Immunity Foods in Action – In the Kitchen or Away from the Table
You know the twenty-five immunity boosters and thirteen busters, and you’ve got a month’s worth of menus and recipes, plus dozens of culinary and nutritional kitchen tips. To create lifelong immunity, for starters, research indicates, you will add an average of fourteen years to your life span if you do just four things:
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Don’t smoke.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
You’ll add even more days and more quality of life if you add the following twenty-nine strategies to those four steps.
At the Table, in the Kitchen
- Eat more (but not all) food raw. Having five to nine 1/2 cup servings of fruits and vegetables daily, most raw and from the SIF (Super Immunity Foods) roster, can boost your immunity, especially to cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
- Five signs that a food is a good immune booster? It’s richly colored, it’s fresh, it’s organically grown, it’s in season, and it’s locally produced. (Three out of five is good, too.) What qualifies? Think of fresh unsprayed strawberries in June, just-picked corn in July, locally grown tomatoes in August, and just-dug potatoes from somewhere in-state. Some next-best choices? Organic but frozen spinach, local but nonorganic squash, and fresh and sustainably grown but not local peas and carrots.
- Support local farmers. Go to the local green market on the weekend, or join a community-supported agriculture (CSA) and get regular deliveries of in-season produce from the farmer around the block or in the next county. To find out who’s where, go to localharvest.org/ csa. During the week, do your own small-scale farming, and grow your favorite herbs or miniature vegetables on your windowsill or back patio. If you’ve got a back forty, put an inexpensive inflatable greenhouse in it.
- Eat organically and locally when you can. Organic fruits and vegetables from a farm near you can provide up to 59 percent higher levels of antioxidants than their conventionally grown counterparts, says the Organic Consumers Association. If you can’t eat organic all the time, make sure you eat these twelve foods from the organic aisle: apples, apricots, bell peppers, cantaloupe, celery, cherries, cucumbers, green beans, peaches, spinach, strawberries, and grapes. Grapes from the United States are OK, but pass up the imported grapes.
- Protect your children’s plates. In one study by the Environmental Working Group, children who ate conventional produce and juice had six to nine times more pesticide residue in their bodies than children who ate organically. Pesticides can damage the nervous and hormonal systems as well as the thyroid gland. Cook less, and steam, boil, or stir-fry when you do. Acrylamide, a carcinogen, is formed when frying, baking, or grilling at high temperatures. When you do heat things up, small changes matter. Adding rosemary to your baked goods, for example, can reduce the cancer risk by up to 60 percent. And adding blueberries to meat (if you eat it) does the same.
- Juice daily. It’s a great way to get and even exceed your five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily. According to studies at the Federal Research Centre for Nutrition and Food in Germany, drinking 12 ounces of either carrot or tomato juice (both rich in carotenoids) caused a jump in natural killer (NK) immune cell activity in the blood by 25 percent.
- Let color be your guide for super immunity. Half the vegetables you eat should be red or orange; the other half should be dark green, blue, and black. But save space for those white potatoes and mushrooms, too.
- Have small meals taken often. The larger the meal, the more stress you generate for the organs of digestion and detoxification. Having six small nutritionally dense meals daily is ideal.
- Supplement smart. Compensate for nutrients depleted by any prescription medications you are on as well as those lost due to illness or medical conditions. A good diet alone doesn’t cover all the bases anymore.
- Eat yogurt or kefir daily. As much as 60 percent of your immune cells are located in your gut. If you miss, take a quality probiotic supplement.
- Consider the senses. Add crunchy, hot or cold, and colorful to every meal to satisfy the senses, boost nutrition, and reduce the risk of overeating. For example, add a tablespoon of crunchy cereal to a bowl of hot oatmeal, arrange colorful steamed vegetables alongside a cold sandwich, and add crisp nuts to a smooth pasta sauce.
- Calculate your sugar intake. Sugar lowers your immunity. There are better, safer substitutes to keep your coffee sweet and your sugar bowl filled. Try the zero-calorie herbal sugar, stevia, in powder or liquid form, or Sun Crystals, a combination of raw sugar and erythritol formulated from non-GMO fruits and vegetables at 4 calories a packet. For baking, use raw honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, or brown rice syrup—all in moderation.
- Monitor your caffeine intake. This stimulant found in coffee, regular tea, chocolate, some soft drinks, and over-the-counter drugs (e.g., some antihistamine formulas) not only negatively impacts your blood pressure, bladder, and kidneys as well as blood sugar levels but also can deplete calcium and cause dehydration if you overdo it, especially in the already “underwatered” among us. Too much may also up- or down-regulate your appetite.
- Keep your sweet tooth happy and healthy. Keep bits of candied ginger, dark chocolate, and dried berries in the candy jar.
- Keep a healthy pH balance. A key measure of your overall health is your acid-alkaline balance, expressed as a number on the pH scale: 1 is most acid and 14 is most alkaline. You can check your numbers (excellent is between 6.6 and 6.8) with a litmus paper test kit available from medical supply companies or some health pharmacies.
- Toss a leafy green salad, and toss it off daily at lunch, dinner, breakfast, or even in between meals. Add garlic or onions every time.
- Drink tea. Aim for two cups or more; hot or iced; black, green, or oolong. Having a third? Make it herbal.
- Once-a-day nuts. Have a handful of nuts (unroasted, unsalted) between meals every day.
- Put plastic aside. Polyvinyl chloride used in cling wraps and flexible water bottles is a source of phthalates linked to reproductive damage, while polycarbonate used in water jugs, baby bottles, and as a lining in aluminum cans can leach bisphenol A, an estrogenic compound linked to breast cancer and an increased risk of diabetes. Polypropylene used in plastic storage containers can also leach dangerous toxins into foods when heated. All plastics pose a danger to marine life and the environment at large. Switch to Pyrex or stoneware, and go back to old-fashioned wax paper.
- Buy only what you can eat and waste not. The average American family discards 122 pounds of food each month. That rotting food that ends up in landfills produces methane, a major contributor to greenhouse gases. Worse, recovering just 5 percent of the food that is wasted could feed 4 million people a day. Make it 25 percent, and 20 million people who are starving wouldn’t.
Away from the Table
- Frequent driver? Get an air cleaner for your backseat. Dirty air contributes to everything from lung disease to low birth weight. Driving or jogging along heavily trafficked highways is hazardous. Breathing in particulates, nitrogen oxides, benzenes, and other air pollutants can increase your risk of dying from heart failure and respiratory disease. Pollution contributes to the hardening of the arteries, abnormal heart rhythms, even the thickening of the blood, according to a report commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2004.
- Don’t pump your own gas. If you do, find a pump with a fume-diffusing nozzle and look away. The benzene in gasoline is an immunity-depleting toxin, also found in some commercial household cleaning products. Switch to all-green cleaning products.
- Snooze on schedule. Sleep deprivation can increase your C-reactive protein (CRP) levels fivefold, indicate some studies. Worse, sleeplessness becomes a pattern remedied with pharmaceuticals that, in the long run, compound the problem by generating more toxins and creating dependency.
- Think pharmokinetically. All prescription drugs deplete essential nutrients, commonly B vitamins, folate, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium. All statin drugs deplete coenzyme Q10, which is critical for normal heart function and energy. Even ordinary aspirin depletes vitamin C, folate, potassium, iron, and sodium. Don’t take drugs that you don’t need. More than 100,000 people die annually of side effects from prescription drugs (twenty times the number of deaths from illegal drugs).
- Take breaths. Learn to breathe deeply. Breathing in the typical shallow-chested way keeps your lungs underexercised, deprives you of the rewards of fully oxygenating your brain and all the body’s tissues, and keeps stress locked into your joints and organs. Watch a video or take a workshop on Yogic breathing (pranayama). Aerobic activities also force you to use your respiratory system optimally.
- Zone out and bond. Get a grip on your emotions. Negative feelings set off alarms in all of the immune centers (especially those where you are most vulnerable). Develop give-and-take relationships you can fall back on, even if it’s just your bridge partner and your dutiful dachshund.
- What’s on your lawn? Whatever it is, it’s also on your shoes, on your rugs, and in your lungs—and it could be toxic to your immune system. Explore natural alternatives to pest and weed control.
- Monitor your TV time. Viewing more than two hours a day elevates your risk of obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. Unless you’re meditating, sit less.
- Drink responsibly, if at all. Switch to alcohol-free wines and beers. Alcohol can interfere with the absorption of the very nutrients you’re taking to protect yourself from the diseases that result when your immunity is low. You want to create virtuous, not vicious, circles with your choices.