Spring Has Sprung!

IMG_2136Yes, here it is in all its glory — my favorite time of year! This is the time for fresh starts and rebirths as we see our perennial plantings returning like newer versions of old friends, and as we make changes for the better in our own lives. But in certain parts of the  world, such as the Southeastern United States, it is also time for this:IMG_2140Since this dusting is also coating the insides of our respiratory systems, it’s no wonder that for many of us this is the time of year for allergies which can lead to illness, fatigue, loss of sleep, irritability and infections. As someone who used to have at least two sinus infections per year, requiring antibiotics which present their own problems, I can sympathize with those of you suffering right now.

Our bodies are amazing and, when all goes well, are able to withstand the challenges of environmental culprits such as seasonal allergens. Our healthy immune systems respond to triggers by modulating the proper level of intervention against the pollen invaders. The whole story of our immune response is much more complex than this — it’s science, and your doctor at Atlanta Functional Medicine will be able to explain it to you in more detail if you’re interested. In short, if our immune response is overly aggressive, our respiratory systems may become too inflamed, with too much mucous, which can lead to the aforementioned infections and other symptoms.

We each have a unique nutritional profile based not only on what we eat, but on how our bodies metabolize and absorb the nutrients. Improving our diets can often eliminate many problems, optimizing the immune system’s function. But in some cases, a deficiency is extreme, and prescribed supplementation is necessary to bring our levels back to balance.

Recent research has found that certain plant polyphenols can actually fine-tune the immune response in the respiratory linings, in effect calming an overactive response. Optimizing immune function goes beyond calming this overreaction, however. To support a more balanced immune system, healthy bacterial populations are necessary in the intestines, or the “gut” as Dr. Gustafson used to call it. With today’s overuse of antibiotics, and with the chemicals and pesticides which make their way into our systems through our food and water sources, our guts frequently need a little help engendering this optimal bacterial population. Probiotics to the rescue! We can and should incorporate probiotics into our diets with certain fermented and cultured foods, but it’s a good idea to also consult with your doctor about any symptoms you are having that would indicate a supplement is necessary. The physicians at Atlanta Functional Medicine are well qualified to optimize your polyphenol and probiotic levels which will help with seasonal allergies and with your health in general.

In this season of fresh starts, why not try something different? Here’s a recipe for a pressed salad which I came up with yesterday from what I had on hand in the crisper. Pressed salads are very lightly pickled vegetables — only fermented for a couple of hours on your kitchen counter, and then pressed, drained and refrigerated. The pressing and draining completely changes the textures of the veggies, and it’s an interesting departure from your everyday lettuce salad.IMG_2144

Spring Pressed Salad

  • 1/2 small cabbage, green or purple, thinly sliced

  • 1 organic apple (I used gala) thinly sliced

  • 3 large organic radishes, thinly sliced

  • 1 small organic cucumber, thinly sliced

  • 2 scallions, sliced on the diagonal

  • 1 Tbsp. Umeboshi Plum Vinegar

  • 2 Tbsp. Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and massage (with clean hands) the vinegar into all the vegetables. This will take a couple of minutes. Place a plate on top of the pile of veggies, and put something heavy on top, such as a 32 oz. can of tomatoes or a gallon jug of water. If your plate is not small enough to clear the sides of the bowl, allowing the pile to compress, choose a smaller one. Leave the salad to press at room temperature for 1-4 hours. When it has pressed, water will have drained from the vegetables. Using the plate to hold the veggies in place, give the veggies one more good squeeze and drain the excess liquid. The salad can now be served or refrigerated first if you prefer. Refrigerate any leftovers.

If you can’t find the ume vinegar, just use more apple cider vinegar. I enjoy the ume flavor, which is salty and piquant. I don’t use much vinegar in this recipe, since the flavors of these vinegars are strong to my palate, but you may find the result bland, in which case you can just sprinkle a little more of your favorite vinegar when serving. If it is too tart or salty for your taste, just put it all in a colander and give it a good rinse, and then another squeeze. Sometimes I enjoy a little drizzle of very good extra virgin olive oil on top too when serving — this makes it silky! I like this salad by itself, on a bed of fresh greens, in a wrap with some leftover brown rice and maybe some hummus (I like to use a sheet of nori or a giant collard leaf for the wrapper), or as a slaw on a veggie sausage sandwich. This makes great leftovers, but only for a couple of days, then it gets too soggy. So only make what you will eat in two days or so.

I learned about pressed salads in Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet, and this salad was inspired by a couple of salads she features — I just used what I had on hand. For more powerful natural probiotic power, you can also try making your own pickles. Here’s my latest batch, on their last day of fermentation before I cap and refrigerate them. IMG_2146They are from Alicia’s recipe “Umeboshi Radish Pickles”, also from The Kind Diet. In this case I used a combo of radishes and cukes. It is otherwise important to follow directions exactly. Once, I gave a batch just one more day sitting at room temperature on my counter, only to discover a mildewy mess the next morning. Three days is plenty, and yields a fabulous pickle! When eating pickles for their probiotic benefits, steer clear of added sugars or any pickles that have been pasturized. The process kills the live organisms. Also beware of sodium content. I only eat a tablespoon or two of these pickles per day.

As you navigate this lovely season, nurture your amazing immune system. The doctors at Atlanta Functional Medicine would be happy to help you discover the best way to do this for your unique system.

by Cheryl Salinas

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