Article by Dr Sarah Lantz
It’s not just you: there’s something about the change of season that can get you out of sorts. Colder temps and fewer hours of daylight make it harder to stick to exercise routines and can generally put people into a funk (yes, the funk can be real and for many, this may be considered seasonal affective disorder (or SAD), a type of melancholy or depression that fluctuates with the seasons, particularly the colder months).
To combat the winter blues and boost health and wellness, here are 7 of our favourite tips:
1. Add festive warming (mulling) spices to your kitchen repertoire
Nothing sets a more festive mood than ladling out warm mugs of merriment from a simmering cauldron on the stove as it fills the room with a bouquet of intoxicating, heady, exotic spices and aromatics. The history of mulling spices is steeped in centuries of tradition and will be forever entwined with images of camel caravans as they travelled the Silk Road where spices were a direct sign of status and social standing, used medicinally and for culinary refinement. Remember, that to ‘mull’ is to ponder over a period of time to slowly attain wisdom.
Let’s also not forget the cache of health benefits of these spices which have continued to rock apothecaries and herbalists since that time: cinnamon is known to have anti-inflammatory benefits; cloves and pimento allspice have antimicrobial and analgesic properties; the eight-pronged star anise is both visually enthralling, adds a lively liquorice aroma and boasts antimicrobial assets; ginger is a potent digestive aid, and zesty citrus boasts vitamins of extraordinary immune-boosting qualities. Combined these make an inviting, deeply fragrant, warming bouquet, that set the taste buds singing and invigorate the senses.
2. Boost your Gut Health
Your body contains an immensely complex community of microorganisms – from our skin, hands, mouths and noses to the coils of our intestinal tracts. They perform some of the most important physiological functions in our lives. They are our protectors, defenders and our allies, working tirelessly to increase our resilience against pathogens and infections, boost our immune response, and provide some of the functional armour against exposures to contaminants and pathogens. For these reasons, we need to continually find ways to optimise our microbiome and gut health. To do this, add microbial rich probiotics and fermented foods to your diet such as kefir, sauerkraut, fire cider, kimchi, miso, and tempeh. Also eat prebiotic fibre including garlic, inulin, onions and whole grains. These fibres feed our beneficial microbiota.
3. Eat Seasonally
There’s a reason why root vegetables, hearty leafy greens, and citrus are in season during the winter months. They are exactly what our body nutritionally needs! Foods grown and consumed during their appropriate seasons are more nutritionally dense, have a better flavour and are generally more bang for your buck. When eating seasonally in winter, think, storage crops, including: beets, brussel sprouts, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and collard greens, leeks, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, winter squash, and all sorts of citrus jacked-up with immune-boosting vitamin C – oranges, mandarins, pomelo, grapefruit, limes, lemons, and citron.
4. Broths, Bouillons and Soups
When the temperature dips, beloved broths, bouillons and soups make a bold and grand entrance. Flavoursome, fragrant, and gelatinous, bone broths are known to soothe the gut, heal joints, and deeply nourish and comfort. Made from meat and fish bones, vegetables and herbs, broths have been used as a homemade remedy across centuries and cultures.
Historically broths, particularly chicken soups, are regarded as a therapeutic dish, several studies confirming its knack to help to unblock congested noses and throats, reducing mucous in the lungs, and supports white blood cells in fighting colds. In the second century BC, the Chinese medical text, Huangdi Neijing, declared chicken soup a ‘yang food’ – a warming dish – to which different therapeutic herbs can be added to cure various diseases. These days we also now know that bone broth is also a powerful gut healer.
Collagen-rich gelatin, released from the bones during cooking, is an excellent multitasker: nourishing the body, fighting inflammation, and beneficial for restoring the strength of your gut lining. Adding in nutrient-dense vegetables and herbs into your bone broth can provide even more benefits. Bones not your thing, vegetable and herb broths are equally as warming, comforting, and full of tasty goodness.
5. Keep on Moving
Winter is possibly the easiest time of year to blow off a workout: “it’s cold and dark”, I hear you say, yet setting aside some time for a sweet sweat-sesh is one of the best things you can do for your body (and mind) during the winter months. Besides the plethora of known benefits of exercise, think, stronger muscles and bones, exercise also delivers a significant boost to the immune system which is under siege in the winter. Exercise also regulates the stress hormone cortisol, which, when raised for long periods, can lead to harmful levels of inflammation and compromised immune system, and let’s not forget those feel-good post-workout endorphins that can assist with the winter blues.
6. Maintain Skin Health
For many, winds and cold temperatures (which lower the moisture in the air) can wreak havoc on your skin: enter, the onslaught of dry, itchy, blotchy, flaky, and cracking skin, and in some cases, eczema. To keep your skin moist and healthy through the winter, drink plenty of water and herbal teas, avoid harsh cleansers, hydrate your skin with an ointment moisturiser (moisturiser is your friend), use sunscreen whenever you’re out during the day, and increase your consumption of good fats such as walnuts, olive oil, and avocados.
7. Reach for Adaptogens
Adaptogens (adapt-a-what, you ask?) are a special class of plants that increases the ‘state of non-specific resistance’ when applied to stress, meaning, that all share a particular intelligence that can help protect the body against a range of life stressors. They are called adaptogens because of their unique ability to ‘adapt’ their function according to the specific needs of the body, performing a delicate dance between the brain and the hormone system (endocrine system + hypothalamus + pituitary + adrenal glands). In short, they bring us back to the middle.
Studies have shown that adaptogens can perform a significant range of functions: support adrenal function; enable the cells of our body to have access to more energy; help the cells eliminate toxic metabolic by-products; speed up the proper regulation of our body’s bio-rhythms and support your immune system. Adaptogens include turmeric, echinacea, liquorice, maca, ginseng, goji berry, elderberry, Reishi and Cordyceps mushroom, ashwagandha, and nettle leaf. Adaptogens work by themselves, or synergistically with other complementary adaptogens. This means you can mix and match adaptogens into your everyday routine i.e. morning coffee, tonic or tea, or combine and blend them into a smoothie or broth.
Dr Sarah Lantz (PhD)
Buchi Brew Co. & Sacred Women’s Way