Having a healthy immune system that’s ready to fight unwelcome organisms and pollutants is, of course, central to being healthy. In the last few decades, growing numbers of people are interested in educating themselves on ways that disease can be prevented, as opposed to just cured.
It is so much easier to do right by one’s body, and reap the many benefits of good health, than to try to remedy serious illnesses, which can be costly, devastating in so many ways, or even impossible to do.
And nothing is more important to keeping our immune systems healthy and strong than the foods that enter our digestive tracts. All things being equal, we can eat our way to sustained good health … or we can eat our way to disease.
In that spirit, we highlight some extra-special foods for good health, which help strengthen the digestive tract — where 80 percent of our immune power is located!
1. Yogurt and dairy foods:
Eat yogurt for its beneficial bacteria cultures, which help to digest foods and also feed on bad bacteria. But try to stay away from overly syrupy or overly sweet brands, as that just adds empty calories. To really cut down on sugar (and fat), try plain non-fat yogurt, and fold in your own fruits, such as blueberries or minced strawberries.
Eat yogurt and all other dairy foods for their calcium: an important mineral for immune function, calcium signals germ-fighting cells to multiply and attack invading organisms. Tip: buy organic dairy; it’s healthier and often tastes better!
2. Beef and lamb:
These two foods are high in zinc, another mineral that, like calcium, helps to build immune cells and regenerate them, so that they can destroy pathogens. People with zinc deficiencies are more prone to catching infections.
3. Seeds and nuts:
Speaking of zinc, seeds and nuts are another very healthy way to get zinc, as well as antioxidants and heart-healthy fats. So, grab a handful; they’re rich in protein and quell hunger pangs in a snap. Or chop and dice and toss them on salads, meat pies and home-baked pastries.
4. Garlic and onions:
These two vegetables have legendary immune-strengthening powers, with their antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties. Use them raw or cooked (but raw is even better!) — find excuses to use them in your cooking. They make meats, vegetables, soups and starchy dishes smell and taste delicious; but that’s only the half of it! They also contain a lot of sulfuric compounds which kill off pathogens and can cure infections (garlic was used in both world wars to prevent gangrene in soldiers). Studies have found that regular consumption of garlic and onions helps to ward off everything from the common cold, to heart disease, to stomach and colorectal cancers.
Who knew something so delicious could be so good for you! This ancient remedy has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties. Use powder or grated fresh ginger in your cooking and pastries. You can also mix powdered ginger in hot water, or steep sliced raw ginger in hot water, and add lemon juice and honey, for a potent, natural disease fighter.
6. Mushrooms for a cold?
Mushrooms are gaining popularity among modern-day health enthusiasts, because of their immunity-strengthening properties. Modern science has revealed that mushrooms increase production and activity of white blood cells; different varieties have antibacterial, antiviral and even anti-fungal properties (interesting, since mushrooms themselves are a fungus!). So, you can add mushrooms to your arsenal of natural, delicious ways to fight colds and disease! Studies have found that some varieties even destroy cancerous cells.
7. Eat plenty of fruits!
Fruits have a long list of nutrients and antioxidants that help keep disease-causing ‘free radicals’ from forming in our cells. One of the most powerful disease-fighting antioxidants is vitamin C, which a lot of fruits have in abundance. Fruits also possess thousands of phytochemicals or phytonutrients, which help regulate the body and keep immunity function strong.
Oranges appear to have specific compounds that can bring immediate relief from achy, flu-like symptoms. The next time the common cold or flu is wreaking havoc, hold off on buying cold medicine and pour yourself a small glass of orange juice, instead! Repeat every few hours as needed. You can heat it up for quicker absorption and to soothe a sore throat. If your cold is really severe, try squeezing the juice of two lemons into a glass of warm-to-hot water. Add a pinch of salt (to take away the tartness) or some honey, and enjoy feeling better soon! (You may need to do this two days in a row, but once you start feeling better, you’ll know your cold is history!)
Another superstar in the fruit category are cranberries. You shouldn’t need to take antibiotics to cure a urinary tract infection. If you’ve had these before and you know the symptoms, drink four 16-oz glasses of cranberry juice a day for 3 days straight, and the infection should be all gone. (Note: even though you’ll feel immediate relief from urinary tract pain as soon as you start drinking the juice, and your symptoms may go away completely, it is important to continue drinking the juice for three whole days, or bacteria will multiply again and infection will return.)
8. Green or black tea:
Green and black teas (and decaf, too) have disease-fighting antioxidants, as well as a natural compound, L-theanine, found in one study to substantially speed up immune-cell attack of invading organisms. (Coffee does not have that effect.) Many people also find that L-theanine helps to relieve mental stress.
9. Eat your oatmeal and barley cereals!
In addition to antioxidants, these two cereals have antimicrobial properties; they’re known to strengthen immunity and speed healing of wounds. Sprinkle chopped nuts or fruits over them, for even more disease-fighting power!
10. Chicken soup:
It wasn’t an old wives’ tale, after all. Chicken soup has a natural amino acid called cysteine, which helps to thin out mucus in lungs and airways, something that will come in handy during cold or allergy season. In addition, if it’s the homemade kind, the broth will have an assortment of important nutrients not only from the meat, vegetables and rice or noodles, but from the bones themselves, which make a pot of chicken soup a great choice for fighting disease.
A few final pointers:
Be sure to do some type of aerobic activity that speeds up your breathing for at least 30 minutes, several times a week; get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep a night, and avoid cigarette-smoking, as well as artificial chemicals of all kinds as best you can. In addition to the foods you eat, these other healthy habits are very important for slowing the aging process and for maintaining good health.
By Lisa Pecos