The chillier months are filled with an abundance of magic and wonder. From the holidays to the snow, to the music, and the comforting foods like hot chocolate, holiday meals, and yummy desserts, winter is a magical time of the year in so many ways. However, it’s also the time of year when the body is more susceptible to infection and illness due to the weather, more time indoors, and our tendency to eat more rich foods, instead of lots of fruits and vegetables. Bacteria also lingers in the air during the colder months, which makes us more susceptible to catching infections whether at work, outside, or even at home. We’re not completely powerless though.
Diet and lifestyle factors make a huge difference towards helping our body fight infections more easily. A whole foods, plant-based diet specifically supports the immune system in nearly every single way. Animal foods are hard for the body to digest and also filled with inflammatory properties that don’t support immune function. They’ve also been linked to cancer and diabetes. Eating more whole plant-based foods that contain vitamins and minerals is the better choice, especially with some specific tips.
Here are some plant-based tips for fighting off infections naturally:
1. Choose Leafy Greens for Daily Nutrition and Repair
Leafy greens offer restorative and repairing properties to the body. They build the blood, which strengthens the body naturally and they offer a wide range of nutrients. Leafy greens such as kale, collards, romaine lettuce, Swiss chard and spinach are high in Vitamins A and C, two well-known nutrients for supporting immunity. Greens contain also contain B vitamins, magnesium, protein, and iron to lower blood sugar and support the body’s healing abilities. Greens also help provide balance to counteract all those sweet and junk food cravings this time of year, which can actually lead to infection more easily themselves. Incorporate both raw and leafy greens into your meals and enjoy them in more than just salads and soups. Try green smoothies, wraps, and even breakfast scrambles.
2. Prioritize Plant-Based Calcium Rich Foods to Help You Sleep
When you don’t get enough rest, your immune system can’t fight off infections as well, no matter mild they may be. If you’re having trouble sleeping, here’s some good news: eating calcium-rich foods can help you get to sleep more quickly and stay asleep longer. How so, you ask? Calcium is a mineral that’s essential for a healthy nervous system. It helps you relax, and can help cure insomnia and nervous tension that keeps you from a good night’s rest. But don’t pick up the milk just yet– it’s not the best choice. Eat plenty of calcium-rich plant-based options like leafy greens, broccoli, non-dairy milk, cannellini beans, small amounts of dried figs, and use as much unsweetened non-dairy milk as you like, which is high in calcium, Vitamin B12, low in fat, calories, and sugar.
3. Eat Vitamin C-Rich Foods Instead of Taking Supplements
Those Vitamin C tablets might sound appealing, but they’re usually made with genetically modified corn, listed on a label as abscorbic acid. Whatever happened to just eating an orange, some berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, zucchini, spinach, and even seasonal foods like chestnuts, beets, squash, and sweet potatoes? All of these foods are rich in Vitamin C, provide other minerals that support the body, and will protect the immune system to fight off infections naturally. If you want an especially powerful boost, comparable to the dosage in a supplement, try camu camu berry powder, a superfood that contains 700-1600 times the amount of Vitamin C you need each day, all in just one teaspoon. Some brands may vary in their strength, so check the label. This tart, sweet powder goes great on top of, or in smoothies, oatmeal, or just mixed with non-dairy milk or water and stevia for sweetness.
4. Incorporate Cranberries Into Your Meals
Cranberries are a true superfood everyone should be eating more of this time of year. They’re not only packed with antioxidants like Vitamin C, but also very low in sugar, with only 2 grams per half cup. This makes them beneficial for your blood sugar and their fiber content helps boost digestion and blood sugar all in one. Cranberries help ward off infections in the stomach, urinary tract, and even fight cancer! Eat whole, frozen or fresh cranberries instead of dried cranberries (which are often dried and coated with sugar and oil.) Use them in smoothies, oatmeal, over nuts and seeds with non-dairy milk for an easy snack, over non-dairy yogurt, or use them in your baked dishes like muffins, pancakes, and of course, to make healthy cranberry sauce!
5. Eat More Sweet Potatoes and Squash While You’re At It Too
Sweet potatoes and squash are rich in both Vitamin C and beta-carotene, an antioxidant that converts to Vitamin A in the body. Both Vitamin A and C help improve and strengthen the immune system to fight off infections naturally. Choose sweet potatoes, butternut squash, acorn squash, and pumpkin as the highest sources. Carrots are another vegetable to choose that offers the same nutritional benefits. We love Sweet Potato Salad, Sweet Potato Pumpkin Soup, Apple Butternut Squash Soup, and Roasted Acorn Squash Stuffed With Quinoa Mushroom Pilaf.
6. Embrace Coconut’s Healthy Fats
Coconut’s fats are the strongest and most beneficial fats to fight infections like viruses and fungi you can choose. Coconut helps combat everything from the common cold to candida yeast overgrowth. The fats in coconut are medium chain triglycerides, which are saturated fatty acids used for energy and detoxification instead of stored as fat. No need to go overboard to get the benefits though; a little goes a long way. Use raw coconut butter, raw coconut meat, raw coconut oil, and make coconut yogurt or kefir to benefit the body even further.
7. Use Apple Cider Vinegar in Your Diet
Apple cider vinegar is a well-known healing tonic to use in a variety of ways to fight off infection. It’s full of potassium, enzymes, beneficial cultures, Vitamin C, and healthy prebiotics to boost the good bacteria in your digestive system. Your gut houses a large part of your immune system, so it’s important to care for it however you can. Apple cider vinegar is also very cleansing to the blood, lymph system, and digestive system. Dilute a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in some water and drink it first thing in the morning to jump start digestion and provide your body with vitamins and minerals. Or, you can simply drizzle it on salads, have a tablespoon before meals, or mix it into hot tea for a better flavor. Try to use it raw when you can and always buy it raw, unfiltered, and organic as the best option.
8. Take a Probiotic and Eat Fermented Foods
Since probiotics benefit the immune system starting in the gut, it’s important to take a probiotic supplement, or eat fermented foods that contain probiotics naturally. Be sure to choose a probiotic that’s plant-based since many are made by culturing friendly bacteria with dairy milk. There are many great vegan, and even raw, probiotic supplements on the market, so read labels to make sure you’re getting a good brand. You can also drink or eat fermented foods and beverages that contain probiotics including: coconut water kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, unsweetened nondairy yogurt (not the best, most raw source but still a good option in pinch), kimchi (Asian spicy sauerkraut), raw pickles (not ones made with vinegar), 100 percent raw or 100 percent dark chocolate, miso, and tempeh. Prebiotic rich foods help feed probiotics so eat more of these too, which include: bananas, beans, legumes, onions, asparagus, garlic, apple cider vinegar, apples, and pears.
9. Don’t Forget the Power of Oats
Oats are the most underrated grain when it comes to boosting immunity. They’re packed with iron, magnesium and potassium which all support the immune system, nervous system, and energy levels. Oats also contain anti-inflammatory properties, and soluble fiber that sweeps out cholesterol and toxins that can lead to illness and disease. Oats even contain protein to support your body’s repair mechanisms, and antioxidants to help reduce infection and illness naturally. As you can see, they’re quite the nutritious, humble little superfood! Choose gluten-free, organic oats if you’re sensitive to gluten since most oats are cultivated near wheat crops during processing. Have a warm bowl of Carrot Cake Oatmeal, use oats in a smoothie to boost the protein content and add creaminess, or try soaking your oats with coconut yogurt for an especially delicious, infection-fighting breakfast!
10. Drink Ginger, Lemon Balm, and Green Tea Regularly
Nothing says healing like a warm cup of tea! Ginger tea has been used for years to increase immune system function, aid digestion, and lower inflammation. Lemon balm tea is anti-inflammatory, aids in healing, and provides a natural calming feeling to the body. Since stress can weaken immune system function, consuming healthy plant-based foods and beverages that lower stress is a proactive choice to assist in immune system function. Green tea is also a well-known antioxidant-rich beverage, which provides healing benefits, anti-inflammatory powers, and anti-stress properties that keep your body in tip top shape. For a superfood boost, go with matcha green tea instead of regular green tea, though all types are still beneficial.
This time of year when it’s easy to let stress from the holidays wear you down, or eat no-so-healthy choices due to comfort food cravings, take care of your health by eating foods and drinking beverages that support your immune system, well-being, and overall wellness goals. This will help you fight infections naturally and feel better all the way around. Also be sure to incorporate hot vegetable broths, warming soups and stews, and omega 3 rich fats that will help fight congestion, chills, low energy, inflammation, and support overall blood flow.
How do you take care of your body during these chillier months?
Image Source: Rick Ligthelm/Flickr