I had a pretty nasty winter cold a few weeks ago. Fever, coughing (lots of coughing), sneezing—not fun! It’s that time of year where the common cold and the flu can be a real nuisance. The great news is that we can create powerful immune systems to fend off these illness or at least get over them quicker.
Our immune systems protect our the bodies against illness and disease. Our immune systems are complex and integrated systems of cells, tissues, and organs that have specialized roles in defending against foreign substances and pathogenic microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Poor overall nutrition can lead to inadequate intake of energy and macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrate) as well as deficiencies in certain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that are required for proper immune function. Such nutrient deficiencies can result in suppression of our immune systems and dysfunctional immune responses. Specifically, deficiencies in certain nutrients can impair phagocytic unction in innate immunity and adversely affect several aspects of adaptive immunity including cytokine production and antibody- and cell-mediated immunities. Eating a high-energy, low-micronutrient diet, when a person eats more than they need to eat and eats a diet low in vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients (from a diet biased toward processed foods) is also actually a form of malnutrition and impairs immune function. Energy (measured in calories) is ingested in excess of dietary requirements, while vitamins and minerals are ingested at levels below dietary requirements leaving a person without a full-strength immune system.
Conversely, a diet high in vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients and energy neutral (enough for our needs—not too much, not too little) fosters a rockstar immune system (not an actual rockstar immune system; you probably wouldn’t want my hero Axl Rose’s immune system in the Guns ‘n’ Roses hayday). But you get the idea—a rockstar immune system for a rockstar that that takes great care of themselves.
To eat a diet high in vitamins and minerals:
1. Eat lots of vegetables. Lots. Aim to eat some vegetables at every meal. Yes, you can have vegetables at breakfast. Omelets with asparagus, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, and any other vegetables you like are delicious and nutritious.
2. Eat berries. Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries—they are loaded with vitamins. They go great in smoothies too.
3. If you’re a meat-eater, eat wild-caught fish, pasture-raised poultry (and eggs), pasture-raised beef, and/or game meat. These foods provide high-levels of immune-system-boosting minerals.
4. If you’re a vegetarian, eat legumes. Beans like kidney beans, black beans, and garbanzo beans. Red lentils, brown lentils, and green lentils are all great options. These are a good, nutrient-dense protein source.
5. Eat a wide variety of foods. Each week when you do your food shopping, seek out new foods or foods you don’t have often. And go for a wide range in colors. The color of a food is, in part, a result of the nutrients that food is rich in. Salmon and yams are orange, for example, because they’re rich in carotenoids which are potent micronutrients. Go for a rainbow of colors in your shopping cart and back home in your refrigerator.
To eat an energy-neutral diet:
1. Drink at least half your bodyweight (in pounds) of water (in ounces) per day. And drink at least 10 ounces of water for each hour you workout. Drink more if you are thirsty for more. This ensures that you’re well-hydrated. This way you cannot confuse thirst for hunger. If you don’t drink enough water, you can get thirst and some people confuse thirst for hunger at times.
2. Eat breakfast. Skip breakfast and you’re bound to be excessively hungry by lunchtime, even at dinner time and in the evening. This can lead to overeating. And, no, a cup of coffee does not count as breakfast. You wouldn’t send your kid off to a day of school without a solid breakfast; don’t send yourself out into the workday without doing the same. This sets you up to perform well and it sets you up to eat appropriate amounts later in the day.
3. Eat three meals a day. Always eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Skipping meals messes you up for the same reasons that skimping on breakfast does.
4. Chew your food thoroughly. Take your time. Savor your food. When you eat fast, you don’t give your body a chance to tell you that it’s full.
5. Avoid drinking with meals at least some of the time. This helps to make sure you eat slowly. When you have water, or another beverage, to help “wash down” the food, you don’t have to fully chew your food and you can eat too fast and overeat.
6. Never say no to your hunger. Your hunger is there to tell you that you need nutrients. Eat when you are hungry and eat until you are not hungry. A good way to look at this is to eat until you are 90-percent full—no more, no less. Your totally satisfied, but not in any way stuffed. That’s the sweet spot.
Remember your mantra for today: NOURISHING MOVEMENT, NOURISHING FOOD, NOURISHING LIFE.