Coughing uncontrollably and having to carry around gobs of tissues is annoying, not to mention it’s hard to breathe or sleep. You know the feeling of having a cold, and you know it’s no fun.
Many people think getting a cold or two in “cold season” is a fact of life, something you just have to deal with — but is this really true?
No! You can defend your body from colds and other illnesses by taking care of your immune system. And one great way to ensure your body can protect itself is to follow a vegan (or at least a plant-focused) diet. You may still get colds on occasion, but if you do, they will likely be shorter and less severe.
Overall, as research has shown, most vegans and vegetarians are healthier than meat-eaters. But to keep colds at bay, you must follow a healthy lifestyle (including sleeping enough, exercising, not smoking, learning to cope with stress) and a healthy, varied diet, which means eating more than pasta and bread every day.
Our immune systems are complicated systems that are not fully understood, so there is not one thing you can do to keep it working properly; there are many and they work together holistically.
Here are 10 ways plant-based foods keep colds away.
Some specific vitamins are needed by your body to protect you, including Beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A) and vitamins C and E. Vitamin D also helps, but is best obtained through exposure to the sun or the right supplements.
Beta carotene is found in yellow and dark green veggies. How does it help your body? By neutralizing free radicals (molecules that form in the body and attack cells). Beta carotene can also counteract age-related immune loss, and research suggests vitamin A may help keep the respiratory system healthy. What to eat? Carrots, spinach, kale, and other fruits and veggies.
Vitamin C protects against oxidative damage and enhances the function of your immune cells. Find it in berries, citrus fruits, melons, peas, peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and more.
Vitamin E enhances immune activity and aids in the production of antibodies. Eat avocados, whole grains, and greens to get the benefits of this nutrient.
Minerals, such as iron, zinc, selenium, and sulfur, are especially important to immune function. However, consuming too much zinc and iron can have adverse effects, so getting them through foods, not supplements, is best.
Iron is necessary for your body to manufacture white blood cells. It is found in lentils, beets, apricots, and kale.
Zinc helps strengthen the body’s resistance against cold viruses. Get it through whole grains, seeds, and beans.
Selenium functions as an antioxidant and is important for your immune system and your liver to function at their optimal level. Get your daily dose from one Brazil nut, or eat mushrooms, whole grains, and seeds.
Sulfur strengthens your immune system. Garlic is full of sulfur, which is only part of the reason why this food is so healthy.
Many vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants, but beyond these, there are also other molecules including carotenoids and polyphenols that also protect the body from harmful free radicals.
Anthocyanins in eggplant, grapes, and berries.
Isoflavonoids in soybeans, tofu, lentils, and peas.
Lignans in sesame seeds, whole grains, and vegetables.
Lutein is in green, leafy vegetables, and corn.
Lycopene is in tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon.
Polyphenols are in thyme and oregano.
Fiber strengthens the immune system, but only soluble fiber, which is found in oats, apples, and nuts.
“Soluble fiber changes the personality of immune cells—they go from being pro-inflammatory, angry cells to anti-inflammatory, healing cells that help us recover faster from infection,” said Gregory Freund, a professor at the University of Illinois, where a study about soluble fiber took place.
5. Alkaline Diet
When your body is alkaline, it is strong and can defend itself from harm. But when your body is acidic and toxic, it’s already busy and may not be able to fight off additional germs and infection.
What keeps your body alkaline? Fruits and vegetables. Especially raw foods, like salads and fresh-pressed juices and smoothies, and non-starchy vegetables.
On the other hand, meats, grains, eggs, dairy, sugar, and alcohol are all acidic.
6. No Dairy Products
Many who practice alternative medicine say avoiding milk and other dairy products is best when you have a cold. These products increase the amount of mucus in the throat and may make cold symptoms worse.
Eighty percent of your immune system is in your digestive tract, and eating probiotic-rich foods can help support your immune system. These include kefir, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, and other foods that contain good bacteria.
8. Spices and Herbs
Many spices and herbs aid the immune system. Especially those that are warming to the body, such as cayenne, turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and paprika. Spicy foods stimulate the mucus membranes and help clear congestion.
Herbs, including bayberry, fenugreek, hawthorn, licorice, and red clover can also improve the immune system.
9. Medicinal Mushrooms
Medicinal mushrooms, especially Reishi, Shiitake, and Maitake, have immune-enhancing properties. However, it’s best to eat them in combination, rather than only one type on its own, which is why medicinal mushroom blends (found in natural-foods stores) are so good for illness prevention. Reishi mushrooms can also help when you have a cold to reduce symptoms.
When people choose to eat a plant-based diet or a vegan diet, they often start living a healthier life, whether they intended to or not. They undergo a paradigm shift and begin to see the world and themselves in new ways. This new awareness, or perspective, opens many plant-based eaters up to the idea that what we eat and how we treat our bodies affects our health. And, as we are all connected, so too are our bodies’ systems.
So, know this: Your immune system can take care of you, but you must take care of it. You have the power to prevent colds and other illnesses using natural methods. You just have to be aware, listen to your body, and supply it with the things it needs to keep you healthy and happy.
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