Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Part 1: Preparation is Everything for the Body
Welcome to the beginning of a multi-part blog series discussing immune health. This idea has come to the forefront of our minds because of the recent pandemic. It has left many people contacting me and asking: “what should we be doing?” People have even brought me some things they’ve “heard” through the grapevine for protective measures that won’t actually do much. If anything, in terms of prevention. They may not hurt, but they probably won’t help either. If you’re not a professional in the health space, I do not expect you to know what is or isn’t real information.
It’s no doubt that we are living through some new experiences. As I write, here in Los Angeles, we have a “Safer at Home” mandate which is just less threatening “Shelter in Place” language. Pretty much everything outside of grocery stores, pharmacies, mail personnel (thank God…I love me some Amazon Prime) and restaurants for take-out or delivery only are allowed. Groups no larger than 10 are allowed to be together and are supposed to maintain 6 feet of personal space…leaving plenty of room for Jesus.
With all the scary thoughts of illness and possible death of susceptible populations I have received an endless string of texts and calls about what we should be doing to support our immunity. I will be providing some of those answers here. I’ll be honest in telling you that this conversation isn’t even worth having if we aren’t going to talk about before disaster hits. Hence, Part 1.
Setting Your Immune System Up for Success
If there is one thing that I can impress upon readers today it is the importance of maintaining your immune system daily before these potentialities arise. Whether or not it is a virus we are accustomed to, such as cold or flu, or something more novel like COVID-19, having a prepared immune system already is the most effective thing we can do.
Older populations are more at risk for 2 very big reasons. Yes, more changes occur in our bodies as we age, but these 2 things are going to impact just how much those changes take its toll (I am not talking about congenital conditions like cystic fibrosis or things like Type I Diabetes, etc.).
1) The use of certain medications, especially multiple medications, can impact immune health due to its negative impact on nutrient status.
2) Lifetime consumption of the wrong foods or excess of certain foods will cause nutrient deficiencies, lower immunity, and chronic health conditions putting individuals in a more “at risk” category. Type II Diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatty liver to name a few.
Having a lifelong, healthy whole foods diet is important to maximizing our body’s immune potential.
This includes a lifestyle rich in vegetables that especially include:
Green Veggies: cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and other green things with leaves
Orange Veggies: squash, pumpkin, carrots and sweet potatoes contain an immune-boosting antioxidant beta-carotene along with other nutrients.
Yellow Veggies: they contain many nutrients such as potassium, manganese and other vitamins and minerals. Yum…Bell Peppers and Golden Beets…oh my!
Red Veggies: Tomatoes, Bell Peppers, etc. contain antioxidants and the orange and yellow varieties in addition to read contain vitamin C. Surprise…green ones do too!
Purple Veggies: Beets, Cabbage, Eggplant contain antioxidants as well and many phytonutrients having to do with the immune system.
What about fruits?!
Of course, fruits contain many nutrients, but fruits also contain fructose processed in the liver. Consumption of too many high fructose fruits can actually cause fatty liver. Sounds nuts, right? Nutritionists have seen this with high consumption of certain fruits such as mangoes. I have personally seen clients with otherwise very healthy diets but consuming too many fruits and were having negative health effects.
Fruits are HEALTHY, we should be eating them, but don’t overdo it on the fruits at the expense of the veggies. You should have 2-3 times as many veggies as fruits per day. This is a common nutritional misstep. I recommend 1-2 servings of fruits per day: berries are great as one of those options with a variety of other fruits during different seasons. In fact, not having fruit some days and consuming more vegetables is not going to hurt you.
Low consumption of processed, refined carbohydrates, sugar or fried foods.
Notice I say LOW and not NO. Let’s be reasonable, right?
Why is this? All of these things can cause an increased inflammatory response. Our inflammatory response is natural and is made to protect us, but you want that inflammatory response to be used for fighting illness or injury not because of the food we eat. Additionally, fried food cause what we call lipid peroxidation, which is fancy for fats causing dangerous oxidative stress.
Consuming these things will greatly decrease the strength of your body’s immune system!!! I CANNOT emphasize this enough. Sugar includes refined sugar added into food or beverages such as lemonade, sweetened juices (this includes juices/smoothies with really high fruit content), sweet tea, soda, etc. Although there are some benefits to honey and maple syrup, too much consumption of those isn’t great either as they still behave like sugar metabolically.
In my house my husband and I probably consume 5g of sugar or less per day and very few refined or fried foods. It didn’t used to be that way when we were first married, it has been a process. We don’t even miss not eating it all the time because we feel better when we don’t. However, we still have the occasional drink, greasy food, etc. because we are still normal people. Give an El Coyote Taco anytime!
Now we rarely get sick and if we do, it’s generally a very short illness. I can barely call the colds I get a real cold. I might have a minor sore throat and sniffles for 2-3 days and light sniffling a few days more. I also take additional immune-boosting foods and supplements when this happens (more on that in Part 2), but it’s the foundation that keeps it from going off the rails. The supplements help with symptoms or shorten the duration of the illness.
You might be thinking how deprived we must be with only 5g of sugar. Nope, we don’t feel that way. It’s a process, but we don’t even notice anymore, and we rarely crave sugar. Our 9-year-old does consume more sugar than we do, but not by much. It’s always someone’s birthday when you’re in school. She is rarely sick and when she is it’s very short and typically doesn’t turn into anything too dramatic. Just this week she caught a cold and it was literally gone by day 3. No joke.
Those are just some things to think about when it comes to laying a foundation for a strong immune system for the average person. Plant foods are essential for our health. If you find yourself eating cereal and milk for breakfast, turkey sandwich and chips for lunch, and hamburger and French fries or Pasta for dinner…where are your veggies? Maybe you had a side of carrots or some lettuce and tomato on your sandwich. I’m telling you right now, that’s not nearly enough veg.
Write a journal for 3 days of what you eat and see:
1) How many grams of added sugar are you consuming?
2) How many servings of HEALTHY plant foods are you consuming?
Protein and healthy fats matter too, but more on that in Part 2 when we discuss intake of these nutrients as well as what this means if you are a vegan or vegetarian.
If you’re not sure what’s right for your body, book a FREE 15-minute consult.