Here’s how to build a strong immune system, stay healthy and fight off illness.
Some parts of the year it feels hard to avoid catching a cold, especially when everyone around you at home, work or on the train is coughing and sneezing away. But it turns out it is not what viruses are out there that matters, it is your ability to fight them off.
Your immune system is rather amazing. You have loads of good bacteria in your gut that will help to fight off any nasties but you need to eat the right foods to keep them healthy.
It begins in the mouth
Our body’s battle for immunity begins in the mouth. Your saliva contains antimicrobials like lysozyme, alpha-amylase and lactoferrin. If they get past those then they have to deal with the stomach’s hydrochloric acid. Next, they’ll have to battle proteins and chemical compounds in our digestive system that break down bad bacteria.
Finally, our good bacterial population goes to work. They prevent bad bacteria from entering our bloodstream or taking root in our small intestine and colon. Those good bacteria are called probiotics.
Prebiotics and probiotics
You should eat prebiotic-rich foods each day. Prebiotcs are those foods that allow your good bacteria to flourish.
Examples of prebiotics include:
- Vegetables: asparagus, garlic, leeks and onions
- Carbs: barley, beans, oats, quinoa, rye, wheat, potatoes and yams
- Fruits: apples, bananas, berries, citrus fruits, kiwifruit
- Fats: flaxseed and chia seeds
Probiotics (the bacteria themselves) help us stay healthy and recover faster once we get sick.
Some of the best sources of probiotics are:
- Dairy: yogurt, cheese and kefir with live and active cultures
- Fermented vegetables: pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi
- Fermented soy: miso, tempeh
- Miscellaneous: soy sauce, wine, kombucha
You could always take a probiotic supplement too. Try to get a high count like 10 or 20 billion per capsule.
If you are sick, get well with these foods
These are some classic natural remedies for getting well. As Hippocrates said, “Food should by thy medicine.”
- Garlic: A great natural antibiotic. Take when you have a cold or flu.
- Chicken soup: You have to eat real chicken soup — the kind you make from simmering a chicken carcass — not from a can. Add onions garlic celery and carrot too.
- Green Tea: boosts the production of B cell antibodies, helping us rid ourselves of invading pathogens.
- Honey: Has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties and helps suppress coughs. A few teaspoons in a cup of green tea are all you need.
- Elderberries: have antiviral properties and are loaded with phytonutrients. Take to reduce the duration of a cold.
Listen to your body. Our own appetite cues probably give us the clearest picture of what we should eat (or avoid eating) when we’re sick. For example, very few of us want to eat when suffering from influenza or gastroenteritis. That’s because flu-like bugs and bacterial infections create inflammation that leads to appetite suppression. So, if your body’s telling you not to eat, you should probably listen.
What are you eating most of the time?
What you eat every day is what matters, not just when you are sick. Try to get a good balance of fat and protein. Eat whole foods and lots of veggies and fruit. Try to eat the rainbow to get a mix of different foods like carrots, beetroot, spinach and tomatoes. Stay off the sugar and the caffeine and keep dairy to a minimum (dairy causes inflammation). If in doubt get a blood test and see what you are missing. You might want to take a multivitamin with Iron just to be sure.