During this difficult time around the world we have been hearing quite a bit about the importance of a healthy immune system. Those highest at risk for Covid 19 are people who are obese, have diabetes, or other pre-existing conditions. Most diseases driving up health care costs are related to obesity and poor diet. Pre-diabetes affects one in two Americans and causes heart attacks, strokes and dementia – even if it never leads to full-blown diabetes.1
Food is medicine. The food we eat brings nourishment to our cells. But for our body to be able to absorb and utilize those nutrients we need a healthy digestive system. Our digestive system plays a huge role in the health of our immune system and without a thriving immune system we cannot have a healthy life. In addition, our gut is directly linked to our brain through the enteric nervous system. The hormone serotonin which has been referred to as the “happy hormone” is produced in our gut so the health of our mind is also determined by our digestive power. Our digestive system interacts with and affects every cell in our body; therefore, it needs to be functioning optimally. Improper digestion can lead to autoimmune disease, mental health issues, memory problems, migraines, fatigue, and the list goes on.
The good news is that we all have the power to improve our digestion and immune system. The first step is eating real food…. nutrient dense food that is not processed is the key. Processed foods are loaded with chemicals that are toxic, difficult for our bodies to digest, and in addition, cause systemic inflammation. This type of inflammation is the foundation for many diseases such as cancer, autoimmune and cardiovascular disease.
Supporting your digestive health supports your immune function so I have listed some steps below to get you on the path to the health you deserve – and essentially need to help combat illness. Also keep in mind that the information below helps control weight gain and aids in weight loss.
Cook real food at home – While eating out once in a while is fine, you don’t know what is in your food unless you cook it yourself. Many restaurants add harmful oils and way too much sugar and salt for taste.
Eat a whole food, nutrient-dense diet – Again, food is medicine. Vegetables and fruits of all colors (organic whenever possible), pastured raised meats from humanely treated animals, and healthy grains and spices are all so rich in vitamins and minerals. Discover your local farmer. There is nothing better than food that is handled with care and free of harmful chemicals.
Say NO to sugar (the artificial stuff too), refined and processed foods – As a Nutritionist, this is my biggest challenge with clients. However, after only a week of cutting out all the junk, there will be a noticeable improvement in energy and clarity.
Drink lots of water and herbal tea -There are so many great delicious teas that are packed with nutrients that can replace sweet drinks. You can have them hot or cold. Teas such as licorice, ginger, marshmallow, turmeric, CCF (cumin, coriander and fennel) all help heal the gut. Elderberry is also an immune booster. Note: if you have autoimmune disease talk to your doctor before taking anything that boosts immunity.
Try Bone Broth – I suggest getting some homemade bone broth from your local farmer. You can make it yourself, however, it’s time consuming, so this is yet another way to support local farmers. Bone broth contains amino acids, such as glutamine, that support a healthy inflammatory response while healing the gut. A cup a day is so beneficial.
Stress management – We know that stress can compromise our health. The gut and immune system are especially sensitive to stress. Try meditation or engage in whatever activity brings you joy, peace and calm. It could be listening to music, painting, gardening, etc., but carve out time every day for pleasurable activities.
Exercise – I can’t stress this enough. You must move every day! It can be a 30-minute walk, but you owe it to yourself to be healthy. Exercise is essential.
Sleep well – This is difficult for so many people, especially now. Devices, distractions and life stress can affect our sleep. However, if you start with my advice above your sleep will improve. In Ayurveda, which is the Indian system of medicine, we drink something called, “golden milk” before bed which is a wonderful sleep tonic. Below is the recipe:
- 1 cup of whole organic milk or substitute milk
- 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
- A sprinkle of black pepper
- A half teaspoon of ghee
- Honey or maple syrup to taste
- Place milk in a saucepan over low/medium heat.
- Bring to low boil.
- Add all ingredients except the honey or maple syrup. Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Turn off heat, and allow the mixture to cool to a warm drinkable temperature.
- When the mixture has cooled, add sweetener.
Turn off the TV! – Many clients tell me this is where they draw the line. The news is so negative and stressful, especially before bed. We take those negative thoughts to bed with us. Try a detox from TV for a weekend. Then try a detox from your devices another weekend. It’s a slow process but we all need time to disconnect. The lines between work and personal time have become blurred. If not having anything to do or to distract you is anxiety provoking that’s a sure sign you need to detox. Open your mind – you may discover some new talents and hobbies you never knew you had!
Take this time to stay connected with people who make you happy – There is enough negativity in the world. Don’t waste your precious life moments with toxic people.
The cost of chronic disease is staggering, not only in terms of health care costs but quality of life. Information is power and education needs to start at a young age. Schools should initiate class trips to farms where conscientious farmers are producing nutrient dense food without harmful chemicals and are devoted to the care of the environment and the animals. Learning how to grow a garden and basic nutrition education should start in grade school. It will turn into lifelong, good, healthy habits!
My hope is that in a post Covid world the focus will be addressing how unhealthy we are as a nation and what steps are needed to correct it. The country needs a nutritional reset to ensure that all people have the immunity to deal with another pandemic which scientists say is inevitable. A healthy body and peaceful mind are the best defense.
- Hyman, Mark (2020), Food Fix, New York, Little Brown Spark