Eat Your Way to a Powerful Immune System
The COVID-19 virus has impacted every one of us personally, locally, nationally, and internationally. The anxiety we feel is not just for what is happening now, but for what will happen next. Surely, this virus will rear its head again in some form, and surely there will be other viruses. We are fortunate to have brilliant and dedicated scientists all over the world working on vaccines and cures. But what can we do ourselves, as individuals, to make ourselves and our loved ones more likely to weather the next wave? I’d like to offer these proven methods for boosting your body’s immune system.
You can’t control your genetic inheritance; you may have inherited genes that increase your risk of getting certain diseases. You can’t completely control the environment that exposes you to disease. But you can definitely lower your risk, depending on the way you live. By changing the foods you eat regularly, you can absolutely change what your future health looks like. And that’s true at every single age.
Think – and Eat – Outside the Box
The “modern” Western diet has caught up with all of us. So many Americans, adults and children alike, eat vast quantities of low-fiber, highly processed foods – such as processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, and foods made with refined sugars. There is overwhelming evidence that these unhealthy foods are associated with more disease and earlier death.
On the other hand, people who eat a diet that’s high in whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, fruits, and nuts live longer – and live better – than people who do not. The bacteria that make up the intestinal “microbiome” affect so much more than just intestinal health. The healthy foods that create a healthy microbiome result in a stronger immune system, along with fewer
inflammation-associated conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, allergies, autoimmune illnesses, asthma, some cancers. Healthy microbiomes are even associated with less depression and cognitive decline.
Is It Too Expensive to Eat This Way?
High-quality, fresh, non-processed foods cost more than do processed foods out of a box. But consider other factors, too:
- You don’t have to eat wild salmon every night. Beans, eggs, soy products, and lentils are all protein-packed. Dinner doesn’t have to be a slab of meat with a few vegetables and a potato on the side. In fact, dinner shouldn’t look like that at all; rather, it should be a really large portion of colorful vegetables along with some protein and some complex, unrefined carbohydrate such as brown rice or quinoa. A small amount of meat or fish can go a long way when you’re eating a mostly plant-based diet.
- Restaurant meals, in addition to being less likely to be healthy, are expensive. Even “moderately” priced restaurants typically end up costing more than a high-quality home-cooked meal.
- Eating unhealthy foods on a regular basis means you’re very likely to end up with more medications and more doctor visits. That costs time and money—and not in the way you’d like to spend time and money.
Do consider buying store-bought vegetables and fruits that are already cut up if that’s what it takes for you to eat more produce. Even though it’s more expensive, it’s a lot better than omitting produce from your diet because you find all that chopping too time-consuming. These are the foods that will keep you healthy, happy, and full. Engage children in choosing and preparing healthy foods –they’ll be so much more likely to want to eat them.
Eat What You Want. But What Do You Really Want?
You already know that an apple is healthier than apple pie. What good is knowing what you should eat if you can’t bring yourself to usually eat that way? After all, we’ve experienced a pandemic, for goodness sake! Isn’t this a time for comfort food? Can anyone blame us for stress eating? And how often do you hear someone say, “I’m so stressed – what I could really use now is a stalk of celery”? I’m going to guess never.
It’s time for a paradigm shift. Most of us have been ingesting more than our fair share of “comfort foods” –chocolate, mac & cheese, ice cream, chips, and “quaran-tinis” in the last couple of months. If limiting those foods means deprivation, then your brain will insist on reverting to comfort. If, instead, you view a change to a healthy way of eating as a way of enhancing your life, your brain will follow along. It takes dedication to a new paradigm, and there will certainly be setbacks, and that’s okay. We’re all just doing our best. It gets easier – I promise.
Please don’t feel bad about yourself based on what you eat. Give up the guilt and the shame, both of which are useless and destructive. Instead, do think about what a gift you’re giving to yourself in terms of physical, mental, and emotional health when you reach for that apple.
Trust your gut, literally. That is, if you eat the right stuff.