6 Ways to Boost your Immunity Naturally this Flu Season

Cold and flu season is upon us once again! Health experts, doctors, and even our grocery stores are urging us to get our annual flu shot. I have mixed emotions about the flu shot – it’s not that I think there is something inherently wrong with it. And there’s definitely a certain population that should get it, among them senior citizens, those in the health care industry, and those with compromised immune systems.

It does seem to me, though, that our bodies are properly equipped with the tools and armor to fight these bugs, if we are healthy and have functioning immune systems. So I’m a bit reticent every year about getting one. I want my strong military defense team, led by those brave little soldiers, my white blood cells, to mount a fight instead. I’ve only actually gotten the shot once, back in the late 90’s.

I once interviewed an organic gardener about natural gardening; I asked her how to protect your garden from weeds and pesky critters. She told me that if your dirt and host environment is healthy and strong, weeds won’t be able to grow. Instead of taking care of the problem, she advocated instead preventative care by strengthening and optimizing the dirt.

I guess that’s how I feel about the cold and flu season – while we may get sick, hopefully, if we have a strong and healthy body, we can fight it off. And then develop our own natural immunities. But that’s a decision for each person to make for themselves and their family. Certainly, with my asthma, I may be more inclined to get a shot as I get older.

We can all benefit, though, from boosting our immunities naturally and creating our own strong defenses, even if we get a flu shot. Here’s six great ways:

  1. Exercise regularly. Peope who exercise regularly are less likely to get a cold. Exercise helps build your immune system as well as your gorgeous muscles!
  2. Eat lots of vegetables and fruit to promote a healthy and strong body. They are loaded with antioxidants to help fight those bad germs (and cancer, as well!). Vegetables rich in beta-carotene help to promote healthy skin and mucous lining, which is our first line of defense. Carrots, apricots, spinach, and broccoli are all rich in beta-carotene. Vitamin B-6 has also been shown to boost immunities, according to several studies. Avocados, bell peppers, and leafy greens are all rich in Vitamin B-6.
  3. Wash your hands. All the time. Germs and bacteria lurk everywhere. In a recent study, gas pump handles were found to have the highest concentration of filth and germs. ATM buttons, crosswalk buttons, mailboxes – all top breeding grounds. Think of other items that are touched often – Starbucks door handles, your phone at work, light switches, computer keyboards, and more. Sanitize these items in your home and office, and keep a bottle of hand sanitizer with you. It’s one of the most effective defenses.
  4. Chicken soup. Your grandma’s chicken soup did help to alleviate your cold symptoms – it promotes healthy mucous development and is an anti-inflammatory.
  5. Visit a steam room regularly. It helps to keep your nasal and respiratory passages moist – dry nasal passages make you more susceptible to colds. The steam, especially if tinged with eucalyptus, can keep those passages moist and functioning.
  6. Natural supplements to fight colds. While the scientific evidence is inconclusive, many swear by their zinc and echinacea. At the first sign of a cold or flu, I take NOW Elderberry and Zinc lozenges, available at Fruitful Yield. This immune system supporter contains elderberry extract, zinc, vitamin C, echinacea, propolis, and slippery elm. Elderberry has been suggested to reduce flu symptoms in several studies. I have taken these faithfully for over ten years; at the first sign of a cold, I start taking them on a strict regimen. My cold generally goes away or never starts; perhaps it’s all psychosomatic, but who cares if it works, right?

A Former Foodie and the Dilemma of Safe Foods

Yesterday my husband and I stopped at Trader Joe’s to pick up a couple of groceries on our way home from breakfast. Since I generally do most of the grocery shopping on my own, he most definitely had a few things on his list that he wanted.

“Let’s do a roast chicken for dinner tonight,” he said.

“How about salmon tonight? I have a taste for it and we have some at home already,” I remarked.

“We haven’t had chicken in a couple of weeks – we have salmon twice a week,” he cajoled. So we picked up an organic chicken for the evening. I wanted to get some bison to substitute for beef in a beef bourgignon I was making for Halloween night. But TJ’s didn’t have any because there’s apparently a bison shortage now in the US. They did have organic, free range, antibiotic free beef though. Success!

After browsing through the variety of vegetables, we decided to use up the many vegetables in our refrigerator that needed attention. We eat a lot of vegetables these days.

“How about some bread – you haven’t had bread in the house for several weeks.”

Ahh – I wondered how long it would be before he mentioned something. I’ve been trying to reduce our gluten consumption and bread was the next offender on my list. While we eat lunch at home often, I generally have soups, salads, and leftovers around, so I haven’t been buying any lunch meat for the household. I got rid of the bread at dinner several years ago except for the occasional naan, so the last vestige was the lunchtime bread. I figured they wouldn’t miss it much – I usually end up throwing out moldy bread anyway, right?

“You know, I’m trying to get us gluten-free as much as possible, hon,” I said. “Why not get some Ezekiel bread if you really want it?”

“Oh, that stuff tastes like twigs. I’m just going to pick up a loaf of whole wheat – that should be healthy, right?”

“No, unfortunately whole wheat is just as big as an offender as white these days. Same thing with oatmeal, you know,” I lectured.

“So what am I supposed to eat for breakfast?” my poor husband moaned.

“Well, I bought you some Greek yogurt and strawberries for a parfait.”

“You know I can’t stomach yogurt – I’m so lactose intolerant my stomach will be rumbling for days,” he complained.

“Yeah, well, I’m doing this intermittent fasting thing, where you don’t eat for 16 hours after your last meal each night. I basically skip breakfast, workout early in the afternoon, and then eat my meals and snacks. It’s supposed to be the new trend in calorie restriction and health, so I thought I would try it out for a while,” I said, as my husband looked at me like I was cra-zee.

It has become so difficult to shop for food these days, hasn’t it? So much is bad for us – meat, sugar, dairy, flour, potatoes even. Designing meals these days seems to require a Ph.D

Conventionally grown produce is out because there’s too many pesticides. I’ve got to shop at stores that only carry organic or antibiotic, hormone-free meats and chicken. Salmon – no farmed raised for us, only wild. Sometimes I think we should just buy a barrel of sunflower seeds and some broccoli and salad for the rest of our meals.

I receive barrages of emails daily from contacts and various activist groups about our food system. Different movements exist, from the gluten-free, the raw, and the paleo diet; telling me that their way is the best way to optimal health and wellness. I care about these things, so I try to incorporate many of their theories into my meal planning. But some say that if I don’t do it all the way, I’m not reaping the benefits. And some of these theories contradict each other as well.

Complicating things is the fact that I really love to cook – as a young teen, I took on the responsibility of cooking dinner for my family, experimenting with such things as crepes and Coq au vin. I love restaurants and consider myself a foodie.

But how can I be a foodie when there’s so much food I won’t eat anymore?

All I know is my grandparents both lived well into their nineties, healthy as horses, while eating an Italian diet that contained meat, dairy, eggs, cheese, and more. My grandpa, in fact, ate day old crusty Italian bread, olive oil, and provolone every morning at 4am for breakfast before setting out on his active day. He worked in heavy construction till he was 75 until they forced him to retire. He shovelled his own snow, walked daily, and mowed the lawn in his nineties. He never worried about eating gluten-free, that’s for sure. He died at the age 0f 98 from old age.

So what are we doing wrong these days?

I know that I like how I feel when I eliminate certain foods from my diet. From my energy levels to the extra pouchiness around my waist, there are just some foods that don’t sit well in my body.

But I’ve got to admit I sometimes long for the days when I ate what I wanted to and didn’t obsess about it. When I was young and newly living on my own and price was the main consideration, so I shopped at the local Piggly Wiggly. For the days as a child, when our food wasn’t so  . . . poisonous.

Did you know that there are only about twelve companies that control the major food supply in our country? You’ve heard of the top ones, like Monsanto, Cargill, and ADM. You’d be surprised at what companies they own, including organic producers that were once little guys.

That’s why I’m joining up with a new company that will be delivering fresh food from the farm to my table. One where I will know where my food comes from and whose cattle don’t eat GMO grass. I’ll tell you a little bit more about them on Wednesday.

Hopefully, my family will get the chance to enjoy food without the worry.

Is it Nature or Nurture? Helping your children to be healthy eaters.

As a child growing up in the 1960’s, I don’t recall that our family ate particularly healthy meals. The health and wellness revolution wasn’t in vogue yet. But the feminist movement was; as women began shedding their aprons for business clothes, finding ways to make lives easier became imperative. American housewives rejoiced as the dawn of convenience and frozen foods helped unleash their shackles from the kitchen stove.

Which seems to sum up a lot of my meals as a child. I’m not saying they were bad, it’s just how it was. While we rarely ate fast food or takeout, most of our dinners consisted of a traditional meat, frozen vegetables, and potatoes. Fish only appeared on Lenten Fridays, and it was usually courtesy of Mrs. Paul (fish sticks, anyone?).

Side dishes were courtesy of the Green Giant. I don’t think I really had ever seen many vegetables in their fresh, natural form until I was on my own. Who knew that peas came in a pod?

My parents were both thin as well; probably a combination of good genes and the fact that they were both heavy smokers during that era. Since they both had sweet toothes, there was always something sugary in our house. Store-bough Danishes were for breakfast, Hostess cupcakes and Twinkies packed with lunches, and ice cream bars for dessert.

So you’d think I would have grown up to be a chubby adult with bad eating habits. Actually, for about 3 years in my early teens, this was true. Once I hit puberty at age 13, my waistline and thighs expanded as my self esteem shrunk. This prompted me to begin my exploration and somewhat obsession with all things fitness and health.

This long and sometimes pothole-ridden road has led me to who I am today – someone who values a healthy lifestyle more than almost anything, except love, of course. Honestly, I can’t go more than a day without working out – I feel crabby and out of sorts if I don’t. And I love to cook and eat healthy. I’ll choose the long way to cook something from scratch (now known as the trendy “slow food movement”). And I eschew cheap, mass produced foods.

So was it nature or nurture that got me to this point? How much actual influence do parents have over how their childrens’ eating habits turn out? Was I predisposed to eat healthier, despite my upbringing? Why is it that some people crave sweets, while some can resist a dessert even if it’s under their nose?

Raising my own kids, I struggled with that fine line between teaching them to be healthy eaters and turning them into obsessed individuals with a bad relationship with food. Should I let them eat candy? Do I limit it to Halloween or allow them to have treats regularly? Would the fact that I cooked healthy meals like chicken breasts and fresh veggies rather than comfort foods like macaroni and cheese scar them for life?

In the end, I chose moderation over obsession. I cooked the occasional meatloaf and mashed potatoes for the rest of the family, but made healthier roasted fish for myself. We treated them to special visits to the ice cream shop, but did not keep a lot of sweet treats in the house. And remembering the magical fun of Halloween, I did not make a big deal about candy.

There were many times during their teen years that I wondered if I had made the right decision. My fish dinnerss were resoundingly snubbed by all. They would occasionally grumble that we never had good food in the house, like potato chips and pop. Once they were driving, wrappers from MickeyD’s and Portillos were always found in the recycling bin. I thought I’d lost them to the dark side.

In the end, example and moderation worked best for our family. Rather than endlessly lecture them on healthy eating and banish all bad things from their lives, we tried to lead by moderation. We emphasized healthy meals, but let them have the occasional comfort food. My husband and I exercised regularly, did active, fun things with them, and got them into sports.

Now they are adults. And I think they are on their own healthy journeys. My son regularly cooks dinner for us, making healthy and delicious meals like fish tacos, salads, and seafood stews. During a trip to the local grocery store, I was impressed when he bought all organic veggies for the dinner he was making. My stepdaughter is into the organic thing as well, and works out regularly.

So I guess nurture plays a huge role in how we conduct our life. Maybe the influence of my father making fresh salads daily for our dinner when I was in high school was more important than I originally thought. And my grandma preparing everything from scratch – she was a pioneer in today’s local slow food movement.

So let your kids have an occasional treat. Live your life in a healthy way most of the time – you’ll be surprised at how they’ll pick up your habits later.