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Healing Soups

From grandmother with love (and phytonutrients): Now's the time to nourish your body with old-fashioned healing soups.

By Dayna Macy

"The immune system needs lots of minerals to function well," Weed says, "and the typical American diet is low in minerals. I like using roots in my soup because they're mineral storehouses."

Weed also takes seriously the healing properties of even the most common herbs and often turns to mint, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, marjoram, or sage to dress up her soups. "I don't just season the soup with them," she says. "I add them by the handful." Volatile oils found in these herbs, like thymol in oregano, have antibacterial properties and are considered potent antioxidants.

One thing Weed, Wood, and many more of the world's healers have in common is the belief that soup truly is good food when you're looking to pamper a sick body or nourish a healthy one so that it can fight off disease. "Healing foods should be easy to digest," Wood explains. "Foods like soups and stews are easily converted to energy, which frees up the body to fight infection."

No Substitutes for Healthy Eating

When it comes to strengthening the immune system, what you don't eat can be just as important as what you do. "Everything you eat builds your body," says Annemarie Colbin, who holds a Ph.D. in wholistic nutrition and is the author of Food and Healing. And you don't want a body built with refined sugars, white flour, and partially hydrogenated fats, Colbin says. Those foods are nutritionally empty, and when you are ill or need to build up immunity, you need food that is easy on the body and loaded with natural vitamins and minerals.

Colbin advises eating organic produce whenever possible, since the herbicides and pesticides that can be present in conventional produce can assault the immune system. If you have a less-than-optimal diet, taking vitamins might seem like an easy out. But experts say that it's better to stick with nutritious foods. "While there is an appropriate role for dietary supplements," Blumberg says, "remember they're called supplements, not substitutes. Natural whole foods have other things in them, including phytochemicals and flavonoids, which promote health and prevent disease."

Ginger Tea and Carrot Soup

After talking to several experts, I came to the most obvious conclusion: When we let our intuition guide us, we instinctively eat what we need when we need it. A case in point: One afternoon last winter, when a pair of colds—belonging to my twin boys, Matthew and Jack—dripped and snuffled into the house, Matthew asked me for a cup of tea with honey, and Jack asked for carrot soup.

So I made a light ginger tea, and carrot soup with onions and oregano. Matthew has never been told that ginger clears congestion or that honey has antibacterial properties. And Jack hadn't researched the healing properties of carrots (they're packed with vitamin A as well as C). But they both knew instinctively that these foods would help them feel better.

As Wood says, "If you're relatively healthy, you can trust your body to tell you what you need.  I'm also pretty sure that cooking nutritious foods, and serving them with love—or at least some modicum of goodwill—plays some fundamental role in keeping my family healthy.

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