5 Steps to Maximize Your Health This Winter Naturally

Article by Make The Days Count Contributor Blake Cothron

As the weather outside dips well below freezing and coughing and sneezing become common place, there are simple natural ways you can maximize your health now to stay healthy through winter. 


Through the years I’ve battled more colds, infections, and childhood ills than you can shake a bottle of Echinacea at.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken my health into my own hands and have discovered through much experimentation, old-time advice, and scientific evidence the great benefits of “natural healthcare”.  From diet to herbal supplements, there is an array of healthy, synthetic-chemical free ways to stay robust, energized, and healthy during the winter months, while minimizing discomfort and sickness. 


Attacking Weak Links

First off, we must understand that infections such as the cold and flu first attack weak links.  If you have a weak immune system, lack enough sleep, and have an unhealthy diet your risk for colds and disease rises exponentially.  People who follow very healthy, organic lifestyles get sick less.  Of course, everyone gets sick sometimes, period.  Scientists are discovering the age-old wisdom that diet is one of the foundations of good health.  In 431 BCE Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine” and I couldn’t agree more.  So we’ll start first on food as medicine.


Food as Medicine

I’ll have to tell you I am a firm believer in organic.  To me and many others, the taste of organic foods speaks for itself.  Compare a hard, pale chemically grown “tomato” with a deep red, vine-ripened, homegrown tomato and there really is no comparison.  Plants that are nourished with organic, natural ingredients, sunshine, and fresh water exhibit vitality and produce extra-nutritious, beautiful food that’s bursting with flavor.  Eating that food then transforms that love and care into your very body tissues and organs!              


Local Foods, Seasonal Foods

The local food trend is gaining steam every day, and for good reason.  Not only does locally produced and consumed food use far less fossil fuels in transportation and get to you fresher and tastier, but it is bioregionally appropriate.  That means that local food is what your body naturally is acclimated to and can best assimilate.  If you live in Kentucky, eat pears, if you live in Hawai’i, eat mangoes. 


So, can you eat locally even in the winter?  Farmer’s markets are likely closed right now, so the next best place to go is your local health food store.  A few days ago I went into a health food store and was happy to find local organic carrots, crispy local salad greens, and bright golden yellow acorn squash.  They also had a selection of local organic meats and cheese. 


So it’s possible these days to find local foods all year round, even in the cold southeast.  But for those staple foods you can’t find locally the most important factor is to stick to what’s in season.  The reason being that Mother Nature is very wise and has formulated foods to have the appropriate constitution for nourishing people and animals in that particular season they’re available.  For instance, the juicy, thirst-quenching fruits of summer are cooling in the afternoon heat.  While winter foods like pumpkin, persimmon, and chestnuts are all very starchy, caloric foods that are heavy and warming.  Eat a melon in January and you’ll instantly feel colder.      


Look for Winter Foods in Season

So what’s in season?  In the Eastern U.S. there’s an array of great winter foods available.  These are foods that contain the right balance of starches, vitamins, and minerals your body needs to stay warm and healthy.  These would be Winter squashes like butternut, acorn, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, Jerusalem artichokes, and potatoes.  Cold-weather veggies like cabbage, broccoli, kale, onions and garlic are in season.  Beans and seeds are very good right now, like chickpeas, black-eyed peas, limas, navy beans, kidney beans, lentils, and split peas. 


Nuts are an excellent source of heart-healthy essential fatty acids and minerals and in season now.  Go first for bioregional nuts such as walnuts, pecans, chestnuts, butternuts, black walnuts and hazel nuts.  Nuts in shell are fresher, fun to crack, and lessen the chances of over-eating.  Shelled sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are also highly nutritious and great used in an array of recipes, salads, or powdered and added to oatmeal. 


Hemp seed, available crushed, powdered, and buttered, is the most nutritious plant food of all.  Bioregionally acceptable but for ridiculous reasons not cultivated in the U.S., is surprisingly rich in protein (3 grams per tablespoon!), fiber, iron, essential fatty acids, and an array of minerals and other nutrients.  It is very delicious and highly recommended.  It is available at health food stores.


Most grains are in season now.  Oatmeal is one of the best, being thick, warm, filling, and very easy to digest.  Go for bulk rolled oats and instant oats, avoiding the white sugar and additive tainted major brands.  Whole-wheat pastas are warming, filling, and nutritious.  Whole grain rices, especially US grown, are good now.  Amaranth is a little-known but very nutritious member of the beet family that produces a nice, oatmeal-like porridge rich in iron and other nutrients.  Millet is another.  There are many alternatives for those with wheat allergies, like myself.               


Persimmons are a wonderful fresh winter fruit that tastes like pumpkin pie.  Many apples are in season.  Dried fruits are delicious, warming, and a great way to naturally sweeten a warm bowl of oatmeal.  They also make great snacks. Try dried black mission figs, raisins, currants, apples, and pears.  Head first for the organic bulk section of your local health food store, where you can find inexpensive dried fruits free of sulfur and preservatives.


Local meats and dairy are available as well, and if not, organic, chemical free, ethically raised products can be found.  Go for lean cuts of white meats, local fish and seafood, eggs, and gamier meats like venison and buffalo.


There are arrays of delicious, healthy recipes to be found online for combining all these wonderful foods.  Go for lightly steaming, sautéing, and baking over deep frying and microwaving.  Be creative and diverse!


5 Steps for Staying Healthy Over the Winter

So before coughs and sniffles arrive, here are some easy steps to stay healthy and avoid common illnesses: 


1. Get enough sleep.  During sleep the body goes about healing itself, immune function rises, tissues are rebuilt, etc.  Not getting enough sleep is one of the best ways to weaken the body and invite illness.  Around 6-8 hours is healthy for most people.  Avoid late hours working, watching tv, etc. 


2. Stay hydrated.  That means drinking enough clean, fresh water so that you’re not thirsty and are urinating regularly.  Dehydration stresses every cell in the body and is a major contributor to headaches, low energy, and disease.  And that means drinking pure water, not soda pop, tea, or coffee.


3. Limit alcohol consumption.  Alcohol is toxic to the body and stresses the liver, which must detox the body afterward.  If you drink, the liver is working over-time to rid the body of excess sugars and toxins, instead of it’s usual job of keeping the body clean and free of disease.  Alcohol also dehydrates the body. 


4. Utilize herbs.  Herbs are the first line of defense.  These are the top Winter herbs to utilize: 


Cayenne pepper.  This warming, fiery fruit has more vitamin C than oranges, boosts the immune system, helps detox the blood, increases circulation, induces detoxing sweat and clears sinuses of mucus.  Use it in recipes, teas, or take it in supplements.

Garlic.  Garlic destroys harmful bacteria and viruses, cleanses the blood, is warming, and helps ward off infection.  White onions are similar in action.

Ginger.  This root is very warming, helps circulation, cleanses the blood, boosts immunity, and is a tonic.

Elderberry.  This forest berry is a mega immune booster and tonic, said to be especially useful for the elderly.  Echinacea and goldenseal are also useful for these purposes. 


All of these herbs can be taken in pill form and tincture, but fresh is always best.  To make a great Winter tea add one quart of simmering water with a tablespoon or two of minced ginger, a spoonful of mint, and as much cayenne pepper as you can stand!  A very warming Winter tonic I enjoy.


5. Stay active.  Bundle up, get outdoors for some fresh air and warm up through running, a brisk walk, hiking, bicycling, or go to the gym.  This stimulates blood flow, increases immunity, and lifts the mood through release of endorphins. 


I hope you the best of natural health and happiness this season.               


“Look to your health; and if you have it, praise God and value it next to conscience; for health is the second blessing that we mortals are capable of, a blessing money can’t buy.”

-Izaak Walton (1593 – 1683)


“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”

-Mark Twain (1835 – 1910)


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Posted on 19 December, 2008 in Fitness & Health
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One Response so far | Have Your Say!

  1. Erin
    December 20th, 2008 at 11:30 am #

    Blake – Thanks for this article. sometimes it’s hard t find information about staying healthy without jumping around to 5 different places on the net. This is really helpful as a means of gettings started right this winter. Also, I know you are supporting organic and natural things… but I have found that Airborne is great for warding off colds in the winter.

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