“Eating is one of the true joys of the winter holidays, filled with foods that remind you of good times,” Li says. “Enjoy them! Just remember: It is possible to enjoy great food while amping up your health.” At any gathering, load up on veggies and immunity-boosting foods first—they’ll fill you up while fortifying your body’s defense systems. Then, add slowly: “The best thing to do is take one-third less of what you might be tempted to put on your plate, and eat it slowly,” says the doc. “The more slowly you eat, the more your brain’s satiety centers will kick in, telling you you’re full.”
Good cheer flows during the holidays, and that’s OK. “Most studies have shown that drinking a glass or two of red wine or beer can benefit your health, but more than that increases your risk for diseases like cancer,” Li says. Cap yourself at two drinks, be sure to consume plenty of water, and you’re in good shape. And go easy on the hard stuff. “There is no amount of hard liquor that’s healthy, so limit intake of mixed drinks.”
“Holidays are a time to slow down from the frantic pace of work, so it’s tempting to become a couch potato,” Li says. “Some downtime is definitely good, but being inactive for a few weeks is bad for your heart, brain, and gut.” Make an effort to get 30 minutes of activity—any activity—every day. “Even a half-hour walk improves your alertness, punches up your metabolism, and mobilizes stem cells that help regenerate your organs from the inside out,” Li says. Make a predinner walk a family tradition so exercise feels less like a chore.
It’s not uncommon to feel stress during the holidays, Li says, but it’s critical to do what you can to mitigate it: “Stress increases catecholamines—brain hormones designed for fight or flight—which lowers your immunity and makes it easier to get sick, especially dangerous given COVID-19.” Stress also clouds your judgement, making unhealthy food choices more likely. Ideally, the doc recommends two hours of true downtime each day during the hectic holidays, but if that’s not feasible, start with a solid 30 minutes. “This means being away from your phone and laptop and spending time alone, whether that’s reading, taking a relaxing bath, or even preparing a meal in the kitchen.” Oh, and don’t talk politics or other stress-inducing topics at the table!
Dr. Li’s Favorite Immunity-Boosting Winter Foods
Keep the hot cocoa coming—the ingredients include antioxidants and polyphenols, which can increase the number of heart-strengthening stem cells.
2. Citrus Fruits
In-season citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits are high in vitamin C. That helps the body boost immunity.
3. Hard Cheeses
Add Gouda, Jarlsberg, Edam, Gruyère, or other hard cheeses to your charcuterie board to get vitamin K2, which can starve cancer cells.
4. Apple Cider
Apples help suppress inflammation and slow the growth of bad blood vessels, so warm up a cloudy cider with apple bits to get all the nutritional benefits.
As a snack or in a pie, pecans contain heart-healthy fats and fiber that support gut health.
This article originally appeared in our Holiday 2020 issue. Get the magazine here.