By Melinda MacNaughton, MS, RDN
How can we stave off the flu and winter colds with food? The food we eat can make a huge difference in our spirits, energy levels and immunity. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants they provide our body can help us fight many diseases, especially if we have low levels. In the winter, it is not easy to keep up our intake of fresh fruits and vegetables since there is not as much variety available in the markets. It is important to support our local farmers to keep them producing the foods we need, so let’s look at our local markets to see what foods are in season and which foods are powerful immune boosters.
On the coast side, we have New Leaf, which sources food from local farmers. I spoke with the Assistant Manager at New Leaf who told me what they have and where they get it. At this time of the year, they don’t get a whole lot of produce from many coast side farmers but they do get a variety of vegetables from Daylight Farms in Half Moon Bay, which produces ‘no spray’ produce. Apparently, they are transitioning to become organic. Right now, they are providing New Leaf with broccoli, spinach, beets, red and green chard, dill, rosemary, mint, oregano, sage, arugula, thyme, parsley, and cilantro. New Leaf also gets some red and green cabbage from farms in the Pinnacles and Lakeside, which are one to two hours away. In addition, they do receive some other organic and non-organic produce from farms in the Watsonville area. You can also find some local and semi-local produce (originating 1 to 4 hours away) at our local year round farmer’s market at the Harbor Village Mall on Sundays from 10 to 3pm. Another source is the year round market at the College of San Mateo on Saturdays from 9 to 1pm.
Which foods boost our immunity? Most fresh fruits , veggies and herbs are a good choice. These are the foods that we should eat more often at this time of year, each with excellent health benefits. Greens such as kale, chard, spinach, arugula, parsley and broccoli provide us with a variety of B vitamins, magnesium and folate which power the nervous system and brain and are key players in boosting immunity. Broccoli in particular contains a phytochemical (plant chemical) called sulforaphane which helps super power our immune cells when fighting damage from free radicals. Free radicals get into our bodies as a normal byproduct of metabolism and from environmental pollution. They are one of the precursors that can start the disease process. Beets and purple cabbage provide a good source of vitamin A and C both of which boost immunity and enhance cell repair. Although we can’t find carrots or sweet potatoes at this time of year from coast side farmers, we certainly can find them at the markets from farms a bit further away. These are also great immune boosting foods high in vitamin A and C, so get them when you can. Other powerful immune boosting foods are garlic, probiotics such as yogurt, green or black tea, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and berries.
Stay healthy and get your food locally this winter by purchasing immune boosting local seasonal produce. Local produce is usually fresher than produce which has to be shipped from far away. Produce nutrients degrade and fall apart as time passes, so fresh is what you want for optimal immune boosting nutrition.