The winter cold and flu season is upon us, and people are spreading more than good cheer. Add these flavorful immune boosters to your family’s menu to keep your holidays healthy.
In my more than thirty years as a cancer survivor, I’ve discovered natural healing secrets from cultures around the world that I use to keep my immune system in top shape. This time of year, I’m traveling a lot and exposed to more than my fair share of folks who are coughing and sneezing, and I need daily immune support that I not only can take on the road, but can share with the family and friends I’m celebrating with. What’s better to bring people together than food?
Today, I’d like to share with you my 2 favorite foods I use to shore up my immune system and my favorite ways to include them in my everyday meals.
The very first diet I turned to for healing support on my cancer journey was the Macrobiotic Diet, which originated in Japan. Miso plays a major role in traditional Japanese culture, and is used in most every home as a seasoning, much like we use salt and pepper on our foods. On the macrobiotic diet, I started each day with a warm, comforting bowl of miso soup, and I can’t tell you how healing it felt to wrap my hands around that warm bowl and drink it all in. It’s like starting your day with a warm hug from your grandma, it’s so good.
Miso is more than just a comforting seasoning, it’s a powerful healing superfood. It contains all of the essential amino acids; is rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants, B vitamins and vitamin K; an excellent source of Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fats: contains bioavailable copper, zinc, manganese, and phosphorus; is low glycemic; and is a good source of choline, protein, and dietary fiber. And the best part – miso is fermented, so it’s teeming with the probiotics your immune system and digestion thrive on. In the book, Physical Constitution and Food, hospital director Dr. Shinichiro Akizuki wrote:
“I have found that, with very few exceptions, families, which make a practice of serving miso soup daily, are almost never sick… I believe that miso belongs to the highest class of medicines, those which help prevent disease and strengthen the body through continued usage… Some people speak of miso as a condiment, but miso brings out the flavor and nutritional value in all foods and helps the body to digest and assimilate whatever we eat…”
Making good miso is considered a craft in Japan and is appreciated much like our microbreweries here are. A good miso is made from organic soybeans, grains like rice and barley that are cultured with a probiotic starter known as koji, and sea salt. The best miso is fermented anywhere from six months to three years at room temperature. The darker the miso is in color, the stronger the flavor it usually has, so I recommend starting with a lighter miso if you aren’t used to its taste.
At this point, the question I usually get is, “But James, I thought soy was bad for you, especially for your thyroid?” There is a world of difference between GMO non-fermented soy and organic fermented soy. Once soy has been fermented, the goitrogens and inflammatory proteins have been broken down, and it becomes a superfood.
One last note – not all miso is created equal. If miso is added to early in the cooking process, it will lose its immune-boosting value. It needs to be added as it’s served, so it doesn’t heat up too much. You also need to choose your brand carefully. I use South River Miso because I trust their quality and manufacturing process. Their miso doesn’t have an expiration date because their methods are so clean it literally keeps for up to 20 years. Here’s their basic Miso Soup recipe, but I honestly add miso to any homemade soup I’m eating. It adds umami, the fifth flavor profile that our palate can detect.
South River Miso’s Miso Soup 101
Ingredients (choose organic):
1 medium onion, sliced in half moons
1 cup chopped kale, collards, watercress, or other seasonal greens
1 carrot cut into thin rounds
1 three-inch piece wakame sea vegetable for additional flavor and trace minerals (optional)
1 quart filtered water
3-4 tablespoons of light or dark miso
Chopped scallion or parsley for garnish
Place water, carrot, onion, and wakame in 2-quart saucepan and bring to boil over high flame. Reduce flame to medium and simmer for 10 minutes with lid on. Add greens and simmer with lid off until tender. In a small bowl blend miso with 3-4 tablespoons of liquid from pot. Reduce flame to low, add diluted miso, and simmer briefly. Garnish and serve.
There is some disagreement over whether fermented cabbage originated in ancient China as kimchi, or if it was Genghis Khan and his Mongolian Empire that invented it. Regardless of where it came from, it’s been around for centuries and made its way to Europe and America in the form of sauerkraut. This powerhouse of immune-boosting nutrients is packed with vitamin C, digestive enzymes, and potent probiotics. Just one spoonful a day is enough to ward off colds, flu and stomach viruses. I eat it by the cup, because I really believe it’s key to keeping my cancer from coming back.
Sauerkraut’s immune power goes beyond your neighborhood germs. One of sauerkraut’s best-kept secrets is that it balances the pH inside of your cells. If you are looking to live a long life, boost your energy, and restore your vitality, then you need to balance the pH inside your cells. This is different from blood or biochemical pH, which we measure using test strips; this is a measurement of your life force, or what is also called chi. When you have a balanced pH on the cell level, your body thinks it’s young again. Use your energy level as the gage – when you need a nap after meals or worse, feel tired all the time – it’s time to correct your cellular pH with a daily serving of sauerkraut.
If you’re fighting fatigue, or anyone around you has the stomach bug, I urge you to get some unpasteurized sauerkraut ASAP. It’s essential the sauerkraut is unpasteurized and hasn’t been heated. This is another food best added at the end of the cooking time. My favorite brand is Bubbies, but if you’re in western Washington, pick up some locally made OlyKraut. Better yet, plan ahead and make it yourself, it’s easy and inexpensive to do and takes just two ingredients.
Easy Homemade Sauerkraut
1 head of organic cabbage (any kind is fine, but green is most commonly used)
Sea salt (1 tablespoon or less tastes best, but any amount can be used)
Glass canning jars with rings and lids
Cut the cabbage into thin slices and place in large bowl. Sprinkle a little salt on it and start mashing it. A potato masher or meat tenderizer is a good tool for this. Once fluid starts being formed, it’s time to pack it into clean jars. Fill the jar one quarter of the way with cabbage, sprinkle with salt, and mash with a wooden spoon until there’s enough liquid to cover the cabbage completely. Repeat this process until the jar is one inch below full and all cabbage is submerged. Fold the cheesecloth 2 layers thick, then cut into a circle 2 inches larger than the jar lid. Place cheesecloth on top of jar, then screw lid ring on to tight down. Do not use lid yet. Repeat this process with new jars until all the cabbage is in jars. Let sit for 2 weeks on the counter, and check daily to make sure cabbage is staying submerged below the fluid. If mold forms at any time, that jar must be discarded. After 2 weeks, remove cheesecloth, put lid on and refrigerate.