There’s a lot of sickness going around lately and I wanted to spend an entry talking about what we can do to help prevent catching things as well as what to do when we have caught something, despite our noble efforts.
Firstly we all know the basics by now of a good diet. Eating a lot of fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables and little or no sugar and grains is key to being your healthiest all the time. But if there’s a flu going around at work or you notice your friends are dropping like flies, then up the antioxidant power of your foods by eating raw as much as possible. Raw vegetables will get more vitamins to your cells as well as more edible pre-biotics to your good gut microbes. But, if you do want something hot, then make a tomato soup! Lycopene is an antioxidant in those plump red gems which is actually released more when tomatoes are cooked, versus raw munchin’. Carrots, spinach, cabbage, peppers and mushrooms all work well when cooked, too. If you tire of straight up tomato, try a soup with these boiled vegetables and you could ward off sickness before it comes.
Exercise can also work miracles in your immunity’s defense. During moderate exercise, some happy changes occur in the immune system. As you run or sweat, immune cells pick up the pace, too, and circulate through the body faster and more efficiently. In this way they are better able to kill bacteria and viruses. The best part is that these effects continue even after your post-workout shower — if you exercise for 30 minutes on most days then these effects will just be a daily part of your immune cycle even on the days you rest. Therefore being generally active can help ward off those ill bugs as well.
But we’re not super human, as I learned the first time I got sick after starting to eat well. We do get sick sometimes, despite doing it all right! And it’s true that it’s really hard to eat well when you’re ill! It’s hard to be motivated into cooking or even getting off the couch. I wanted to give some positive options for these feverish or achy or sniffly types of days.
Often I crave lots of liquids when I am sick — this is because staying hydrated is your body’s best defense. Try to avoid drinking straight up juice (there’s more sugar, even in 100% fruit juices, then anti-oxidants in those) and instead try the following thirst quenchers:
Popsicles can help you stay hydrated even though they feel more like a snack than a beverage. Unfortunately finding a good-for-you pop at the grocery store isn’t very likely. Even boxes with vibrant photos of fruit and claims of “all-natural ingredients” tend to also include lots of sugar or corn syrup. But don’t fret — you can make your own popsicles at home! We make ours with 100% juice, the pulpier the better. Eating a few popsicles is better than drinking straight up juice because you use a lot less juice to make a popsicle and you consume it a lot slower than downing a glass of OJ. Also, popsicles can be versatile — don’t forget the benefits of carrot or other veggie juices in your pops. You could even blend up some kale or spinach with a favorite juice and freeze this. Popsicles don’t have to be a single flavor or only made with fruit – get creative.
For a refreshing snack when feeling sickly reach for melon. Fresh cut melon of any variety is loaded with water, fiber, and is juicy and satisfying. I always pick up a cantaloupe as soon as I am feeling under the weather.
Blueberries are also easy to eat when nothing else sounds goods. They are packed with antioxidants. Want a cool snack to ease a feverish head? Put some in the freezer and suck on them like hard candy.
Tea is a great idea. You can make it hot or iced. Adding lemon or honey can also be soothing. I often put an entire cinnamon stick in mine, as well. However you take yours, black, white, and green teas are loaded with anti-oxidants. Herbal teas can also be very soothing and don’t have caffeine, which means extra hydration. I suggest ginger tea for a stomach bug or a general feeling of BLAH. Peppermint can make you feel less sluggish. Lavender or chamomile tea can help you sleep. And licorice is great for a sore throat or cough.
Often times people chug Gatorade when they are not feeling well because it has electrolytes and helps if you’ve lost fluids or need extra help with hydration. However, Gatorade is sugar water and is always bright and abnormally colored. Gross. For more electrolytes without feeling like you’re drinking nuclear material, reach for coconut water. It’s high in potassium and will replace any fluids you’ve lost quickly. Just make sure you get the straight up kind, not one with added sugars. If you need a splash of flavor in there, mix coconut water with a little juice or put it in a blender with some frozen fruit and make a smoothie!
Miso soup or broth is another great tactic for when you need to eat but aren’t ready for a meal. Miso is a fermented soy product made with the fungus Aspergillus oryzae. Sounds weird, I know, but it’s actually really good PLUS it delivers a punch of probiotics and the important vitamin B 12. This salty delicious broth is easily made just by first boiling water, then adding a spoonful of the miso (like a paste) and stirring it in. You can find miso at your local grocery or Asian market. I always make mine by the mugful and add a dash of cayenne pepper. The cayenne is also an anti-oxidant and feels great, I think, on a sore throat. If you are feeling hungrier add some snap peas, raw mushroom, and/or bean thread noodles (woon sen).
One more piece of advice for the weary – don’t forget healthy fats! Your body needs fat to help fight influenza and often when we are sick we don’t crave fatty foods. If all you want to eat is soup, then try adding a small pad of butter to your bowl. If you’re craving a smoothie, use full fat yogurt. If all you want is crackers, then I recommend the gluten free kind, with some avocado spread on them.
You get the idea — don’t let your sick foods be things like jello and apple sauce. Hopefully with some whole foods and a little tender care you’ll soon be on your way to health.