Foods to boost your immune system while in COVID-19 self-quarantine in Turkey


These days, nothing seems more important than maintaining optimal health and ensuring our immune system is as strong as it can possibly be to combat the debilitating coronavirus the whole world is been fighting. Luckily for those of us in Turkey, there are a number of good practices already in place that are geared toward keeping us strong and healthy. So, as we prepare our homes and stock our pantries for a long stay, here are a number of Turkish tips and tricks to maintaining optimal health.

Tarhana, the most historical and healthy instant soup there is

Revered as the oldest instant soup in the world, tarhana was created hundreds of years ago by the Turks in Central Asia. While you may be hard-pressed to find the soup in restaurants, it is a staple in Turkish households. Made from a combination of fermented grain, yogurt or milk, it can also be prepared with preserved vegetables and herbs and can be enriched with butter, red pepper paste and mint. An excellent product to have stocked in the pantry, Tarhana soup is known for containing vitamins A and B, as well as calcium, iron and zinc, good for strengthening the immune system.


Homemade yogurt is an excellent source of calcium as well as gut-friendly probiotics. (iStock Photo)
Homemade yogurt is an excellent source of calcium as well as gut-friendly probiotics. (iStock Photo)

Chinese say “cheese”

The Chinese Nutrition Society recently released guidelines for building the immune system, reporting that taking in 300 grams of dairy (equivalent to 10.6 ounces of milk) is an excellent way to boost protein intake and provides the nutrients calcium, vitamin B2 and vitamin A.

There’s also good news for yogurt fiends: the probiotics present in yogurt and kefir are making these dairy products the most popular in the world at the moment. It is especially big in Japan, where news reports say yogurt is flying off the shelves.


Before honey came onto the scene, grape molasses was used as sweetener. (iStock Photo)
Before honey came onto the scene, grape molasses was used as sweetener. (iStock Photo)

Turkish soulmates tahin and pekmez

While humans may need to keep themselves apart from one another, tahin and pekmez, a beloved breakfast combo, remain great together. Tahin is sesame paste. It is not only an excellent source of protein, healthy fats and amino acids, but is also said to be high in magnesium, potassium and iron. It is best when mixed with pekmez, a fruit molasses usually made from grapes, with other varieties made from pomegranate and mulberry. Pekmez has long been a staple in Turkey for its blood-building properties and for providing energy. It is rich in iron, calcium, and potassium. Together, this dynamic duo becomes spread-like and is sort of the Vegemite of Turkey, being that it is an acquired taste for some and an indispensable one for others.

Trotter and bone broth soups reinvigorated

There are a number of trotter (feet) and bone broth-based soups, called paça soups, that are in high demand due to coronavirus. Turkey’s most famous nutritionist, Dr. Canan Karatay, recommended people consume kelle paça, a soup that is often made from the head of sheep, goat or even cow. Also popular in Turkey, referred to as paça çorbası or işkembe çorbası, is tripe soup. All are regularly available at soup vendors and the cuts are purchasable from butchers. Rich in protein, these organ or bone broth soups are revered for being rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A and K, and zinc.

It’s always tea time in Turkey

While Turkey is famed for its black tea obsession, there are a number of other healthy herbal teas that are taking the spotlight. As we are all being advised to drink lots of water, there is no better time than now to adopt an herbal tea addiction. The go-to herbal tea for Turks in times of ailment is ıhlamur, aka linden tea. It is traditionally used to reduce fevers, nasal congestion, throat irritation and coughs and also has sedative effects that benefit high blood pressure. Papatya, or chamomile, is another tea regularly consumed in Turkey when feeling under the weather, as it treats cold symptoms. Other common herbal teas include karabaş, a version of French lavender, which clears up congestion, and sage, or adaçayı in Turkish. It is rich in antioxidants and known to improve the mood. Melissa is my personal favorite for its relaxing properties that help me get a good night’s sleep.


Red peppers are a great source of vitamin A, which promotes eye health. (iStock Photo)
Red peppers are a great source of vitamin A, which promotes eye health. (iStock Photo)

A revival of red, hot chili peppers

While most assume that orange juice is the best source of vitamin C, they may be wrong, as red peppers are said to contain three times the amount in oranges. Luckily, in Turkey, there is a steadfast tradition of sprinkling red pepper flakes on all food, and in restaurants, the product even stands as its own condiment, joining the likes of salt and black pepper. There are a wide variety of red pepper flakes available, as well as condensed red pepper pastes, which can be used in addition to, or in lieu of, tomato paste in sauces. Known for revitalizing the metabolism, red pepper will also help with weight loss, making it a win-win as we spend our days indoors.


The most popular variety of honey in Turkey is pine honey, most of which comes from the Aegean region. (iStock Photo)
The most popular variety of honey in Turkey is pine honey, most of which comes from the Aegean region. (iStock Photo)

Honey, I’m home!

Honey has always been considered a medicine in Turkey, and it is added to a cup of hot water with lemon as the ultimate tea for colds. It can also be consumed by the spoonful to soothe a sore throat. Turks also mix it with butter or clotted cream to form a heavenly breakfast spread. Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids and known for promoting heart health, honey is also antibacterial, aids digestion and boosts the immune system. Honey from Kars is Turkey’s most famous, but there is a wide variety of types available from all over the country with different tastes and medicinal properties, such as pine honey, thyme honey, chestnut honey and even citrus honey. Honey is a luxury that should now be adopted while we are confined to our homes.



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