This time of year can be difficult to avoid getting sick. It's not necessarily due to the cold weather itself but has more to do with the incubator-like environments that act like a petri dish for growing germs. That and the fact that we don't get enough rest and don't support our bodies with proper nutrition are a recipe for disaster!
Let's start with what you want to avoid...
1. Processed foods. They tend to have less nutrients than real, whole foods. They also have a lot of ingredients that can make us feel crummy, like additives and preservatives that play with our hormones and cause neuro-toxic responses like migraines, for example. They tend to have inflammatory fats, which is really the root of all disease.
2. Gluten, dairy, and alcohol. They destroy your intestinal lining which compromises your immunity, from acute colds to issues like auto-immune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. Dairy and gluten are trigger foods that can cause intolerance to other foods and both food and seasonal allergies.
3. Sugar. Sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut which leads to infections of the sinuses, ears, respiratory system, as well as vaginal yeast infections. Sugar is hiding in most everything that’s processed, even spaghetti sauce and processed meats! You’re welcome to look at each label, but we know where the majority of our sugar is coming from: sodas, specialty coffee drinks, mixed alcoholic drinks, and all the “treats” associated with this time of year. A major problem with glucose (sugar) is that it has the same receptor in the body as vitamin C. They both need the same receptor to be absorbed into the body, and there are two problems with that: 1) They don’t share. 2) The receptor has an affinity for the glucose. So if they both get to the receptor at the same time, the glucose will occupy or lock the receptor which blocks absorption of vitamin C, important for both adrenal and immune support.
4. Alcohol. Simply put, it is toxic. It’s very destructive to the body in many ways, but most significantly when we’re talking about our immune system it puts a very heavy load on the liver, which we need to be in good condition in order to efficiently filter toxins that could harm our health and make us sick, both short-term and long-term.
Both alcohol and coffee are dehydrating and can interrupt your sleep, which is vital for your immune system to function properly. We tend to think of the warmer seasons as needing more hydration and usually neglect properly hydrating our bodies during the colder seasons. With coffee as something to warm us and alcohol at a lot of holiday parties, we can easily dehydrate ourselves. Both drinks inhibit the absorption of nutrients, so you definitely don’t want to drink them with a nutritious meal. Coffee is okay for some people and has excellent antioxidant properties, but you don’t want to rely on it to get you through the day as too much can cause the problems I’ve mentioned here. Another concern with coffee is what’s going in it. As I’ve mentioned, both dairy and sugar worsen your immune system.
5. Don't be too eager to ask your doc for antibiotics. Absolutely, antibiotics have their place and can be life-saving in many situations, but we've overdone it. We have an epidemic of antibiotic-resistance in North America because of two things: 1) the overuse and abuse of antibiotics in humans and 2) the antibiotics fed to the animals in the meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and dairy products we're consuming. Not only are we becoming resistant to antibiotics so they're not even helping us at times, but our health takes a hit due to these broad-spectrum antibiotics wiping out all bacteria in our guts, both GOOD and bad. As mentioned earlier, it can cause many diseases, sickness, and even deplete our energy, decline our cognition and memory, disrupt our hormonal balance, cause anxiety and depression, as well as cancer! Pretty shocking, right?
Now let's focus on the GOOD stuff...
6. Proper hydration is very important for helping escort toxins out of your body.
Try to drink water as often as possible throughout each day (Your body weight in pounds divided by 2 is about how many ounces you need daily.).
Warm lemon water either first thing in the morning or at bedtime is great for liver detoxification, getting extra vitamin C and other antibacterial benefits if the peel is in the water. Be sure your water isn't boiling or you'll destroy the vitamin C. I like to squeeze half a lemon in my water and leave it in the water along with the peel. If you take it in the morning it will help to kick-start your digestion. Just be sure you don't consume coffee within an hour.
Consider herbal teas for warm liquid that can also have healing medicinal properties.
I get my teas from Thrive Market. Get a discount now!
I like to use something like this kettle for warming my water. Try to avoid using a microwave or plastic, at all costs.
Soups and smoothies can be another good way to keep you hydrated with extra liquid as well as introducing more vegetables into your daily food intake for optimal immune support.
7. Vegetables! This time of year is great for cooked vegetables like tubers and root vegetables. Think carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, and all kinds of squash. These warm foods help to create balance when we’re cold and also help to keep us grounded. They’re full of the earth’s grounding energy and can support us when we feel overstimulated and need calming. And of course they’re chalk full of nutrients and antioxidants to keep you well both in the short-term and long-term.
Eat in season to support your health! Eating in season is a natural way for our bodies to stay balanced, as those foods provide the nutrients and properties we most need during that season. Broccoli is a great choice because of its high amount of vitamin C. Just don’t cook it too long or you’ll lose the vitamin. Try steaming it for just a few minutes until it turns bright green then remove it from the heat quickly. Steaming with a lid on helps to keep the nutrients in the food.
I have to introduce you to the Allium family of vegetables that include onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, and chives. These are among the most potent vegetables with medicinal properties and you want to be sure to get as many of them as possible this time of year! They also add so much flavor to your recipes! Onions have a good amount of vitamin C and an antioxidant called quercetin, both of which are great for your immune system and allergies, in particular! Did you know that garlic is an antibiotic? When cooking with garlic, just be sure to cut it 10 minutes before adding to the heat so these properties have time to come out. Garlic is such an effective antibiotic that it was used in World War I to treat soldiers with infections and to prevent infections in wounds. It has the following properties: antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antimicrobial. It’s truly a medicine! This is what Hippocrates meant when he said “Let thy food be thy medicine.”
8. Rest. If you do get sick, consider letting the sickness run its course. Remember the issues brought on by rushing to take antibiotics when they're not required! Be mindful about all that you’re taking on during this holiday season and protect yourself from debilitating sickness. Sometimes we see things like exercise, meditation, sleep, rest, and cooking nutritious meals for ourselves as a waste of time, but how is sickness not a waste of time when it puts you out for a few days? Besides, who wants to feel bad anyway, right?
9. Be sure to get enough sleep so you allow your body sufficient time to repair and rebuild at night. Studies show that a high majority of the population needs between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. When your sleep is reduced to less than that even for just three days, studies show inflammation increases.
10. Don’t neglect to nourish your mind, spirit, and soul so you don’t turn to harmful foods instead. Maintain balance by creating a schedule and saying no to the things that don’t really add value to your life.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but should give you some ideas to take action today to keep yourself well during this season. This this blog post for Part 2 (Essential Oils & Supplements for Immune Support)!
May you always be nourished!