This is the time of year when we really put our immune systems to the test. We are bombarded with a change in season, a change in temperature, and everyone around us seems to be sick! At a time like this, a strong immune system can keep you happy and cough/sniffle/sneeze free. Here are my 8 favorite ways to keep your immune system strong this time of year.
1. Raw garlic
Raw garlic is medicine in a plant. Yes, it can be used to flavor our red sauce and add some kick to our hummus, but raw garlic contains many medicinal qualities as well. Many of you may of heard of its cardiovascular benefits, as garlic is known to lower blood pressure and cholesterol, but it also works wonders for our immune system. It is rich in antioxidants, helps to treat infections (both internally and externally), and has anti-bacterial AND anti-viral properties. WOW! I mean, maybe you should go back and read that entire sentence again because that is a lot of power!
Garlic is great to incorporate into your daily diet and is best consumed in its raw form to ensure that you are receiving all of its benefits. If you are cooking with garlic, try grating some raw garlic on top of the finished product (ex: sautéed veggies). When I am feeling under the weather, I will swallow a clove of garlic like a pill a few times a day until that icky feeling clears. This is a great way to blast your system with all of its healing properties.
Probiotics (aka ‘intestinal flora’) are the healthy, beneficial bacteria that live in our gut. They are necessary for proper digestion, nutrient absorption and immune function. Our gastrointestinal system houses around 70% of our immune system, so a healthy gut means a healthy immune system, and healthy intestinal flora means a healthy gut; see the relationship??
Fermented foods, such as raw sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha, contain probiotics, but if such foods are not part of your daily diet you may need to find them in supplement form. Look for a dosage with around 5 billion organisms per capsule, and with more than 5 different strains of bacteria. One of my favorites is Jarrow Formulas “Jarro-Dophilus EPS”. They don’t need to be refrigerated so I can pack them on my travels and have no worries about them spoiling. Another great brand is Udos. Talk to the supplement specialist at your health food store to find one that is right for you.
3. Eat more raw foods
The joy of life! When you consume raw foods you are literally eating life! These foods are still alive, and they are providing us with the sunlight, water, and energy that they have stored during their growing process as well as the ENZYMES necessary to digest them. Enzymes are killed when heated, and are responsible for doing all of the hard work in your body, such as digestion, healing, detoxification, repair, building blood and tissue, support brain function, reproduction, cell growth… the list goes on and on.
When we have a diet that lacks in raw food, we are constantly pulling enzymes from our “enzyme stash” for digestion, preventing other necessary work from being done. When the other functions in our body aren’t getting the attention that they need, we begin to experience things like exhaustion, inflammation, signs of aging, mental fatigue, and a WEAK IMMUNE SYSTEM. Most raw foods are loaded with the necessary vitamins and minerals to keep your body happy, so skip the heat and enjoy some foods the way nature intended us to eat them. A green smoothie is a great way to get in a ton of awesome raw fruits and veggies into your diet in a tasty way.
4. Avoid inflammatory foods
Inflammation equals illness, plain and simple. The key to a healthy immune system (and a healthy diet) is to keep these inflammatory foods in check by eating a mostly anti-inflammatory diet, which Dr. Weil explains here. Foods that cause inflammation in the body include meat, dairy, sugar, gluten, alcohol, eggs, caffeine, processed foods and refined carbohydrates. In moderation (preferably sparingly), these foods can be ok, but if most of your diet consists of foods on this list, then you may have some inflammation in your body wrecking havoc on your immune system.
Begin to notice your food choices throughout the day. See if you can substitute that burger for a big salad with lots of veggies and beans and then pay attention to how you feel… More energy? Less sluggish? I thought so…
5. Learn to love antioxidants
Our bodies are built to defend and protect us against harmful encounters, and anti-oxidants give us that extra boost. Everyday, we are faced with harmful toxins, bacteria and viruses. They may exist in our environment, our food, our beauty products, our water supply, and even in our relationships (a different topic for a different time). Antioxidants help to boost our immune system and help to battle these harmful oxidizing agents by binding to them and escorting them out of our bodies.
Include high antioxidant foods in your diet, such as berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, green tea, artichokes, red cabbage, broccoli, cherries, plums, apples, walnuts, almonds, cinnamon, ginger, and yes, dark chocolate. Think bright colors!
6. Avoid antibiotics
Antibiotics kill ALL bacteria in your body, good and bad. Since you now know why the good bacteria are so important, you can understand why it is a bad idea to kill off the good guys unless totally necessary. These days, antibiotics are as easy to get as skittles, and because of their overuse, new strains of bacteria are developing that are resistant to medications. To ensure that your body will react properly to antibiotics when you NEED them, limit their use. It is also a smart idea to buy milk, meat and eggs that are antibiotic (and hormone) free. Remember, whatever that cow was eating, drinking, experiencing and being medicated with, ends up on your plate… choose accordingly.
7. Eat your Omega-3’s
Omega-3 fatty acids are a necessary component in proper bodily function and are incredibly important to incorporate into our diets because our bodies do not create them. They support brain function and development as well as cardiovascular health, and play a huge role in battling inflammation. Omega-3’s help to strengthen our immune system so we can battle day to day encounters, and they also help to reduce the risk and symptoms of long-term disorders caused by inflammation, such as heart disease, strokes, certain cancers and auto-immune diseases.
Omega-3’s can be found in cold-water fish, such as sockeye salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring. It is recommended to eat these fish at least twice a week. Fish oil supplements are available at your local health food store or online, and provide you with the same benefits. Make sure that they are “Third Party Tested”. Eggs can be another source of Omega-3’s if the chickens are fed a diet rich in these essential fatty acids. Talk to your farmer or find a brand at a health food store near you. If you prefer a non-animal source, try hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, freshly ground flax seeds, hemp oil or flax oil.
8. Stay hydrated
The body is about 70% water, so it should be no surprise that we need to be drinking water throughout the day. No, coffee, tea, juice, and soda do not count as water. I am talking about pure, preferably filtered, fresh water. Hate the flavor? Throw in a lemon, lime, cucumber, or some fresh mint. A tall glass of water should be the first thing you have in the morning because or bodies are dehydrated from not getting any liquids all night. Starting your day off this way will set a tone for the rest of the day, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself craving more. It is recommended that you get half your body weight in ounces per day, so bring a reusable water bottle with you (Klean Kanteen are great), and sip it all day long.
So… How will you strengthen your internal army today? Your immune system is the health of your body, and you deserve to be happy, healthy and vibrant!
with love and strong immunity,