You’ve been taking all of my recommendations to heart, right? Maybe so, perhaps not. So what if you get sick anyway? If you are new to the world of holistic health and radical good nutrition, trust me, any small changes for the better will pay off! But, it may take some time before you see a marked difference in being able to ward off
common viruses. I’ve heard that the things you do this year to improve your immune system actually yield the biggest payoff next year. My own experience has been that, after recovering from food sensitivities and way to much junk food, as well as learning some long, hard lessons about stress, I am, indeed, finally noticing a huge difference. I have actually succumbed to a virus only once in the past 3 years.
At the moment, however, there are sick people at my house who need my help. My husband is a pretty healthy guy, but when a stomach bug gets him, he’s really frustrated. I’ve been doing all sorts of things to help my family heal more quickly, and to be less miserable while they fight off the sickness. I want to share some of my favorite tips with you today.
1) Drink plenty of liquids, but not just water. Warm liquids, like herbal teas, water with lemon juice, chicken or miso soup are a help to your immune system – partly because they help you keep warm. Sipping these slowly will help you stay hydrated, and the herbs will help fight any infection. I’m using the word “warm” because some practitioners believe that keeping the water just below the boiling point is better for immune health. Also, in the case of miso soup, cooking the miso will kill the beneficial bacteria.
2) Keep the mucous membranes moist. In our dry, Colorado climate, or any place that is being artificially heated, a humidifier can help with this. I also have my family moisturize the inside of the nostrils, using either coconut oil or similar non-toxic moisturizer. Take care to test a tiny amount before coating the entire area, in case you are sensitive. If the moisturizer burns slightly (or a lot!) use something else.
3) Rest and sleep. This should seem obvious, but we adults have lots to do, and we sometimes make things even harder on ourselves by not heeding our bodies’ many messages, such as “MUST…SLEEP…NOW.”
4) Use garlic, cinnamon, and ginger. Garlic and cinnamon are naturally antibiotic. Use any way you can tolerate them, but fresh, raw minced garlic is best. Cinnamon does well mixed with a bit of local, raw and unfiltered honey. Mix into herbal tea or eat off the spoon. Ginger has long been known to help against nausea and headache. Mince and steep it in near-boiling water for tea, or put it in juice. Which brings me to my next tip.
5) Make fresh vegetable juice, and drink it within 15 minutes. Your body does not need a lot of food when fighting off a short-term illness. However, the potential to become dehydrated exists, especially if you have a fever or are vomiting. Fresh juice is highly nutritious and easily digestible. Use greens, such as celery, spinach, kale, Swiss chard or cucumber. Add a little carrot and/or beet (a little because these are full of sugar). Then, add useful ingredients such as half a lemon or 1/2 inch piece of ginger root. A handful of chopped parsley helps, too. Last, you may want to include a bit of fruit, for flavor, such as apple or grapefruit. Keep it to a small amount, like 1/2 of a small apple. Mix about 2 parts juice to 1 part water, or add warm herbal tea to dilute.
6) Consume cultured foods. (You knew I would say this, right?) Remember that miso or chicken soup I talked about? Add a few tablespoons of lacto-fermented sauerkraut or winter beets. (Remember to never cook them, as heat destroys beneficial microbes.) The miso, as I mentioned, is also cultured. I would not recommend yogurt or kefir, at least for a few days. But after that, go for it. Why? See my last tip.
7) Avoid any foods that will aggravate your body. This would include processed foods, white flour, sugar, or products made with these. Leave out dairy products as they cause your body to create an abundance of mucous, and are difficult to digest. (Cultured dairy can be added back soon!) Obviously, avoid any food that you know you have a hard time tolerating or digesting. This frees up your body to focus more energy on healing, and less on dealing with the crud you may think you want to eat for “comfort.”
There are, of course, many other helpful tips for navigating illnesses due to viruses. I have tried to stick to the easiest and most important, in my mind, at least. I also found a fine post by a lady whose work I greatly appreciate, Wellness Mama. You can read it by clicking here. She includes most of the same things I list here, but her post is a lot longer and she has many valuable pointers on this topic. Get well soon, my friends!
No matter who you are, if you come to me for health coaching, I will probably tell you to eat more greens. Eating more – lots more – greens is one of the things that’s made the most noticeable improvement in my own health, and I want to share some ways they can benefit you, too.
A few years ago, I was stretching in a dance class, and I got a terrible foot cramp. If you’ve ever pointed your toe as much as you possibly can, and then found it stuck in that position because of a cramp, you know exactly what I mean! I’ve had this type of cramp in my calves before, too. They’re awful! My dance teacher then said something that has come to my mind again and again. “If you would eat your dark green leafy veggies, you wouldn’t get those cramps.”
Here’s the thing: if you eat a few leaves of spinach in your salad a couple of times a week, or a couple of bites of broccoli show up in your soup, that’s not enough! When I started to listen to Dr. Terry Wahls (whose You Tube video now has a warning label on it, likely because she has become too intimidating for some, with her radical ideas and all), I realized that I needed a lot more green veggies in my diet, and I needed to eat them without fail, every day. I needed to LOVE dark green leafy vegetables – but could I do that?
I was so convinced that I should really give it a try that I began to eat greens every day out of sheer discipline, inspired by the potential results. But then, a funny thing happened. I really started to enjoy greens! I have a green smoothie nearly every day. I put greens in salads, soups, casseroles, eggs, juice, and just about everything. In some traditions, green foods are associated with renewal and spring, which makes sense. I felt so great after learning to eat more greens that I actually craved them. And, I have not had a “charlie horse” in a very long time (probably a result of the calcium and magnesium).
Greens are powerful allies in our fight for great health. They have all sorts of minerals, such as calcium (for bone health), magnesium, iron, potassium, and zinc, and vitamins like A,C,E, and K. They are full of fiber, which is great for helping to keep blood sugar stable and intestines in good form. Greens also contain chlorophyll (what gives them that wonderful color), folic acid, micro-nutrients and other things we’ve barely even discovered. They have been credited with better circulation, improved liver, gall bladder and kidney function, stronger immune health, blood purification, cancer prevention, mucous reduction – and the list goes on!
One caution about eating these wonder foods: don’t get stuck in a rut. Greens have what is known as “anti-nutrients,” such as oxalic acid, which hinders absorption of calcium. Beet greens and spinach are high in oxalic acid. However, lightly steaming or cooking makes that problem go away. That does not mean you should never eat raw greens, but that you should, in my opinion, alternate between raw and cooked greens, and rotate the varieties in your diet. There are so many from which to choose that you’ll never have to eat too much of the same one.
Think of all the options available to you! Lettuces alone are full of variety. Then there are spinach, Swiss Chard and beet greens, collards and mustards, broccoli and Brussels sprouts, watercress, dandelion, and cabbage. And yes, there are more still! Then there are sprouts and micro-greens, which are surely superfoods. What’s your pleasure? Find out and eat up!
During my training to become a certified health coach, I was shown that most people can do really well with “baby steps” toward better health. You know, some people try to change everything in their diets & lifestyles overnight, jumping into a radical new eating plan, diving into intense gym workouts and all sorts of exciting promises for transformation. This often happens in January. Well, now that January is past us once again, many of these folks have felt the sting of failure in their new efforts.
If that describes your experience, all is not lost! But while I wish I could say that “baby steps” always add up to a life-change for the better, the reality is a bit more complex. It is true that making small changes which become good habits can really add up to dramatic shifts in outcome over the years. We all see that when we are honest with ourselves, right?
Sometimes, however, a small change doesn’t do much of anything. Deep down, we know it’s true. If today I’m eating a pound of sugar, and for the rest of my life, I eat 3/4 of a pound of sugar each day…you get the idea. In the case of a food sensitivity, you may reduce the amount of an offending food in your diet only to find you do not notice a change. Many clients tell me, “I’ve been reducing the amount of gluten in my diet because my doctor says I’m sensitive to it.” I’m sorry to be a bearer of bad news, but they are really not helping the situation at all. I’ve heard it illustrated this way: “If you’re sitting on 5 tacks, and you take 4 away, it still hurts.”
In order to see a real change, a person who has a food sensitivity must eliminate an offending food entirely, just to stop the destructive activity to their digestive and immune systems. Every single time they ingest the food to which they are sensitive, a reaction takes place, whether they feel it or not. When the food is eliminated - that is, when all the troublesome foods have been discovered and discontinued – the body can rest a bit & stop fighting the onslaught of constant irritation. Only then can the gut begin to heal, if it is furnished with the nutrients and helpful micro-organisms it needs.
This is a glimpse of what an elimination diet can begin to accomplish. On one hand, I hate to have to tell someone that their favorite foods just have to go, at least for a time. But, this is much quicker and less painful than taking decades to learn what’s going on in your gut and how to fix it (which is what I myself did.) An elimination diet is what I recommend to many of my clients. The great thing is that when you are working with a health coach, you have support – a real predictor of success.
So, I’m not trashing baby steps at all. Adding broccoli or more water or gentle exercise to your routine, then adding other beneficial steps to your health habits do indeed yield marvelous results over time! If, however, you are dealing with certain chronic health concerns, you may not see the result you want until you dive in and stay in for a good period of time. I’m not trying to discourage you; I’m just being honest.
A wonderful thing to keep in mind is that sometimes, after a period of healing, foods can be added back to the diet. In my case, I was unable to eat bell peppers & garlic – two of my favorites! – for about 12 years. Of course, a lot of that time I was not healing, because I was still eating gluten, which was a big problem for me. But, a couple of years ago, I realized that I could eat garlic & peppers once again. Now I have a new favorite – lacto-fermented sauerkraut with green & red bell peppers & garlic!
In the winter, we go for warm and wonderful comfort foods like chili and cornbread, turtle brownies, and rice pudding with cinnamon and raisins. Popsicles and salad have lost their appeal when the thermometer reads 3 degrees Fahrenheit (as it does on my phone right now). When I’m trying to make comfort foods daily, I want to still find ways to get all those servings of salubrious veggies. I find myself coming up with sauce recipes, because a delicious sauce turns a pile of quinoa, rice or pasta and some sauteed veggies and/or meat into a nice meal. I want to share with you a favorite of mine, “Creamy Veggie White Sauce.”
This sauce is fantastic over green beans, cabbage, or potatoes. If you eat dairy, parmesan cheese sprinkled over the top and rice noodles underneath gets you pretty close to an Alfredo dish. (Thai Kitchen brand noodles are wonderful, and quick and easy to prepare.) Even without the cheese, it works beautifully. You could add spinach to it for some added antioxidants (and flavor!) Add ground buffalo, beef, or chicken, and it’s a meal!
What you need:
1 head cauliflower
1 medium sized onion (or large if you like onion)
3 cloves fresh garlic
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
salt and black pepper to taste
chicken stock, veggies stock, water, or a mix of stock & water as needed
What you do:
Cut up the cauliflower and onion. Melt coconut oil in a heavy bottom saucepan, skillet, or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add cauliflower and onion to pan. Sprinkle with vinegar, soy sauce, and seasoning. If you want your sauce to look really white, use only a teaspoon of soy sauce and leave the vinegar out. It still tastes delicious. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is fairly soft, about 10 minutes. Let cool slightly before next step.
Add the veggies to a blender (I use a Nutri-Bullet). Add just enough stock/water to blend. Enjoy!
You know that feeling after doing something physically demanding, when you are so exhausted that you can barely move? Your muscles are sore, even tender. You may even have a headache from being over-tired, and you may have trouble sleeping, even though that’s all you want to do. Imagine feeling this way for weeks and months at a time. That’s pretty much how I felt around the time I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, around 17 years ago.
Millions of people in developed countries are now experiencing auto-immune disorders in record numbers. Recent reports indicate that around 5 million Americans may have fibromyalgia, an auto-immune condition that is characterized by muscle pain, fatigue, and “tender points” at the base of the neck, back and several particular places. When I saw the endocrinologist, I was told that the best thing I could do was to rest a lot and take a prescription medication from then on to manage the pain. I was told that my condition would deteriorate for the rest of my life, which should be normal length.
Even then, I knew enough about nutrition and alternative health practices to know that I would not sign up for a lifetime of pharmaceuticals until I had explored the options. I knew I could do a lot to improve the way I was eating, and I also knew I had been under a lot of stress. I loved being a mom, but taking care of 5 kiddos under the age of 11 was running me ragged! At the time, I did not realize the strong connection between the health of my gut and my immune system, but I was having a lot of digestive distress, on top of everything else.
What we eat, what we think, and what we do impacts our health, but so does our environment. Although I worked on improving my diet and figuring out my digestive issues, the biggest single boost to my health happened when my family and I moved from the Midwest to Colorado – a much drier climate. I could literally feel my body relaxing as the pain diminished on the long drive across Kansas. When we would go back the other direction, I could feel the aches and pains setting in again. That said, I’m sure I’d still be suffering if I had not navigated my gut issues.
You may have heard that 80% of your immune system is actually in your gut. There’s a kind of battle going on in the guts of people in modern society that has developed as a result of our modern eating habits. The battle is between the “good bugs” and the “bad bugs.”
Ever since the refrigerator came on the scene, we’ve been losing touch with the traditional practices of fermentation, also called “culturing.” At the same time, we are eating more denatured foods and we are surrounded by toxic substances. I recently heard a health expert warn against the toxic exposure we are all getting from our receipts. That’s right! There is BPA, a toxic plastic, in our register receipts from the gas station, grocery store, and most other places that give them out. It seems we are being bombarded from every angle!
The battle that goes on in our guts can determine, to a great degree, our overall health. I’ve known people who have fully recovered from fibromyalgia simply by eliminating wheat and gluten. For me, it took more than that, but I’m not sure I even have fibromyalgia any more. Donna Gates has been writing about the connection between a healthy gut, fermented foods and a healthy immune system for many years. Click here to see a helpful page on her website.
There is a lot to building a healthy immune system, especially if you are dealing with a chronic health condition already. Many times, however, much can be accomplished by nurturing the good bugs in your gut while minimizing the bad ones. I hope to have my new eBook about this topic finished this spring, and you will be able to find more information as well as recipes there. Until then, check out this link to a recipe I posted earlier, or this website I recently found. This page is all about cultured foods (& recipes).
I plan to post more (much more!) on each of these 2 topics (bugs/gut health & auto-immune issues) in coming posts. I hope you’ll join me if you or a loved one is affected by these things. I welcome your comments or feedback, as always.
You know what most of these are already, don’t you? Remember, this blog is all about nutrition & health, so this list is not going to have things like snickerdoodle latte piled with whipped cream, even though it is a hot drink. But, speaking of hot drinks, they’re not exactly food, but folks who drink plenty of steamy beverages during this time of year are definitely onto something!
Our bodies react differently to the same food, depending on the season. You may feel great about having a cool, crisp salad in July, while you actually need discipline to make yourself eat those greens in January. If you know anything about ayurveda, you understand this principle of seasonal eating. One winter, I became a little “gung ho” about eating raw foods. I tried to eat at least 90% of my food (by weight) raw. Besides feeling like I would die of starvation, the next most prominent feeling I experienced was cold. On another occasion, I ate nearly all raw foods for weeks on end during the heat of the year, and loved it!
So now that we are in the coldest part of the year, I want to share with you some of my favorite cold-weather foods.
1) Soups! The best base for soups is bone broth. You can make a clear soup using this broth, but you can also use it in creamy soups. I’ll be posting a recipe soon for this type of soup. For now, check out this link for a great article on soups, their health benefits and how to make bone broth (it’s super easy!)
2) Winter squash – acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash are probably the most common, but there are many more varieties. Squash is inexpensive and nutritious. It’s also easy to prepare. It can go sweet, savory, or somewhere in between. You can even just pop them in the oven for a while on about 350 degrees. When your squash is somewhat soft, take it out, cut & remove seeds. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, and/or cinnamon & butter. Delicious!
3) Hot whole-grain cereals – I stay away from wheat, and most commercially produced cereals because they are so highly processed. However, you can get a fantastic whole grain cereal from Bob’s Red Mill. Gluten-free oatmeal makes a nice breakfast if I add some nuts or nut butter and a little fruit or dried fruit. I also like turning leftover brown rice or quinoa into breakfast by adding rice or almond milk (preferably home-made), cinnamon, butter and pure maple syrup.
4) Pastured beef or other red meats. I love a great roast or stew. These meats contain nutrients that are difficult to get if you’re not really meticulous about your diet. I’m not really a fan of diets that contain huge amounts of meat for most people. The biggest reason is that it doesn’t make sense to me since it’s so unsustainable. However, I regularly partake of responsibly, locally raised meats in small amounts.
5) Cruciferous veggies – Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and others in this family are great sources of a wonderful array of vitamins and minerals. They also grow well in moderately cold weather, so it’s not difficult for me to find locally grown, organic offerings even during these months. I have a fantastic recipe for using cauliflower in my new cookbook, “Break Free!” which you can check out if you click this link.
6) Cultured foods – you knew this was coming! Cultured veggies are a perfect garnish for those lovely soups we mentioned earlier. Plain yogurt or kefir also makes a good garnish for soups, and is good on baked yams or sweet potatoes. Miso is a fine base for an easy soup. The thing you have to watch is that you don’t actually cook the cultured garnishes. Exposing them to high heat kills the beneficial bacteria. Just spoon a bit onto the finished cooked foods to boost nutrients and flavor.
7) Sourdough breads and pancakes – I’ll have a bunch of recipes for these in my new book on cultured foods (which I hope to finish before summer!) For now, here’s a link to an article & recipe you can take a look at. Souring increases nutritional content of bread and also improves digestibility. It’s easy to do, especially if you can manage to think ahead.
Delicious wintery foods are one of the best parts of this season, and they can contribute to your overall health. The foods I have listed can even help you heal when you’re battling a virus or health issue. If you have a favorite I haven’t mentioned, I love to hear about it!
Yes, I’m talking to you! What do you think it would it take to get you there? Lots of exercise? A great detox program? A diet? Yoga? May I suggest, perhaps, a paradigm shift, instead? I have said many times, “My husband is not perfect, but he’s perfect for me.” By that I mean, of course, that Scott does not belong on a pedestal, but I really like having him at my side. He helps me do life in a creative, responsible, and fun way. And, there’s no one else I’d prefer. It’s a bit like that with my body.
Now that I am half a century in age, I appreciate the things my body does well, even as I watch it age. I am no longer able to binge and then go on some radical diet (like eating only saltines and grapefruit for a week). When I work out too intensely, I could be sore for a week. When I actually injure myself, what once may have taken a couple of weeks to heal may take a year. Then there’s my skin. It’s not so youthful as it once was. Fortunately, my vision isn’t as sharp, either.
Maybe what we’re really after is more like making peace with our physical selves, and supporting healing where necessary. Perhaps you have some sort of chronic condition. It’s important to note that lots of folks have been told that they would have certain symptoms or conditions for the rest of their lives, or even that they would decline with age, only to find that when they took much better care of themselves, they improved drastically or healed completely. It’s also true that some people have set out to heal themselves through nutrition or “alternative” therapies, and have not had the improvements for which they had hoped.
Quite a few years ago, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder called “fibromyalgia.” There were days when I could barely get out of bed. I was also having all sorts of digestive woes, scary heart symptoms, and hypoglycemia. On top of all that, I had 5 small kiddos at home with me every day. I was told that I should take medication, that I would be taking increasing amounts of this medication as I aged, and that I would continue to lose mobility until I died, though my life expectancy may be “normal.”
I did a lot to change my situation over time. Now, I don’t really know if I actually have fibromyalgia at all. (More to come soon about this condition and other autoimmune disorders.) I do feel a little sore at times, but mostly, I think I feel pretty terrific for a 50 year old. I am so thankful for the improvements I have enjoyed that I find no time to worry about how much I may dislike any body part or physical attribute. It’s true that I’ve traded acne for a few wrinkles. This does not bother me too much.
I’m choosing to be very thankful for all the things my body does for me, does exactly according to its design. I’ve never been naturally athletic or coordinated, but muscle memory and countless exercise, yoga, and dance classes have trained my body to be stronger, more flexible, and miraculously, more graceful. When I was younger, I got sick 6 or more times every year. Now, I rarely get even a cold. In fact, during the past 3 years, I’ve had only 2 colds, and they were separated by only a few days.
So, what about you? Perhaps your body is doing miraculous things every day. Maybe you will feel marvel if you simply begin to pay careful attention to all the things that are being perfectly executed in your body, day in and day out. While your body may not be perfect, perhaps you’ll find it seems pretty perfect to house your soul for your time on this planet. If not, perhaps there are ways you can support your physical strengthening or healing. And, a health coach can help. Please contact me if you are looking for one!