What my family does for Winter Wellness...And my Carrot Cinnamon Soup Recipe!
I was a really sick kid. I was rarely without a cough or congestion, got antibiotics every single time I went to the doctor (who didn’t in the late 80s? we all remember that bright pink goo!), got every vaccine on time, and ended up with asthma, severe cat & dog allergies, and by the time I was in college, I developed gluten sensitivity which made most food just go straight through me, and I was dealing with nightly headaches. I was addicted to sugar and sweet things, and as a college freshman, I'd survive on muffins, candy (those sugared gummy peach rings — mouthwateringly yum, and so so so bad) and diet coke.
Now I have four kids, and diet and God’s grace have enabled us to avoid most illness! None of my kids have ever had an ear infection or strep, and out of the four, only my oldest son has ever had a round of antibiotics (and I’m aiming for never again), which was before we ever started working on healing our digestive tracts.
When our whole family started to see major improvement in our health through diet change, I had a mindset shift. I went from the antiquated belief that “germs” are out to get you (the Germ Theory), to the belief that God has created our bodies to be self-healing when given optimal nutrients and healthy environment. I began to realize that germs aren’t the bad guy at all.
How well we care for ourselves determines how we feel. A well-nourished, well-rested, emotionally and spiritually balanced person won’t become diseased. We all come in contact with multitudinous microbes every day, but they don't kill us or make us sick! We all live with many supposedly disease-causing bacteria right within us, but they live there peacefully until our bodies become unbalanced. Plainly, no bacteria or virus can damage a healthy body.
Sometimes we do become ill, but I believe unpleasant symptoms and routine occasional illnesses of childhood are not meant to harm us. These symptoms are simply our bodies’ way of cleansing toxins and bringing accumulated wastes to the surface to be expelled. We see them as stepping stones to make us all stronger, and we don’t try to suppress them. This is why we don’t even consider Tylenol, cold meds, or antibiotics as options, except in the most dire of circumstances. When we allow our kids’ bodies to cope with these symptoms, their immune systems and nervous systems are able to properly develop!
The Gut The Gut The Gut!
The foundation of our entire health is within the gut. Several POUNDS of bacteria (along with viruses and fungi) line our intestinal walls, digesting food, filtering out undigested food and toxins from ever reaching the bloodstream, they balance our hormones, help to control our brains, change the expression of our genes. They can literally dissolve a virus's outer membrane. These bacteria are critical for the immune system, telling our bodies to produce immune cells. Seventy to eighty percent of our immune system is in the gut! If we don't have healthy gut bacteria, the whole intestinal tract gets inflamed, causing us to not be able to digest food well OR absorb nutrients OR fend off disease. If the gut bacteria aren't healthy, the whole body is unhealthy.
We try to stick to a gut-nourishing diet, which is heavy in bone-broth-based soups, healing fats (mostly coconut oil, butter/ghee, olive and avocado oils, and pastured animal fats), loads of organic vegetables, living/fermented foods, and VERY low in grains and sugars. If we don't generally eat this way, none of the other things we do will make much of a difference!
So here’s my line-up to creating that beautiful homeostasis, which provides Health all winter long!
1. We aim for Probiotic and Prebiotic Food at most meals, along with probiotic supplementation:
Probiotic foods actually contain good bacteria. I try to have one of these at each meal: sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, aged raw cheese. (I make my own raw milk yogurt because the store-bought stuff is not fermented very long, leaving lots of lactose behind. Sometimes it's not fermented at all--they just add yogurt starter to cold milk and add thickener.)
Prebiotic foods feed good bacteria. Some of our favorites are ginger, garlic, coconut, raw apple cider vinegar, and onion. These also happen to be infection-fighting super-foods. When I'm dealing with ANY illness, I always increase our family's consumption of garlic and onions, both cooked and raw. At the start of any throat or sinus malady, raw apple cider vinegar (2 tsp mixed with raw honey in a glass of water, or used as salad dressing) is the go-to.
The probiotic I take at least twice per day (and give half-capsules to my kids, sprinkled on their food) is Bio-Kult. Because healthy gut bacteria are mandatory for avoiding illness, probiotics are a non-negotiable in our home.
We also avoid ANTIBIOTICS like the plague. They wipe out the good bacteria, creating an unbalance in your gut. It can take your body a minimum of 2 weeks to recover, up to a full year and some species of bacteria never recover. I personally would not take them again unless I had gangrene and death was imminent. It's that dangerous. I believe many of my childhood sicknesses and allergies were due to my gut being slammed by too many antibiotics! P.S. Ear infections will heal using natural measures! I recommend reading "How to raise your child in spite of your doctor."
2. We try to consciously avoid sweet things, especially sugar, but also maple syrup and sweet fruit!
Many books are written about how sweets are quite possibly the most dangerous foods to regularly consume, so I won’t go too much into it. They cause chronic inflammation throughout the body, they drain your body of vitamins and minerals, feed cancer, cause heart disease, and they feed infections of all kinds. I used to make honey-sweetened gluten-free muffins or gluten-free pancakes twice a week (or more), and I’d keep dates and raisins around, but I’ve seen the most health gains (no illnesses) in our family when those things were cut from the rotation!
Also crucial for immune system strength is staying completely gluten-free! I have a pretty severe gluten intolerance, but though my family can tolerate it in moderation, they choose to avoid it because research suggests that ALL humans have gluten sensitivity to some extent! Exposure to gluten increases gut permeability (allowing undigested food pass into the bloodstream), turning on an unhealthy immune response and triggering inflammatory chemicals which harm even the brain! Again, if you want a healthy body in the winter and all year round, you need a healthy gut, and that means avoiding gluten! Healthier options are wild rice and quinoa and even gluten-free oats, and we use almond and coconut flours for baking.
3. Our heavy-hitter anti-sickness supplements are: Cod Liver Oil (for vitamin A), Vitamin D3 drops, and Vitamin C.
As soon as one of us gets a scratchy throat or sniffly nose, or we think our body is battling something, the first thing we do is take a dose of cod liver oil. It's naturally loaded with Vitamin A, the "anti-infective" vitamin, which the immune system is dependent on! Fevers and infections drain your body's reserves of Vitamin A!
We also take Vitamin D3 (we've barely missed a day this winter), as it's crucial for immune health -- the flu is considered to be due simply to vitamin D deficiency! The skin manufactures vitamin D when exposed to the sun, so we try to get 20 minutes (with NO sunblock) outside every sunny day during spring and summer!
Note: Normally I’m opposed to isolated nutrients, but we were terrible about getting outside this past summer because it was so hot for my then pregnant self! I’m hoping to have us be better about it this year, and we won’t need the supplement in winters to come.
And Vitamin C supplementation, as sodium ascorbate, is only for special cases (as the supplement is kind of pricey, and I prefer to get vitamin C from foods). I had forgotten it in the back of my pantry until this past fall when Lochlan came down with a nasty cough that just wouldn't leave. But when I remembered Vitamin C's notoriety for healing coughs, I gave large doses to him, and the cough completely vanished in just a few days. Vitamin C is critical for immune health overall, especially your white blood cells, as it helps them destroy pathogens before they get out of control. Fermented veggies like kimchi are great sources of vitamin C in winter!
4. There’s rarely a time that Bone Broth isn’t simmering on our stove in the winter (and pretty much all year long)!
Chicken bone broth contains gelatin and collagen, which help line the intestinal tract, and heal and reverse leaky gut! (It's seriously all about the gut.) In turn, bone broth can prevent inflammation in the body, and reduce the occurrences of allergic reactions from food. When I imagine the perfect diet, it definitely contains bone broth.
Because it’s anti-inflammatory, it’s great for remedying symptoms of cold or flu. It also contains a natural amino acid called cysteine, which can thin the mucus in your lungs so you can cough it out more easily.
Broth also contains the amino acids that literally hold us together. We need them especially to repair our bodies when they've been damaged by inflammation and infection.
I shoot for at least one cup of broth consumed per person each day. It’s seriously delicious on its own, but that gets a little boring, so I make soups with it several times a week! Also, soup is the easiest way to get my kids to eat VEGETABLES! When they're softened and pureed into a creamy, savory, salty soup, they actually REQUEST it. One of my many soup recipes, Carrot-Cinnamon Soup is included below!
Also worth mentioning is that the body craves warming foods during the winter. My mouth almost rebels against cold salads or smoothies when the temperature outside is below 50 degrees! But warm soups, roasted meats, and heated vegetables create such a harmony -- they work *with* the body's seasonal needs instead of against them.
5. We don't want to give our bodies more toxins to process and expel, so we work to have a very low toxic load overall. This means our entire home environment! It helps with easier breathing, less irritated skin, fewer chemical headaches, fewer stomachaches, and fewer illnesses (since the body uses illness to detoxify!). Here's a short list of things we try to maintain toxin-free:
- We purify our drinking water using a Berkey, removing fluoride and chlorine.
- We only paint walls with No-VOC paints, from Benjamin Moore.
- We avoid perfumes, scented candles, fragranced detergents.
- We try to buy only natural materials for furniture and decor, like solid hardwood, wicker, wool, cotton, metals. These don't out-gas like particleboard and plastics do.
- For cookware, we use glass instead of plastic, iron/stainless steel instead of non-stick, and parchment paper instead of aluminum foil.
- We run all our body/beauty products through EWG.org and choose the least toxic! I've even switched over to mostly natural makeup and hair products (my last major hold-out!!!). We also make quite a few body products (like deodorant) at home!
6. In the winter, we try to slow down and rest.
Balance means so much more than food! Without quality sleep, food doesn't matter. But without healthy relationships, sleep AND food don't matter. In the winter especially, we take the time to linger at the dinner table and talk with candles lit, we go to bed earlier, we slow the pace of appointments and our homeschool schedule, we invite friends over, and we don't worry so much about being "on time" to things.
Then, if illness does come, we very consciously slow down even more, responding to the body's call. Rest and hydration are my answers to sickness! I do not even treat fevers with medication. The body is so intricately designed, my first instinct is to pray God's blessing over the process of healing that he has already set into motion.
- 10 medium-large carrots, chopped into 1” rounds
- 2 sweet onions, chopped
- 4 T butter
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2” chunk of ginger root, peeled and grated
- 4.5 cups chicken bone broth, unsalted, homemade
- 1.25 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 T Himalayan pink salt
- 1 can full-fat coconut milk (do not replace with cow's milk -- the coconut gives needed sweetness)
- 1/4 cup raw cream OR whipping cream OR the thick cream from a can of full-fat coconut milk (discarding the watery liquid at the bottom)
Melt butter in large stockpot over medium-high heat and add onions, cooking and stirring till soft. Add garlic and stir for about a minute, then add carrots and stir for about five minutes. Add ginger, broth, cinnamon, pepper, and salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the coconut milk, the cream, then puree fully (in the pot) using an immersion blender. Taste and serve! Great topped with bacon, or toasted chopped pecans.