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Health February 2013

Rainbow Kitchen

Mid-Winter Blues – Food, Taxes, and Immunity

By Allison St. Claire

For example, one study showed that absorption of beta-carotene from a salad with no added fat was close to zero. The addition of a low-fat dressing made from canola oil increased absorption, but a high-fat dressing was much more effective.

Spring may be just around the corner in your part of the country, or you may have lots more snow, rain, mud, and soil too cold to hope for anything green to grow for many weeks more. Enter the mid-winter blues. Seasonal food is not terribly varied or abundant; an alarming number of older folks are contracting the flu; and looming soon are tax deadlines.

Can't help with your taxes but did just find an interesting fact: Most Americans (52 percent) have concluded that figuring out their income taxes is easier than knowing what they should and shouldn't eat to be healthier, according to the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation's 2012 Food & Health Survey.

So on to the flu.

Important fact: Anything you can do to help boost your body's immune system is vital to either fending off the flu, or at least diminishing the symptoms and potentially lethal outcomes. There are several important nutrients that help build our immune system, but let's look today at vitamin A, which is abundant in lots of winter food sources. Vitamin A is very important for keeping your frontline barriers such as the skin, eyes, nose, throat, lungs, digestive tract and urinary tract strong and help fight off and protect against infection.

According to the National Institutes of Health's Medline: Beta-carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide approximately 50% of the vitamin A needed in the American diet. Beta-carotene is used to decrease asthma symptoms caused by exercise; to prevent certain cancers, heart disease, cataracts, and age related macular degeneration (AMD); and to treat AIDS, alcoholism, Alzheimer's disease, depression, epilepsy, headache, heartburn, high blood pressure, infertility, Parkinson's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, and skin disorders including psoriasis and vitiligo.

Search “immune system” and Vitamin A will crop up all over the place.

So on to eating for A.

Foods high in beta carotene include carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, winter squash and leafy greens such as spinach, collards, kale, turnip and beet greens – all thankfully abundant during the winter season.

But it’s extremely important to not only know what to eat for maximum vitamin A, but what to eat with those foods. It is a fat soluble vitamin as are vitamins D, E and K.

As Chris Masterjohn in the Winter 2012 edition of Wise Traditions (Weston A. Price Foundation newsletter) notes: In order to absorb fat-soluble vitamins from our food, we need to eat fat. Human studies show that both the amount and type of fat are important. For example, one study showed that absorption of beta-carotene from a salad with no added fat was close to zero. The addition of a low-fat dressing made from canola oil increased absorption, but a high-fat dressing was much more effective. Canola oil, however, is far from ideal. Studies in rats show that absorption of carotenoids is much higher with olive oil than with corn oil. Similarly, studies in humans show that consuming beta-carotene with beef tallow rather than sunflower oil increases the amount we absorb from 11 to 17 percent.

So toss those bottled salad dressings, especially the low-fat ones. Make your own from a base of healthy oil such as olive, coconut, avocado, or macadamia and other nut-based oils. Add some real cheese, toasted nuts, or full-fat yogurt to your veggies whether you serve them hot or cold.

And although you probably have access in mid-winter to most of the foods that are high in beta carotenes and vitamin A, here’s a tasty addition to a healthy winter diet based on parsley – yes that herb that can be so much more than a bright green garnish. In addition to its volatile oils and flavonoids, parsley is an excellent source of two vital nutrients that are also important for the prevention of many diseases: vitamin C and vitamin A (notably through its concentration of the pro-vitamin A carotenoid, beta-carotene).


Parsley salad

(Adapted from An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler)

1 bunch flat-leaf or curly-leaf parsley, stems removed and leaves roughly chopped

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon drained capers

4 cornichons (or sweet gherkins or dill pickles), thinly sliced

juice of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil (or others mentioned above)

salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Mix the parsley, shallots, capers and cornichons. Mix the lemon juice and olive oil together and add to the salad. Sprinkle lightly with salt to taste. Top with freshly ground black pepper.



Allison St. Claire loves to dream about, study, grow, play with, prepare and ultimately enjoy eating great food.

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