Here it comes — the onrushing freight train of holiday cheer. Parties, shopping, family gatherings, cake, cookies, candies, eggnog, overeating. Stress!
One thing leads to another and as the holidays approach, we eat more sweets, drink more wine, sleep less, skip yoga class, and often end up sick.
There’s a reason we overeat at times like this. It just so happens we’re soothed by high-calorie, high-fat, sweet foods. It alters our brain chemistry. We actually find comfort in comfort food when we’re stressed out.
Stress causes anxiety. Anxiety causes the release of stress hormones, which trigger an elevation in heart rate and blood pressure. It’s a physiological feedback loop whether it’s caused by high-volume traffic, crowded shopping malls, money issues, or family squabbles. That defense system is designed to keep us alive if we’re running from danger, but it’s not healthy to rev it up on a continual basis. Studies show the brain kicks into flight-or-fight mode regardless of the stressor. Once we’re stressed, since there’s usually no snarling wild animal to outrun, we often settle in with a tin of holiday cookies or a piece of pie to soothe our fraying nerves. It actually works — for a few minutes. High calorie, sweet foods send a message to the brain that all is well. We’ve outsmarted the predator and we’re celebrating with a well-deserved treat. No need to run, no need to escape, no need to search for food. It’s all good. Have a piece of cake.
When we repeat this behavior over and over, our brain stays on alert, our blood pressure and heart rate remain elevated, our immune system weakens, and we’re much more susceptible to cold and flu cooties. Physical defenses are expensive. Our immune system needs the nutrient energy for real threats, not fighting off crowds at the mall.
Alas, our best intentions don’t always cut it this time of year. It’s hard to avoid an uptick in stress during the holidays, but we can at least set the stage for a boost in immune function by adding healing foods into the mix. Call it a health savings account. Try this immune booster soup in between shopping trips, cookie exchanges, and office parties. The best defense is a good offense — nutritionally speaking.
Immune-Booster Soup (Gluten-Free)
What you need
- 1 small to medium potato, peeled and chopped *
- ½ cup shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
- 8 cups chicken broth, divided (if not homemade, I use Imagine Gluten-Free Organic Chicken Broth)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 small onion, about ½ cup chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
- 4 carrots, chopped
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped
- 8-ounce can organic tomato sauce (not tomato paste)
- 1 cup cooked and diced chicken
- 8-ounce can organic beans, rinsed (or dried and cooked beans) *
- 2 cups spinach
- herbs, sea salt, black pepper *
What you do
- Place chopped potato in a medium saucepan. Cover with about 2 or 3 cups chicken broth and bring to a light boil. Use enough chicken broth to simmer potatoes until fully cooked. After about 10 minutes of simmering, add the chopped shiitake mushrooms to the potato/chicken broth mix. Continue simmering for another 5 to 10 minutes, until potatoes are fully cooked and mushrooms are cooked, but not mushy. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- In a large soup pot, heat oil over low-medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring often. Add 2 cups chicken broth, celery, carrots, sweet potato, tomato sauce, and cooked chicken. Turn heat to low.
- Place cooled chicken broth-potato-mushroom mixture into a VitaMix or other blender. Make sure the mixture has cooled enough to blend. Add 1 to 2 cups of room temperature chicken broth and blend until all ingredients are incorporated. Mixture should be a gravy-like consistency, but not too thick. Add more broth during blending as needed. Pour the mixture into the soup pot, along with any remaining chicken broth, and stir gently. At this point, all the chicken broth (approximately 8 cups), the cooked chicken, and the vegetables, with the exception of the beans and spinach, are in the pot simmering on low.
- Cook on low for 2 hours or more. This can simmer on low all afternoon. Add rinsed beans (I like pinto or cannellini beans, but any kind is fine), herbs, seasonings, and spinach about 15 to 30 minutes before serving.
- Enjoy and stay healthy!
Cook’s notes (worth reading):
- I normally use a small-medium, organic RED potato for this base, because it has less starch than a Russet or Yukon Gold. I use potatoes as a thickener in lots of my recipes, rather than using a processed gluten-free flour or starch, but I choose my potato variety according to how much thickening I want in the recipe.
- I often use dried, cooked beans, but when I’m pressed for time, I use a can of beans from Eden Organics. Canned beans retain their fiber and Eden Organics uses BPA-free cans. Canned beans are a healthy option in soups and stews.
- Simply Organic All-Purpose Seasoning is my favorite “go-to” seasoning. I use about 2 tablespoons in this recipe.
- Rather than adding the spinach to the soup, place ½ cup of raw spinach (or kale, chard, beet greens) in a bowl or soup mug. Ladle the hot soup directly over the spinach and gently stir. This warms the spinach, but also keeps it fresh and slightly wilted.
This article and recipe can also be found on this month’s NANP (National Association of Nutrition Professionals) E-Zine. If you’re interested in nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and upcoming conferences, check out the NANP website here and sign up for our newsletter here. Don’t worry, we hate SPAM, so your email address is safe with us. You can also Like our Facebook Page for more spectacular nutrition news.
Peace, love, and immune booster veggies!