Do you suffer from chronic colds? Do you have a tendency to get tummy bugs? Perhaps you work in a school, medical office or retail store where you are bombarded with germs on a regular basis. How do you keep from getting run down and sick? It’s easier than you might think to strengthen your immune system, and it involves eating delicious foods and taking things a little easier.
It is true, we are what we eat, or ultimately what we digest, so what we put into our body and how well we digest it, is very important when it comes to staying healthy or healing from an illness. In Integrative Nutrition, food is considered to be medicine, and combined with a balanced lifestyle it is powerful! We all know that including lots of fruits and vegetables is important, but there are a few that are especially important in supporting our body’s ability to fight illnesses. Number one on the list are green leafy vegetables! Spinach, kale, chard, collards, dark leafy lettuce, broccoli, parsley and cilantro are all are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that keep our immune systems strong. They are anti-inflammatory and support the respiratory and circulatory systems. Leafy green veggies are so important, they should be eaten every day, at every meal if possible. Don’t limit yourself to salad! (But when using kale in salad, don’t forget to massage it first with olive oil or lemon juice!) Throw big handfuls of greens into soup and scrambled eggs. Wilt them with some garlic, beans and a little balsamic vinegar. Make a smoothie with some fruit of your choice, cucumber, parsley or cilantro and baby spinach or kale. There are lots of ways to include greens, and you will actually feel different when you start consuming them in medicinal amounts.
Other good things to include are garlic, ginger, turmeric, citrus fruits, red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, almonds (all nuts and seeds), green tea, plain yogurt, bone broth, and shell fish (which are high in zinc). Think of these things as your daily multi-vitamin, because that’s exactly what they are! Eating fermented foods that are full of helpful probiotics such as fermented vegetables (there are many varieties in natural food stores and farmer’s markets) yogurt, kefir, kombucha (delicious fermented tea) and even fermented hot sauce, will help keep a balance of healthy bacteria in the gut and maintain a good line of defense against unwanted bad guys.
Crowding out, is the term we use in Integrative Nutrition to introduce a variety of good foods while naturally reducing things like prepackaged, processed, artificial and fast foods. The amazing thing is, the more you crowd out, the less you will want unhealthy things! After a week or two, you will find yourself craving things that your body is using to build it’s immunities, restore and heal itself. Try to avoid or reduce sugar, caffeine, alcohol and over the counter medications. Some individuals find that avoiding dairy products helps reduce congestion.
To make things easier, choose a day of the week like Sunday to prep some food ahead. Make a big soup that will feed you for several days. Roast up a big tray of vegetables and have them ready to go! Make some salads in mason jars for a grab and go lunch. Roast a chicken that will add to several meals and then make a rich broth. All of these things will save you time and money as well as boost your immune system.
In addition to these super foods, it’s very important to practice extreme self-care. After hand washing, number one is: water! Most people are dehydrated. It is very important to keep hydrated and also to flush out toxins. Number two: sleep!Our bodies require sleep to restore, cleanse and function properly. Getting a good 8 hours is mandatory for a strong immune system. Keep in mind, these long, dark winter months are a natural time to slow down and rest more. That being said, exercise is an important aspect of self care. If you don’t feel like hitting the gym, try a yoga class. Get yourself some snowshoes and go for a walk in the woods (fresh air and sunshine is important too!) Dance to your favorite music!
Follow your physical activity with a warm bath or hot towel rub. Get a massage. Meditate and practice deep breathing. Spend time with the people and pets you love. Celebrate slowing down and laughing more! Give yourself permission to say no. And please, when in need, stay home when you are sick! You and your co-workers will both benefit.
Think about crowding out with good food and therapeutic activities that will restore and maintain good health, not only in Winter, but the whole year long!
Julie Mitchell can be reached for questions, comments and suggestions at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-315-0431