest that it may even help you recover from a cold faster. Cilantro is another source.

Anti-inflammatory

Inflammation is a term that’s being thrown out a lot lately and turmeric is one of the leading sources of an anti-inflammatory property called curcumin. It’s a common ingredient in lots of Indian cuisine, especially curries and has been used for centuries as a remedy for joint pain. For our purposes it’s also an important element of a healthy immune system. Pomegranates are also an anti-inflammatory aside from being a powerful anti-oxidant.

Nausea

Ginger is one of the best antidotes for nausea. So if the stomach flu is your vice, some ginger might help. Probiotics are also what our bodies need to keep our stomachs healthy. An excellent source is yogurt.

You’ll notice that these are the things that make up my new favorite, ultra fragrant, sinus cleansing, immune boosting, winter staple soup. If you’re looking for a food to keep your mind and body at ease during flu season, this is it! Want another awesome soup to add to your rotation? Try Gillian’s Carrot, Parsnip and Ginger Soup with Shredded Rainbow Chard. 

Based on the recipe by Melissa Clark:

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 turnip, peeled and diced
  • 1 sweet potato,  diced
  • 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or grated
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 2 bone-in skin-on chicken breasts
  • 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained
  • ½ cup picked cilantro leaves, more for garnish
  • Lemon wedges, for serving
  • Greek yogurt, for serving (optional)

Method:

  1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery, turnip and sweet potatoes and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent. Add ginger, garlic and all the spices and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add tomato paste and sauté another minute, until darkened but not burned.
  2. Adjust heat to high and add broth to pot. Add the chicken and enough extra liquid to cover the chicken (I usually add about another cup). Cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through, about 30 minutes. 3. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred the meat.
  3. Remove from the heat, add chickpeas and stir in shredded chicken. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  4. Serve with a fresh squeeze of lemon, cilantro, and a dollop of Greek yogurt if you choose.

Sources: https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/foods-that-boost-the-immune-system , https://food.ndtv.com/health/fight-infections-and-boost-your-immunity-with-turmeric-696445 , https://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/power-foods-that-boost-immunity

 

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DENSITY DIET GROCERY LIST

I have a secret to share: You eat what you buy. Okay, that’s not exactly groundbreaking. However, keeping yourself stocked with nourishing options and leaving junk on supermarket shelves is one of the most powerful ways to improve what you eat. So, this week we’re sharing our Density Diet grocery list.

The Density Diet is our version of a January “cleanse.” It’s a research-based, well-rounded way of eating that you can return to any time of year. Read more about it here and here.

In order to narrow each category down, I’ve put asterisks (*) next to items that you’ll most often find in my kitchen this time of year either because they are seasonal or I consider them staples because they are easy to cook. These items are no better than others nutritionally though so choose what you like.

DENSITY DIET GROCERY LIST

Vegetables

(This list is non-exhaustive. All fresh vegetables and frozen-vegetables with no added ingredients are fair game.)

*Arugula

*Avocado

*Beet

*Broccoli

*Brussels sprouts

*Cabbage

*Carrots

*Cauliflower

*Celery

*Cucumber

*Endive

*Fennel

*Ginger

*Herbs – Cilantro, Mint, Basil, Dill, Parsley, Rosemary, Thyme, Tarragon, etc.

*Kale

*Onions – yellow/red/white, garlic, shallots, leeks, scallions, chives, etc.

*Parsnip

*Potato

*Radicchio

*Radish

*Sweet potato

*Winter squash/Pumpkin

Artichoke

Asparagus

Bell pepper

Bok choy

Broccolini

Celeriac

Collard greens

Eggplant

Fava bean

Jerusalem artichoke

Jícama

Kohlrabi

Lettuces

Rapini (broccoli rabe)

Rutabaga

Snap peas

Snow peas

Spinach

Summer squash/zucchini

Swiss chard

Tomatillo

Tomato

Turnips

Fruit

(This list is non-exhaustive. All fresh fruit and dried and frozen fruit with no added ingredients are fair game.)

*Apple

*Banana

*Blueberry

*Lemon

*Lime

*Orange – Blood orange, Clementine, Mandarine, Tangerine, etc.

*Pear

*Pomegranate

*Dried fruit – Currants, Raisins, Cranberries, Dates, etc.

Apricot

Blackberry

Cantaloupe

Cherry

Fig

Grape

Grapefruit

Kiwi

Mango

Melon

Nectarine

Papaya

Peach

Persimmon

Pineapple

Plum

Raspberry

Strawberry

Watermelon

Whole Grains

(This list is non-exhaustive. All whole grains are fair game. Emphasize real whole grains versus products made from them such as whole wheat pastas and bread.)

All dried grains (favor these)

  • *Corn/polenta/popcorn
  • *Farro
  • *Oats
  • *Quinoa
  • *Whole grain rice such as brown, black or wild
  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Buckwheat
  • Bulgur
  • Freekeh
  • Millet
  • Spelt

A few of my favorite real whole grain products (choose more sparingly to get full benefits of whole grains)

  • Food for Like 7 Sprouted Grains Bread (In freezer section of market. Most of their other options are great as well.
  • Mestemacher Breads (I like the Fitness Bread)
  • Sfoglini whole grain pasta options (I’m opting to avoid whole grain pastas while following DD, but if you feel lost without them, Sfolglni’s options are some of my favorite.)
  • If you can’t find the above products, just make sure whole grain flour (i.e. whole wheat flour, whole oat flour, etc.) is the first ingredient listed on the nutrition panel. Also look for high fiber, low sodium, and low sugar.

Beans and Legumes

(This list is non-exhaustive. All dried and canned beans and lentils are fair game. Full disclosure: I most often use canned beans for ease. Cooking from scratch produces the most delicious bean but I rarely have the forethought.)

*Lentils (Beluga, Black, Brown, Red, Yellow, all Dals, Puy, etc. – most of these take 20-30 minutes to cook, so I most often buy dried)

*Black

*Borlotti/cranberry

*Cannellini

*Chickpeas (my most frequent go-to)

*Butter beans

Navy

Pinto

Kidney

Nuts and Seeds

(This list is non-exhaustive. All shelled and unshelled nuts and seeds, raw or roasted and nut butters are fair-game. Look for no added sugar, no added oils. Store opened packages of nuts and seeds in the refrigerator or freezer.)

*Almonds

*Hazelnuts

*Peanuts

*Pecans

*Pine nuts

*Pumpkin seeds/pepitas

*Sesame seeds

*Walnuts

*Almond butter

*Peanut butter

*Tahini

Seafood, Poultry, Pork, Dairy, Eggs

(This list is non-exhaustive. All fresh and frozen fish, shellfish and canned seafood is fair game. All lean cuts of poultry and pork are fair game. All plain dairy is fair game. I prefer 2% or whole yogurts and some research suggests choosing these over non-fat alternatives is advantageous. Read about that here.)

*Salmon

*Canned tuna (I absolutely love oil-packed tuna. Tonnino is my go-to brand. Long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

*Chicken – breasts (bone-in or out), legs, thighs, etc.

*Pork loin and tenderloin

*Eggs

*Milk, plain

*Plain yogurt, regular or Greek

*Edamame (I typically keep pre-shelled frozen on hand.)

*Tofu (long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

*Tempeh (long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

*Miso (long shelf life so great to keep on hand.)

Tuna

Cod

Halibut

Shrimp

Lobster

Crab

Canned salmon

Smoked fish

Cottage cheese

Condiments/flavorings

(This list is non-exhaustive.)

*Extra virgin olive oil

*Flavorful nut and seed oils for salad dressings and stir-fry seasonings: toasted sesame oil, walnut oil

*Vinegars: balsamic, red-wine, white-wine, apple cider, etc.

*Olives (Kalamata, green, etc.), pickles and capers

*Asian condiments and flavorings: reduced-sodium soy sauce, fish sauce, mirin, chile-garlic sauce, curry paste

*Kosher salt, Maldon salt for finishing

Black peppercorns

*Dry herbs and spices

Beverages

*Water and seltzers

*Tea

*Coffee

*Milk or non-dairy milks

Check out our Instagram and Facebook accounts for #densitydiet meal ideas. We’ll continue to provide more information here as well.

Are you following the Density Diet? How is it going and how do you feel? We’d love to hear from you!

MAKING THE DENSITY DIET WORK FOR YOU

Last week I introduced you to What We Eat’s Density Diet, a research-based, sane alternative to the unhealthy and counterproductive cleanses many embark on this time of year. While 5 Density Diet Rules serve as its framework, in order for you to be successful, you need to make them work for you. What does that mean? You need to make following the Density Diet a SMART goal.

Making the Density Diet SMART

SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Read more about them here. The adjectives to zero in on in the case of the Density Diet are “attainable” and “time-bound.”

How long do you plan on following this way of eating? A few days? A week? For the month of January? Of course, you’ll get the most bang for your buck if you follow the DD Rules to the letter. But is that attainable (i.e. realistic) for you? If not, make a list of exceptions before you start. If you plan for these, you aren’t “cheating.” You are making the diet work for you and increasing your odds of being successful.

Below is my list of exceptions so you can see how this works for someone else.

Laura’s Exceptions (example only, make a list of your own!)

  • When dining out, I’m allowed to enjoy a bit of cheese, red meat and/or refined grains (likely in the form of pizza or pastaJ). I don’t eat out more than once or twice a week and being able to enjoy what I want is important to me.
  • I’m allowed to enjoy a sweet once weekly but only if it’s truly special and I am savoring it with others (e.g. no mindless desserts consumption in front of the TV).
  • I’m allowed to enjoy my morning coffee and one alcoholic beverage a day (maybe two on weekend nights:)).

Once you make your own list of exceptions, following the Density Diet should be an effective SMART goal for you. It’s…

  • Specific and Measurable: You’ll know at the end of every day whether you’ve been successful or not. You could keep a journal of everything you consume and compare it to your DD rules if that makes it easier. Little deviations are not the end of the world. Perfection is the enemy of progress.
  • Attainable: Your list of exceptions should allow the DD to be doable for you!
  • Relevant: This way of eating is a return to eating for health. If health is your goal, this is as solid of a first step as you can take. Don’t be surprised if you notice you have more energy, normalized digestion, improved skin and maybe even weight loss.
  • Time-bound: You set your own agenda here. Whether you follow this for a few days or the entire year, you’ll benefit.

I’d love to hear from you. Any questions or concerns about this? What are your planned exceptions? If you think it would be helpful, we could start a Density Diet hashtag (#densitydiet2018) and I can tag my meals on Instagram. Let me know. I’d love to see yours as well.

HERE’S TO 2018!

xo Laura, MS, RD

A Better Way to “Cleanse”: What We Eat’s Density Diet


It’s that time of year again. Resolution time. For some, that might mean a vow to limit Instagram, start a gym routine or get more sleep. But for many others, it likely involves a plan to change their diet. After weeks (months?) of indulging, a desire to restore control is natural.

Everywhere you turn—the internet, TV, magazines, friends—you’ll find someone promising you that they have the easiest, quickest way to do it. And it’s probably going to come in the form of a cleanse, detox or elimination diet. I’d like to offer a sane alternative that can be a diet touchstone anytime of the year.

First, let’s get to the two main reasons why I don’t like traditional cleanses, detoxes and/or elimination diets:

  • They are not research-based. The most prominent claim these diets tout is that they remove toxic build-up in your body. News flash: Your kidneys, liver and colon are the most magnificent, incredibly effective detoxing machines. Eliminating particular foods won’t allow these organs to “rest” and eating particular foods won’t make them more effective. (And certainly, no supplements are going to help either. If a diet recommends taking its own branded supplements, be wary.) If you are going to put a large amount of effort into changing the way you eat, then it should deliver on its promises.
  • They are often too severe and/or unrealistic in the long-term. Cleanses, detoxes and eliminations that prescribe a narrow set of foods or beverages typically lack the full spectrum of nutrients your body needs. Why rob your body of what’s essential now in the wake of what was likely a long period of sub-optimal nourishment? You’d just be swapping one bad diet for another. And while, yes, they might lead to short term weight loss because you’re severely restricting calories, the weight loss won’t last. Whatever you do to lose weight, you have to continue in the long-term to keep it off.

Continue reading “A Better Way to “Cleanse”: What We Eat’s Density Diet”

How To Make Homemade Sushi

One of my favorite things about cooking is playing with my food. Composing a salad, the perfect toast or (in this case) sushi, allows me to have fun each step of the way!  For some, making your own sushi can sound daunting, but it’s actually simple. You don’t even need a sushi mat to make it (although it helps).

In this recipe, I made a vegan sweet potato and avocado sushi roll. Sushi is versatile, so play up your favorite flavor combinations! For the gals at What We Eat, we constantly make many variations of a carrot and avocado salad. So, in light of that inspiration, here is what we came up with! 

What you’ll need:

A clean dish towel

Plastic wrap

A bowl of cold water (to help the rice not stick to your hands)

Sushi mat 

Ingredients

Nori sheets

2 cups sushi rice, cooked and cooled with a splash of seasoned rice vinegar 

Julienned Vegetables of choice (I did sweet potato, cucumber, daikon, avocado, cilantro)

Method:

  1. Place a big square of plastic wrap on top of a sushi mat and place on top of a dish towel. (The towel is there to help with the mess). Place a single piece of nori on top of the plastic.

2. With wet hands, place a decent size scoop of the rice onto the nori and press down until even thickness throughout. The water will help the sushi rice to not stick to your hands. Life hack!

3. Add vegetables of choice in a straight line about ⅓ of the way in. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and top with cilantro.

4. Now the fun part! Using the sushi mat and plastic as a guide, tightly roll the sushi. Make sure the pressure is even when you roll to help prevent lumps. (Note: Chef hands in dire need of a paraffin treatment!!)

5. Allow to sit for 10 minutes rolled in the plastic before cutting.

6. Slice sushi into 8 pieces and enjoy dipped in your favorite sauce.

With Love,

Rian