With colder weather settling in we certainly see more respiratory viruses circling around these days. But we don't have to be sitting ducks! There is so much we can do to strengthen our "Jade Screen"- what in Chinese Medicine we call our defensive Qi, and in Western physiology we call a healthy immune system.
Aligning with the seasonal energy by resting and sleeping more really helps bolster one's immune system. Keeping sugar and alcohol consumption in check is also key for this, of course. So is eating whole foods that are rich in immune-strengthening nutrients. We all know about the importance of Vitamin C, but Vitamin A is also one of those key nutrients for strengthening immunity. Grass-fed ghee, butter, and egg yolks are all rich sources of vitamin A (so is liver, if you can hang with eating it, but full disclosure: I cannot!).
A precursor to Vitamin A, the antioxidant Beta-Carotene, can be found abundantly in carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squashes. And what do you know, these happen to be some of the main veggies we eat for autumn celebrations!
Zinc is another often unsung hero for immune support, and one in which many people are quite deficient. One of the richest food sources for zinc is red meat. I encourage people who are not vegetarian to consider including small therapeutic amounts of pasture raised beef or lamb in their weekly diets, especially in the colder autumn and winter months. A little goes a very long way in terms of nutrient density, and the payoff in immune support is great!
It's not only the zinc that makes red meat a wonderful food for this time of year. From the Chinese Medicine understanding of food energetics, red meat is very warming and strengthening of yang qi-- making it a perfect autumn and winter staple. People who run cold, are low energy, and who tend to contract viruses easily can definitely benefit from at least a serving or two of red meat a week to nourish their yang qi, as well as tonify their blood.
Other foods that are helpful for immune support include allium vegetables like onions, leeks, scallions and garlic. Pungent white vegetables like these, as wells as radishes, are understood within the Chinese Medical framework to be supportive of lung health and the metal element- both associated with autumn. Lastly, spices like turmeric and ginger are wonderful staples in an autumn diet, as they warm the body, reduce inflammation, and release exterior invasions (also known as viruses) from the body.
I'd like to share three of my favorite autumn recipes that feature these immune strengthening ingredients. These recipes are food as medicine: for nourishing the body, strengthening the defensive Qi, and comforting the spirit on a cold autumn day (or night)!
I am a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Heart-centered practice in the Santa Cruz mountains. See my About page for more about me and the work I do.