By Executive Chef Paul Marks
Even though you are reading this column in January, I wrote it right in the midst of the worst flu and cold season in the past 12 years. Hand sanitizer has joined vitamin C and chicken soup in our cultural canon of flu season touchstones.
As a chef, I pay close attention to flu prevention, but with all the information in the media, there is a lot of confusion about what works and what doesn’t for both preventing and recovering from the flu.
Contrary to most people’s belief, cold viruses are not caused by cold weather. Low temperatures make us move indoors into tight, poorly ventilated spaces, where it’s easier to come into contact with a cold virus. Damp and warm, your car’s heating and air conditioning are breeding grounds for bacteria.
In general, proper hygiene and hand-washing procedures are necessary, but there is much more that you can do. At the Bellevue Club, I implemented a no-contact rule in the kitchen and in public. So, if kitchen staff members aren’t giving you high-fives in the hallway, you now know why. We also try to avoid touching door handles and keep Purell stations throughout the kitchen.
For myself, I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in my car to use after I get out of a grocery store or pump gas. I also use antibacterial wipes for my computer keyboard that I share with four other people.
Beyond keeping your hands compulsively clean and not touching your face, there are also ways you can rev up your immune system to protect you on the inside.
First, exercise can increase your immune system’s effectiveness by 60 percent if you exercise on a regular basis. This is not a problem for most of you as Bellevue Club members. Between group exercise classes (check out our new GPX program!) and four workout studios, there are plenty of ways to work out.
Next, the foods you eat will help insulate you against harmful bacteria. Definitely cut down on sweets, because they can hamper your immune system. Is it a coincidence that flu season follows right on the heels of Halloween?
As far as foods you should eat, citrus fruit, pineapple, tomatoes, sweet red bell peppers, parsley, cauliflower, papaya, kiwi, cantaloupe, cabbage, tomatoes, raspberries, celery, spinach, watermelon and cranberries all are laden with good immune-boosting vitamin C—and they taste great. Vitamin C increases the body’s production of infection-fighting white blood cells and antibodies. If you have trouble stocking fresh fruits and veggies, tomato paste is also nutrient-dense with vitamin C.
However, to get the regular daily allowance of vitamin C, an adult would have to eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This is simply not practical. Supplements are a great idea. I buy powdered vitamin C and mix it into my water that I drink throughout the day. Also, when buying premade products, look for vitamin C-fortified products.
Besides vitamin C, the other home remedy that almost everyone turned to at one time or another is good, old chicken soup. But does it really help or was grandma fooling?
Studies show that there are health benefits to eating chicken soup when you are sick. Chicken soup can help the sniffles, coughing and generally ease the symptoms of a cold or flu. Before coming to the Bellevue Club, I spent many years in the kitchens of Italian restaurants.
One restaurant in particular always had a pot of stracciatella simmering on the back of the stove every morning when I arrived. They would eat it for breakfast, and it was explained to me that it had two benefits: it prevented colds and helped cure hangovers if taken with a shot of espresso.
I became very fond of this easy soup, and literally make it every time I am sick. It is the epitome of comfort food.
Stracciatella (Italian Wedding Soup)
5 cups chicken stock
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons dried bread crumbs or crushed crackers
1 tablespoon flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1 cup shredded or finely chopped spinach leaves
½ cup cooked rice or orzo pasta (optional)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
In saucepan, over medium high heat, bring chicken stock to a boil.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs, cheese, bread crumbs, flour and lemon zest. Add egg mix in a slow stream into the boiling stock, stirring or whisking constantly.
After the mixture is added, set heat to low and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Stir in shredded spinach leaves. Simmer for 2 minutes.
This is meant to be a quick soup.
Ladle into bowl and drizzle with a little olive oil and extra cheese.