Monday, September 14, 2009

A hot cure for the cold

September is back to school season. While this makes many people think of school supplies and a new fall wardrobe, this time of year makes me think of sniffley-nosed freshmen and all the germs they are sharing. I am the furthest thing from a germaphobe and I almost never get sick, but I still like to fill my diet with immunity boosting ingredients just in case.

It is common knowledge that vitamin C plays an important role in maintaining immune function, but did you also know that carotenoids, specifically beta-carotene, is just as important. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant, and it is also broken down in our digestive system into vitamin A. Though most well known for its role in vision, vitamin A helps us stay healthy in a number of ways. It boosts white blood cell function, increases antibody response, and most importantly, maintains healthy epithelial and mucosal tissues that serve as the bodies first line of defense against would-be intruders.

The red pepper is your best friend during cold season, and that's because one cup packs in a whole day's intake of vitamin A, and a whopping three times the amount of your recommended daily intake of vitamin C.

Factoid: Cooking destroys a lot of vitamin C. After 10-20 minutes of cooking, as little as 1/3 of the vitamin C found in the raw fruit may be left. So when cooking with vitamin C rich foods, look for ones, like red peppers, with 3 times more than you need!

A diet full of carotenoids and vitamin C can reduce your risk of cancer, and will certainly reduce your risk of colds. Carotenoids are typically found in orangey fruits and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, red and orange peppers, squash, tomatoes and mangoes, but it is also found in some unexpected places like spinach and collard greens. Try to make these foods a part of your daily life to keep you healthy.

Maybe you've done your best and already come down with the sniffles, or like me, ragweed season is still dragging on and your sinuses are more congested than the Gardiner Expressway during rush hour. That's why I've added a little bit of heat to today's cold-busting recipe. Capsaicin is the chemical in peppers responsible for their heat. Ever noticed how eating spicy foods cause your nose to run? That's because capsaicin stimulates the mucous membranes in your sinuses, which relieves congestion faster than any medicine on the market. In fact there are now a number of capsaicin based decongestant sprays now available. To top it all off, capsaicin can also reduce inflammation, and is a thermogenic, meaning it will cause your body to burn off more calories. All good reasons to spring for a little extra spice.

And as if those weren't good enough reasons, what is better than soup during cold and flu season?

Immunity Soup

1 large sweet potato
1 red bell pepper
1 medium hot pepper (I used the "Crimson Hot" variety)
1/2 an onion
1 clove of garlic
2-3 cups vegetable broth
Update: Add 1/4 cup of red lentils to give this soup a protein boost!

Chop all the veggies and combine all ingredients in a pot. Bring to a boil and simmer until soft (about a half hour). Puree and serve topped with fresh ground pepper.

P.S. All the produce in this recipe is currently in season in Ontario, so find a roadside stand or farmers market and go local!

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