You've no doubt heard about many medicinal benefits from turmeric and ginger. Did you know they are in the same family? Both are beneficial to the gastrointestinal tract, help to lower lipids, support heart health, fight inflammation, and even protect against cancer. But right now I want to talk specifically about how these amazing rhizomes can help your immune system, since we're all looking to protect ourselves.
Ginger and turmeric both contain a chemical called Curcumin, which contributes to the yellow hue (watch out, it stains!). Curcumin also has powerful antiviral capacity, which has been demonstrated in a number of studies. Among other viruses, Curcumin has proven effective against influenza, Hepatitis B and C, as well as HPV. An even more amazing trait is that viruses do not develop resistance to Curcumin.
So you're probably wondering: can these herbs protect me against the Coronavirus? As of now, there is no scientific evidence to support this theory. The Coronavirus is a relatively new virus and has not been studied to the extent of others discussed earlier. But considering what we already know about ginger and turmeric, I highly recommend both to boost your overall immune function.
The great news is that both of these herbs grow in abundance here in Hawaii. In fact, they were staple crops for Ancient Hawaiians. Ginger ('Awapuhi in Hawaiian) was used to treat muscle aches, bruises and stomach aches. Turmeric ('Olena in Hawaiian) was used for ear infections and sinus troubles. Chances are, your local farmer's market stocks both. You may be fortunate enough to find several varieties such as Indira Yellow and Red Turmeric; White, Yellow and Bubba Blue Ginger. These various colors offer unique health benefits, but all carry the powerful antiviral properties described above, so consume liberally!
I've been fielding questions lately about what to eat during these uncertain times, and yesterday I was asked about healthy shelf-stable foods in preparation for quarantine, or "social distancing." What a great topic for a blog post! Interestingly, my recommendations don't differ much from ordinary tips for heathy eating! Here are the basics to stock your fridge and pantry:
Dried beans have a very long shelf life and provide ample nutrients (fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals) to sustain you. They are also incredibly versatile. A pressure cooker cuts down on cooking time. Google will help you find all sorts of interesting meal options. I recommend lentils, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and pinto beans. Canned beans are fine, but watch out for added salt. Dried or canned, be sure to rinse thoroughly!
Stock up on brown rice, quinoa, corn meal, oats, pasta and flour. With corn meal, you can make tortillas, polenta or corn bread. Quinoa is not technically a grain but very tasty and a complete protein, meaning it provides all the essential amino acids. Oats are a great breakfast meal. They can be baked or used for homemade granola. These days, there are many healthy pasta options. Brown rice pasta is my favorite. It's got all the chewiness of semolina pasta, but far more fiber. You'll hardly notice the difference.
If ever there was a time to support your local farmers, it's now! Hit the farmers market and stock up on kale, collards, root veggies, squash, broccoli, onions and garlic. All of these will last a long time and the greens can even be frozen. As always, choose organic and wash everything thoroughly!
Herbs and spices
Not only do these add flavor to all the bean and veggie dishes you'll be cooking, but they offer amazing health benefits. Fresh herbs are best, but dried herbs are a great option as well. Stock up on cilantro, parsley, oregano, thyme, sage, paprika, cayenne, turmeric and ginger.
Dried fruits, nuts and seeds
I recommend cranberries, blueberries, figs, dates and cherries. Look for the kind with no sugar added. Nuts and seeds are great sources or fiber, protein, omega-3s and lots of beneficial minerals. Choose almonds, walnuts, chia seeds (soak or grind first), sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds. These can be added to baked goods, granola or serve as a quick snack. A small handful is all you need.
If you must, opt for wild-caught sardines, salmon or tuna. Stay away from Spam and other heavily processed meats.
Extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are really all you need. Both provide many health benefits and are versatile for both cooking and baking. For some variety, other healthy options include sesame oil and avocado oil.
Tamari, fish sauce, sriracha and a good hot sauce will go a long way!
This list is certainly not all-inclusive, but a great start to ensure you have healthy cooking options in these uncertain times. Stay safe!
Most of the advice we're hearing to protect us from COVID-19 involves hand-washing and avoiding public spaces. But there are also ways we can boost our immune function through nutrition. Here are the top tips to help give your immune system the extra boost it needs to help stave off an infection.
Eat a rainbow
Ever wonder why certain fruits and vegetables are different colors? Pigments are influenced by the different kinds of phytochemicals - a fancy word to describe the special chemicals found in plants - existing in nature. The beautiful purples and blues in berries mark the presence of anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight inflammation, among other things. Orange and yellow pigments in carrots and sweet potatoes contain carotenoids which are converted to Vitamin A in the body. Greens contain chlorophyll or lutein, which promote eye health. The red in tomatoes indicates lycopene, another powerful phytochemical that improves heart health. These are just a few examples of phytochemicals found in the plants we eat every day. You’ve likely heart the phrase, “eat a rainbow,” which is great advice. By doing so, you’ll ensure you’re taking in all of these important chemicals and boosting your immune system.
Organic when possible
You probably know that organic foods are safer because they lack harmful pesticide residue, but did you know they also provide better support to your immune system than conventional counterparts?
Most herbs have powerful protective properties. Parsley, cilantro, oregano, ginger, garlic, cayenne and turmeric are just a few. Many of these herbs can simply be added to existing recipes. Ginger and turmeric are great as tea.
Depending on your location, tap water often contains contaminants that can compromise your immune system. The Environmental Working Group has a database you can check to find out what might be lurking in your water. Invest in a water filter to ensure you’re hydrating without the risk of unwanted contaminants. Avoid bottled water, which has a higher environmental footprint.
Limit sugar and processed foods
Sugar and processed food actually depress immune function, so stay away from sweetened beverages and other added sugar, to include high fructose corn syrup. Highly processed foods often have very long ingredient lists with items that are difficult to pronounce. In general, seek out foods that require limited packing and short ingredient lists.
Finally, good food preparation is important! Always thoroughly wash fruits and veggies and avoid cross-contamination.
Following these simple tips will help keep your immune system strong so it can fight all kinds of unwanted invaders, to include COVID-19.
We've long known that doctors receive little, if any, training in nutrition here in the US. A quarter of medical schools require even one course in nutrition! A new study surveyed nutrition knowledge among physicians at a large medical center, finding poor adherence to healthy diets among respondents and sorely lacking knowledge of American Hearth Association dietary recommendations.
This is really not surprising, however, given that our Western medical system focuses more on treating symptoms of disease, usually through medication, rather than preventing it in the first place. And even then, nutrition is rarely, if at all, considered as part of the care process.
Other cultures get it. In Ayurveda, an ancient system of holistic medicine that originated in India, practitioners include nutrition in their health assessments and recommendations to patients. Indigenous Hawaiians used plants such as kukui, ti, taro and papaya to prevent and treat common illnesses. In southeast Asian, African and many Islamic cultures herbs such as turmeric and coriander are cornerstones of a healthy diet. These cultures take a holistic approach, while Western medicine takes a mechanistic approach.
What can be done? Our medical system needs an overhaul. Medical schools should rethink their curriculum to focus on prevention and include robust training on the connections between food and health.
But at the end of the day, your health is in your hands. Stay away from the fad diets that come and go. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Choose a plant-based diet that favors local, organic fruits and veggies and limits refined and processed foods. If you have specific health concerns, reach out to a trained nutrition professional (like me!) for help.
May is Mental Health month. If you are one of millions of Americans who suffer from mental health disorders, this is the time to take a hard look at your diet. I think we generally recognize that there's a link between our overall health and our psychological functions, but diet is very commonly overlooked. Studies are increasingly demonstrating a connection between diet and mental health. The typical American diet is inherently nutrient void and full of foods that promote inflammation. It's no surprise that deficits in key nutrients such as magnesium and B vitamins and well as Omega-3 fatty acids, which cause conditions such as Diabetes, digestive problems, kidney disease and heart disease, are also negatively impacting our mental health?
In general, strive for a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, beans, whole grains, healthy fats, nuts and seeds. Here are a few of the most important nutritional considerations for improved mental health:
Omega-3 Fatty acids: Fatty fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds and leafy greens
B Vitamins: Green leafy vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, eggs.
Vitamin D: The body generates most of its Vitamin D from sunlight! Spend a few minutes outside each day. Fatty fish and mushrooms are also natural sources of Vitamin D.
Magnesium: Spinach, tofu, almonds, beans, whole grains and potatoes.*
Some things to avoid: Processed/refined foods, sugar, fatty/fried foods and excessive animal protein.
Reach out to me if you want to learn more about dietary changes you can make to improve your mental health, and your overall wellness.
*Check out my article discussing the connection between magnesium and depression: https://drive.google.com/drive/u/1/folders/1Kf3k_Czu-JrlvU2x-pFFUbNagZXYPfnT