Healing With Fresh Foods This Winter

Winter is upon us. It is the time in New England when we hunker down and get quiet. Or is it? I don’t actually think so. Maybe that is what nature does, but we humans seem to do a lot during the time when the trees, plants and many animals go to sleep. Add family gatherings, lots of fattening foods and sugar to the season, and winter becomes the time when immune systems could use a little boost.

Imagine the scene. We are at a lively gathering around a holiday setting with our loved ones. There is a table full of appetizers and entrees and a separate table for desserts. We begin to sample the delicious foods that everyone has prepared and brought to the festivities. Everything is so good that maybe I’ll just have another bite. Or two. I will try this. And that. And I can’t let down Aunt Betty who makes her famous truffle cake each year.

About an hour later you feel tired, heavy and very slow, almost to the point that rigor mortis has set in. What is happening? Your body is slowing down many other functions so you can digest all the food you’ve succumbed to. Many people like this feeling and, quite possibly, it is some part of our primal selves that enjoys the feeling of being deeply sated. I’m certainly not knocking this feeling; I’m just personally noticing the various reactions in my body when I eat certain foods. Do you notice these as well? If you don’t, I invite you to start checking in on this.

This scene is pretty typical for how we spend many holidays from November until January. Add kids and it’s another month thrown into the mix with the sugar explosion from Halloween candy (that is, if you haven’t found a way to buy your kids out of the candy they have procured.) In summary, once a month for three months, we have a major holiday celebration that can cause a lot of stress in preparing for, plus work, home life, parenting, and then the feasts with lots of meat, cheese, dairy, starches, fats, caffeine, sugar and possibly alcohol to top it all off. In short, the holidays really give our livers, adrenals and immune system a major workout in a chronic way.

When the body slows things down to work on digestion, it is also slowing down the immune system. Sugar, in particular, has a powerful effect of suppressing the immune system for several hours. However, there are many measures you can take to keep your immune system strong during the winter months to enjoy healthier holidays. I will leave it to the herbalists to talk about herbs, teas and tinctures that can help boost immunity. What I’d like to talk about is the healing potential of fresh foods.

Recently I was asked, “What is winter health to you?” To be healthy, I typically eat more raw foods in the winter than I do at other times. I know that seems quite odd to many people, but I tend to crave more whole, fresh food in the winter. I wonder if it is because I’m searching for the sun however I can get it. My body surely does respond favorably to it.

Last February I did a 7-day juice fast and it was the best gift I could have given myself. It makes a lot of sense to eat more simply, as fresh and light as I can, because then my body can spend more energy keeping my immune system strong, pumping blood to my extremities to warm them and keeping my body working well overall. This isn’t to say that I eat only salads nor is this saying that I don’t partake in holiday meals. I do.

I can hear you saying, “I can’t eat cold food when it’s cold out,” or “I eat seasonally and there are little fresh foods available in the winter.” I hear you. I drink my herbal teas and I eat plenty of miso soups in the winter. I love to be warm. I also love to feel exuberantly good in my body, so greens have become my favorite foods. For those that don’t think they can eat fresh greens in the winter, I’m here to tell you that you can grow your own fresh green sprouts for pennies on the dollar every day of the year.

I eat plenty of warm foods and warming herbs and spices like cayenne, ginger, cinnamon, and garam masala that warm the body from the inside out. I also make green juices and smoothies all winter long. I drink them by the woodstove and bear the moments of cool drink in my hand because the benefits to my body are so worth the few minutes of coolness. (I don’t put ice in my smoothies so they are cool but not frozen.)

me-making-kim-chee Fresh foods chef Linda Wooliever making her own winter supply of kim chee. Greens are the healers and fruits are the cleansers. If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this. You want to vary your fruits and greens in your smoothies and avoid getting into a rut. Switch out your greens every 2-3 weeks or more if you can. You can eat green sprouts (there are so many types of green sprouts that you can buy or grow), lettuces, kale, collards, chards, spinach, etc. The greener the greens, the more nutrient-dense for you. Greens give you protein and minerals plus fiber to help keep your digestive pipes clean. Fruit helps to sweeten the greens so your taste buds can tolerate them. There are also lovely vitamins and plenty of fiber in the fruit to help as cleansers to the body.

Many people want to reduce their sugar intake and that is great. I am here to testify that green smoothies would not be palatable without something to remove the “green” taste. You can choose medium glycemic fruits like apples, pears and peaches instead of the higher glycemic fruits (bananas, mangos) to sweeten but have less of a sugar load. I’ve included a savory green smoothie recipe here, too.

During the winter months, I also tend to eat a lot of seaweeds and homemade kim chee, a fermented Korean vegetable condiment. Seaweed provides important minerals, like iodine, and is said to help pull toxins out of the body. Kim chee adds tanginess to food while the fermented cultures help the gut with digestion. If you like hot and spicy, you can make kim chee very hot, which also helps with circulation in the body.

Here’s an invitation to add more green smoothies, juices and whole fresh foods into your winter diet. Start slowly and add more to your diet/lifestyle as you go. This has a very positive effect on your body and your brain will like it, too. Fresh foods also help a great deal with chronic pain and inflammation.

Newbie Green Smoothie

1 ripe banana
½ cup fresh or frozen berries
3-4 romaine lettuce leaves

Blend in a high-speed blender and serve. This serves one. Add water if you want to thin this out a little (about ½ cup will do.) The romaine lettuce will not change the color of the smoothie so this is a great smoothie to sneak to loved ones who are not accustomed to greens. They will taste the fruit. Ripe bananas are sweet. You know a ripe banana because the skin will have tiny brown spots on it. This is when you should eat bananas. Eating them when there are no brown spots means you are not eating ripe fruit and it will be far less sweet tasting. NOTE: if you are not wanting a cold smoothie in the colder months, then opt for fresh fruit and do not add ice to the blender. The smoothie will be at room temperature and easier to drink if you are not used to cool drinks in colder climates.

Semi-Professional Grade Green Smoothie

Same as above, but adding 3-4 leaves of Swiss chard instead of lettuce. The Swiss chard might start to change the color of the drink, so if that is a problem, try a dark berry like black berry. The color will be dark like the berry.

All-Star Green Smoothie Partaker

Same as above but adding 3-4 leaves of kale instead of (or along with) the other leaves. The kale will change the color of the smoothie to green, unless you are using a red berry in which case it will turn brown. Many of us all-star green smoothie drinkers will add green powders like Vita Mineral green to ensure that the green is as green as it can be. Wicked Good Smoothie

The smoothie I had this morning was wicked good. I took a 5-mile walk afterwards, felt great and then went about my work and other business with great energy.

2 ripe bananas
1 10-oz bag of frozen black berries
6 or 7 leaves of curly kale
2 heaping TBS Vitamineral green
2 heaping TBS rice protein powder
homemade almond milk (an easy step-by-step recipe video can be found at http://vt-fiddle.com/rawfood/how_to_make_nut_milk.php)

Put the first five ingredients into a high-speed blender. Then add water or your own nut milk and fill to the 7-cup line. Blend and serve. This recipe makes a full 64-ounce pitcher. I serve out two 16-ounce glasses to my kids and I drink 32-ounces for lunch. It fills me up for hours and gives me a lot of energy to do what I want to do throughout the day.

Super Savory Smoothie

1/2 avocado
4-5 leaves kale
1 ripe tomato
1 small cuke
a shot of tabasco sauce
2 tsp tamari
1 TBS dulse flakes (optional)

Put all ingredients in a high-speed blender and blend until smooth. Add about 1 cup water if you’d like to thin this out some. This serves 1-2 people, depending on how hungry you are. I make this smoothie when I’m doing a juice fast and want something savory to taste in the evenings. The avocado thickens it up some and makes it very tasty. I add the seaweed sometimes instead of the tamari. It is salty tasting and that helps the flavor of the drink. The shot of tabasco sauce also makes this taste like a yummy V-8 drink and the warming spice of it is good for cold winter hands and feet. Enjoy!

Linda Wooliever just received a master's degree in holistic health and is a healthy food chef and educator, teaching people how to live their best, most juicy life through delicious nutrition. She is the owner of Vermont Fiddle Heads in Worcester, VT, and runs an online business manufacturing the best nut milk bags on the planet. www.vt-fiddle.com or call (802) 223-2111. Email Linda your food/health questions at linda@vt-fiddle.com.