Every year, winter brings its share of problems and January and February seem to be particularly hard for some people. After the craziness of the holidays, these months are often synonymous with fatigue or low energy. There are, however, a few natural ways to deal with these evils. With a little digging, you can discover what’s good for you and integrate these so-called functional foods into your daily life.
What’s a functional or healing food?
Other than their basic nutritional properties, functional food – sometimes called superfood – have other health benefits. According to Health Canada, a functional food is a conventional food; in other words, it’s part of a normal diet, but has psychological benefits and reduces the risk of chronic diseases. In particular, functional foods may help prevent and reduce the risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as decrease health problems like hypertension and gastrointestinal disorders.
Surprisingly, many foods are considered functional, but behind the trendy terms are foods that are regularly found at your table.
We’ve analyzed broccoli, cauliflower, ginger, chick peas, turmeric, lemon, asparagus, oats, garlic and carrots for you. By the way, the new 2019 Canadian Food Guide which was recently released, places more importance on these types of foods.
10 healing foods and their benefits to the body
Broccoli is a cruciferous veggie that’s part of the cabbage family. Grown in most parts of the world, this variety of cabbage is in fact originally from the south of Italy. However, China is at the forefront of the world’s broccoli production. At Arctic Gardens, broccoli is produced here in Quebec. Although kids aren’t always crazy about it, it’s still part of the diet for many families. It has numerous medicinal properties.
A veggie that’s good for the eyes
Broccoli contains a considerable amount of lutein which helps protect eyesight and eye health. Among other things, lutein protects against cataract formation, possesses antioxidant properties and filters blue light. Very useful for people who spend a lot of time in front of their computers.
Eating plenty of broccoli can also strengthen the immune system because it’s high in vitamin C, so this green veggie would be an effective fighter against winter ailments and colds.
- helps prevent muscle cramps
- would be excellent for memory
- helps slow cognitive decline
- helps protect men against the risks of prostate cancer
- helps prevent the onset of breast cancer in women
How to integrate broccoli into your recipes
You could prepare broccoli as a side to a meal instead of adding directly to a recipe. This is a pretty flexible veggie, so can be enjoyed in many shapes and textures, even in desserts!
To learn more about broccoli, read our article, “Everything on broccoli: growing, cooking and loving it!”.
Like broccoli, cauliflower belongs to the cruciferous family. It was brought to Western Europe in the 1500s and at that time, it was considered a vegetable of choice. It wasn’t until 1830 that France started growing it. Nowadays, cauliflower grows everywhere and can be enjoyed all-year round.
A vegetable that’s good for fighting certain cancers
Among other things, cauliflower helps reduce the risk of cancer due to the presence of glucosinolates and sulforaphanes. These compounds are not only able to prevent certain cancers, but also fight those of genetic origin. More specifically, cauliflower can protect against cancers of the bladder, prostate, breast, colon, skin, ovaries and blood. It could also prevent the recurrence or spread of cancer due to the presence of chemotherapeutic agents.
- helps fight inflammation
- helps prevent heart disease
- helps prevent osteoarthritis
How to integrate cauliflower into your recipes
This very versatile veggie is really tasty when prepared properly. Try it in your vegetarian meatballs, rice or even as a pizza crust! Cauliflower is a really good alternative for vegetarians or people who don’t eat gluten.
Read our article, “Discovering cauliflower” dedicated to this underrated vegetable.
Ginger is a perennial native to India. In cooking and traditional medicine, only the rhizome is used, not the whole plant. Filled with food reserves, the rhizome is the underground part of the stem of some perennials including ginger. Regularly used as a spice, ginger is very popular in Asian cuisine, especially Indian.
A plant that’s good for the stomach
Everybody knows that pregnant women and people suffering from motion sickness rely on ginger. It naturally helps fight nausea. Some ginger compounds are believed to adhere to the receptors of small intestinal cells, blocking the action of chemicals that cause nausea. Ginger is also said to be very effective against indigestion.
- reduces menstrual cramps
- alleviates cold symptoms
- soothes an irritated throat
How to integrate ginger into your recipes
Ginger adds an Asian flair to your dishes. Try it in stir-fries, sauces, smoothies and even herbal teas. Grate a piece of fresh ginger or use powdered ginger.
For more recipes with ginger, read “How to make ginger a part of your diet” (in French only).
Chick peas are a kind of plant from the legume family. Originally from the eastern Mediterranean, this plant is grown for its edible seed, commonly known as the chick pea. As they don’t require a very rich soil, chick peas grow very well in dry soils as found in Spain, Turkey, India and southern France.
A legume that’s good for bad cholesterol
According to a study of 1,037 people by John Sievenpiper, a daily serving of chick peas could reduce bad cholesterol by 5%. Among its other properties, chick peas also act as a tonic, help digestion and health of gut flora, and boost morale thanks to tryptophan, an amino acid that helps fight depression. Perfect for the drop in morale that comes with winter!
How to integrate chick peas into your recipes
The main ingredient in hummus and falafel, chick peas are also excellent in salads and Indian dishes. They go really well with all kinds of spices, but especially curry, paprika or simply salt and pepper.
Like ginger, turmeric is a perennial and the spice that we know is extracted through its powdered rhizomes. The turmeric plant originates from India and Malaysia and is an essential part of Oriental cuisine. Elsewhere in the world, turmeric is the subject of several studies, mainly due to its many medicinal properties.
A spice with anticarcinogenic properties
Turmeric can be effective against certain cancers, such as breast and pancreatic cancer. Consuming turmeric could also help reduce cancer cells. Because of the curcumin it contains, turmeric can be a powerful antioxidant, meaning it helps protect the body from oxidation and in this way, improves general well-being and health.
As well, turmeric, which is widely consumed in India, may be one reason for the large gap between the rates of some cancers in India versus Western countries.
- stimulates digestion and bile secretion
- anti-inflammatory (good for osteoarthritis, heartburn, acne, etc.)
How to integrate turmeric into your recipes
In terms of spiciness, turmeric falls somewhere between sweet pepper and ginger. Rich in flavours, it can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
To learn how to create the perfect blend of flavours with turmeric, consult our article “Herb and spice guide for great flavour combinations”.
Fruit from the lemon tree, lemon is a citrus fruit with several healing properties. For a long time, researchers thought it came from the Indo-Burmese region or China, but it’s originally from the Mediterranean area. Today, lemons are grown mainly in India, Mexico, Argentina, China and Brazil.
A citrus fruit that’s good for the immune system
Lemons act as an antiseptic and antibacterial. Combined with the immune system, it’s particularly effective in combatting ear, nose and throat problems, liked influenza, angina, bronchitis, ear infections, etc. In short, it can be very practical for treating winter ailments.
- helps prevent the appearance of certain cancers (esophagus, stomach, colon, mouth, pharynx, etc.)
How to integrate lemons into your recipes
Lemons are widely used in cooking. They go really well with various types of fish, like salmon and haddock, but also with chicken and vegetables. They also make delicious salad dressings.
Homemade flu remedy (in French only)
Grown as a vegetable in France since the 15th century, asparagus is a perennial that’s native to the eastern Mediterranean basin. The edible part of the plant comes from the rhizomes where the underground buds start, giving rise to spears growing up between 3 to 5 feet from the soil. Asparagus doesn’t require very rich soils either and is now widely grown in many countries and on all continents.
A vegetable that’s good for the gut
Asparagus is a fibrous vegetable with draining properties that allows the intestines to properly eliminate toxins. The significant presence of inulin is good for the digestive system because it helps the intestines function properly. In fact, asparagus optimizes bowel transit.
- helps prevent cardiovascular disease
- helps prevent some cancers (lung, colon, uterus, etc.)
- helps fetuses growth in pregnant women
How to integrate asparagus into your recipes
Asparagus is most often eaten as a side dish with a vinaigrette, but nothing’s stopping you from incorporating it into your recipes! It’s great with eggs, white meat, salads, mild cheeses, etc.
Known only in its cultivated state, oats are a plant species that would have appeared in Central Europe a very long time ago. It was first used mainly as animal feed and has only fairly recently been used as a cereal. Oats grow in rich soil and require lots of fertilizer or manure. Today, Canada is the world’s second largest producer after Russia.
A cereal that’s good for hunger
Oats are high in protein and very high in fibre, making them the perfect satiating food. Combined with fruit, they make for a healthy breakfast that will give you energy for the rest of the day.
- reduces cholesterol
- reduces blood sugar levels
How to integrate oats into your recipes
Other than for breakfast, oats can be included in many recipes, such as muffins, veggie burgers, smoothies and even dips. They’re also gluten-free.
Originally from Central Asia, garlic is a perennial vegetable crop. It’s been used in cooking and medicine for 5,000 years in the Mediterranean region, particularly in Egypt. We consume the garlic head which is made up of many cloves. In many countries, garlic is often used as a condiment for its strong taste.
A plant that’s good for the digestive system and for fighting colds
Like asparagus, garlic contains a significant amount of inulin, so helps digestion while promoting the development of the intestinal flora. Thanks to its phenolic acids, garlic acts as a powerful antiseptic for the digestive and respiratory systems. Garlic also has a preventive and therapeutic effect against colds. It’s filled with vitamins A, B, C and E and also contains an antibiotic molecule. This is how it treats respiratory tract infections.
- Helps prevent certain cancers (stomach, colon, rectum, etc.)
How to integrate garlic into your recipes
Garlic is present in almost all our dishes. Whether chopped, pureed or left whole, it adds flavour! Did you know that you can also eat the green stem if it’s fresh? You cook it like a leek by letting it melt in the pan.
The carrot is a plant of the Apiaceae family that’s grown largely for its root, the edible orange part commonly known as carrot. Consumed as a vegetable, carrots are the second most widely grown root vegetable in the world, just after potatoes. Its ancestor came from Iran.
A vegetable that’s good for the skin
Carrots are very rich in beta-carotenes, meaning in provitamin A. It’s a strong antioxidant that slows the skin’s aging process and improves its condition. As well, carrots promote healing and strengthen our resistance to ultraviolet rays.
- excellent for vision, especially night vision
- reduces the risk of degeneration and cataracts
How to integrate carrots into your recipes
Puréed, in a soup, stir-fry or even a cake, carrots are probably the most versatile of veggies. There are many varieties of carrots of all colours and that’ll brighten up your dishes.
Carrot juice (in French only)
Natural remedies for flu symptoms
Among the many winter ailments, the most common are certainly influenza conditions like colds and flu. Here are a few remedies that have some of the superfoods to help you get through this unpleasant time and give you back some of your energy.
Rosemary herbal tea (rosemary, ginger, lemon, thyme)
- In a mug, pour boiling water over 1 teaspoon of each of the following ingredients: rosemary, ginger, lemon and thyme.
- Let infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Sweeten with honey, if desired.
Honey cinnamon herbal tea
- In a mug, pour boiling water over 1 teaspoon of cinnamon.
- Let infuse for 10 minutes.
- Add 1 teaspoon of honey.
- In a mug, pour boiling water over 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder.
- Let infuse for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Add 1 teaspoon of honey.
Our tips for dealing with winter
Use light therapy
In the winter, we all suffer from a lack of light while the sun plays hide-and-seek. In addition to taking vitamin D supplements to make up for it, there’s light therapy. This technique consists of exposing yourself to about thirty minutes of a light therapy lamp’s light every day which would have the same effect as the sun.
Learn more about light therapy.
Get a good night’s sleep
In the winter, it’s important to monitor your sleep as it quickly becomes difficult to catch up on an accumulation of fatigue which makes you even more vulnerable to foreign viruses. The best thing is to always go to bed at the same time and wake up as much as possible at the same time every morning. A regular sleep cycle is beneficial for your body and allows it to regenerate itself properly.
Play a winter sport
The best way to get through winter is by doing a winter sport you love like downhill or cross-country skiing, snowshoeing or skating. Just dress properly so you don’t get cold and you’ll love being outside! As well, if you isolate yourself inside, you’ll start thinking gloomy thoughts. So it’s best to get out of the house as often as possible, at least once a day.
Adapt your diet
A balanced diet is essential all year round and that’s even more true in the winter. You need lots of vitamins and nutrients to stay in shape during the cold season. And incorporating functional foods into your diet is the best way for your body to cope with winter.
Lower the heat
No matter how tempted you are, it’s important not to overheat your house or apartment. Heat and dry air change the quality of respiratory tract secretions which are the first barriers against infections. Ideally, you should keep your home between 18 °C and 20 °C to avoid spreading germs that just thrive in warm places.
Now that you know these 10 functional foods better and are equipped with our advice, facing winter will be a little easier! Do you eat these 10 foods regularly? Let us know in the comments section.