Thursday, December 29, 2011

4 keys to staying well during cold and flu season

Image Credit:  William Brawley (Flickr)
We're smack dab in the middle of cold and flu season, and I'm sure that you'd like to avoid catching the bug, right?  Aside from practicing good hygiene, there are four key lifestyle behaviors that have been determined to be true guardians of health during this time of year.  Practice these behaviors and you'll better protect yourself from the misery of cold and flu season.

Eat enough nutrient-dense, immune-supportive foods.
One of the first lines of defense against cold and flu season starts in the grocery cart.  Make sure that you're including plenty of nutrient-dense, immune-supportive foods that will bolster your immune system.  What foods are these?  Eat fish for vitamin D, which helps regulate the immune system.  Include a variety of produce, especially citrus fruits, cruciferous vegetables, winter squash, and dark leafy greens, for immunoprotective vitamins A and C.  Also be sure to incorporate high quality meat and dried beans for protein, iron, and zinc, which help the immune system function at its best.  For more information on foods that support a strong immune system, check out this blog post that I wrote last year.

Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
When we sleep, the body's immune system recharges.  The release of infection-fighting cytokines from the immune system surges during sleep.  When we are sleep-deprived, the levels of cytokines and other immune-supportive cells in the body declines.  In fact, one study found that individuals who slept less than seven hours each night were nearly three times more likely to develop colds than those who slept at least eight hours or more.  So make sleep a priority!

Manage stress effectively.
Short-term, long-term, real or perceived, the body does not discriminate against the type of stress we experience.  When we experience stress, a cascade of biochemical reactions that lower the body's immune function begins.  When stress becomes chronic, the immune system becomes weaker.  While we cannot completely eliminate all sources of stress, we certainly can find ways to better manage it.  In fact, relaxation actually boosts certain activities of the immune system, including sending more infection-fighting cells into action in the bloodstream.  Remember that relaxation is not necessarily 'doing nothing', but rather, it is a learned behavior.  For more tips on managing stress effectively, check out this  advice from the American Psychological Association.

Perform at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on 5+ days of the week.
Studies have found that exercise may boost the number and function of certain cells of the immune system.  Investigators also believe that exercise enhances the transport of these cells throughout the body making them more effective at eradicating the bacteria and viruses responsible for the cold and flu.  One study detected a 46% lower frequency of colds for participants that exercised at least 5 days a week compared to those who were sedentary.   Another investigation observed that women who performed 45 minutes of moderate-intensity activity 5 days a week experienced 50% fewer colds than women in the control group who stretched daily.  While getting enough exercise is essential, keep in mind that performing prolonged or intense exercise can actually depress the body's immune system.  If you participate in these types of activities, such as marathons or ultra-endurance events, adequate recovery time is vital and make sure to practice the other lifestyle behaviors listed above.

What are your best strategies for practicing these behaviors?  What behaviors would you add to this list?  

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Foodie Friday: Simple Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Simple Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
As we've coasted through this holiday season, I've been hearing people sharing about their holiday baking traditions.  Baking was never a tradition in my home growing up, so the holiday tradition never really caught on with me.  Don't get me wrong. I do bake every now and then, and I do enjoy baked goodies on occasion.  I'm just not much of a baker.  With that said, I was in the mood to make some homemade goodies for the fam a few months ago.  This was a little tricky though because of my son's eczema, which is triggered by food allergy/intolerances.  Imagine trying to make a baked goodie that doesn't include cow's milk, tree nuts, or wheat.  This was a challenge, but I finally stumbled on this recipe for cookie dough made with chickpeas.  Chickpeas?  Yes, chickpeas (aka, garbanzo beans), the stuff you make hummus with.  And yes, forget the whole baking part, too.  I told you I wasn't much of a baker.  If I'm being honest, eating the cookie dough has probably always been my favorite part of making cookies anyway.  Unfortunately, that's not so good given that it can be a potential source of food poisoning.  This recipe looked promising since it didn't have food allergy/intolerance triggers and I could make modifications where needed.  This turned out to be a hit with my kids.  They love helping me make it, and of course, they love to eat it.  Even my very skeptical husband agreed that it was 'pretty good'.  Plus, you don't have to worry about food poisoning because there are no raw eggs in this.  The use of chickpeas also amplifies the nutritional value of this cookie cough, giving it a boost in protein and fiber along with a few other essential nutrients.  Give this one a shot and let me know what you think.

Simple Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough
Adapted from: Chocolate-Covered Katie, May 2011

1 - 15 oz can chickpeas or garbanzo beans (about 1 1/2 cups, drained and rinsed)
2 tsp pure vanilla extract (I make my own using this recipe. Do it. You won't regret it.)
1/4 cup nut butter (I would use almond, but to avoid the nuts, I use sunflower seed butter.)
up to 1/4 cup coconut milk (You could also use almond milk.)
3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips (I prefer at least 70% cacao.)

1.  Place chickpeas, vanilla, nut butter, coconut milk, and maple syrup into a food processor or blender.  Blend until smooth.  
2.  Remove the cookie dough to a bowl.  Mix in the chocolate chips and enjoy.  You can also use the cookie dough as a dip for fresh fruit slices, like apples, for something different.

Serves:  8 (approximately 1/3-1/2 cup servings)
Nutritional Information:  
Calories:  162   Carbohydrate:  22 g   Protein: 5 g   Fat:  10 g   Cholesterol: 0 mg   Fiber:  3 g   Sugar:  10 g Sodium:  41 mg   
Good source of:  folate, iron, magnesium, and zinc

Images Copyright: Michelle Loy - Go Wellness
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