Foods that Can Help Prevent Common Illnesses

Flu season is approaching and it’s time to prioritize your health, if you don’t typically do that already. I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys having to breathe with their mouth open because of stuffed up sinuses, or coughing up a lung because they just can’t knock that tickle in their throat. Personally, I take my health very seriously and rarely get sick, aside from the mild change of season sniffle. The key to maintaining good physical, mental, and emotional health is to practice healthy nutrition, get enough sleep, and to incorporate physical activity - whether minimal, moderate, or intense - into your lifestyle.

In this article, the focus will be on food. These simple foods will help you to live healthy and happy during all times of the year, and will significantly improve your overall well-being.

Before reading, please know that most of the scientific-related content was taken from a Food as Medicine course at Rutgers University, taught by Chitra Ponnusamy, PhD.

So what does it mean to eat healthy? 

The food you regularly eat should consist mostly of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds, and grains. You should be consuming a very small amount, if any of processed meat, red meat, foods high in sugar, saturated fat, and salt. Not only can these foods do long-term harm to your body, but they also tremendously affect the amount of energy you have in your day to day life. Not consuming a variety of healthy foods does not set up your microbiome (microorganisms in your gut) to have a successful immunity, thus leaving you with a greater chance of getting ill. It is really important that we take responsibility for our own health. We only have one body, so let’s treat it like we love it. Some reasons to significantly limit/reduce your sugar, salt, and saturated fat intake are as follows, as well as foods that you should eat on a regular basis that help fight sickness.

  1. 1. Sugar Intake

    Your immune function can be greatly affected by your sugar intake, because high sugar decreases the amount of good bacteria we have in our gut which leads to increased inflammation. Bacteroidetes (good gut bacteria) help fight sickness because a healthy mucosal barrier prevents the body from absorbing harmful organisms and toxins. Bacteria adheres to the intestinal wall in the GI tract, and friendly bacteria overcrowd the adherence cites so that bad bacteria have nowhere to “stick on to.” When you consume artificial sugar and added sweeteners, your gut craves more sugar which leads to an inflammatory response. Fruits have a lot of natural sugar. Your body uses these simple carbs as energy. A can of coke, on the other hand, will cause a spike in blood sugar which soon thereafter plummets glucose(sugar) levels in your blood, resulting in a “crash.” This may lead to fatigue, headache, and low energy. Plus, it puts you at a higher risk for serious illnesses in the long-term. By reducing your sugar intake, you will age more slowly, have more energy, and potentially even be less prone to the common cold. However, with that, don’t deprive yourself. Some chocolate cake from time to time is good for the soul, ya know what I mean?

  2. 2. Salt Intake

    Cook more at home and skip the frozen meals. Cook in bulk and in your free time. You can season your cooking with fresh herbs and garlic - of which have anti-inflammatory benefits, like turmeric and black pepper. Inflammation is the basis for something as significant as a chronic disease to something minor like a headache.

  3. 3. High-fiber foods

    Veggies such as broccoli, carrots, fresh beets, artichokes, brussel sprouts, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, and so much more are high in fiber!

  4. 4. Fermented Foods

    Probiotics! Look for “live cultures” description on the food you eat, but be aware that these live bacteria cannot always survive in some of the products they’re advertised in (like if they’re not refrigerated). Some good sources include sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, and miso soup. Live bacteria are extremely important for good-gut health. These live microorganisms colonize the gut. They are a live microbial supplement which affect the hosts’ health positively by improving its intestinal microbial balance. They block adhesion sites, which do not allow bad bacteria to adhere to the intestine, as mentioned above. Probiotics demonstrate the capability to not develop antibiotic resistance. Probiotics have often been shown to inhibit pathogens by consuming nutrients that pathogens need. They also help in various immune responses by degrading toxins receptors produced by pathogenic bacteria. You can find live bacteria in many types of non-dairy yogurt including SoDelicious, Forager, and more, as well as the examples of foods above.

  5. 5. Garlic

    Okay, you probably don’t know that I’m Italian, but with that I eat A LOT of garlic. I was raised having garlic in practically every dish, and honestly couldn’t imagine life without the taste of garlic. I add it to everything possible. Garlic can fight the common cold, and it also has nutritional benefits with few calories. Garlic is known to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and contain antioxidants. And it tastes sooo good!

  6. 6. Lemon

    Have a cold? Have some herbal tea with lemon! Lemons contain flavinoids that have antioxidants and cancer-fighting properties. They are packed with Vitamin C, can be used to treat nausea and are proven to regulate blood pressure. Lemons help treat fevers by inducing perspiration. Lemon juice also assists in healing respiratory problems.

  7. 7. Ginger

    Known to relieve gastrointestinal effects, ginger has extremely beneficial anti-inflammatory effects that help reduce pain. It also has immune-boosting properties, and induces sweating which acts as a detox and fights fevers.

  8. Tumeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant - it should be consumed with black pepper to enhance benefits.

Stay tuned for some healthy recipes to keep you warm and feeling good.

And remember, you are in control of your health and it’s very possible to prevent and reverse common illness by nourishing your body with healthy foods. Food is a huge part of our life, and there’s so many interesting ways to transform our lives with what we eat. Kick the flu and the common cold in the butt, and eat your way to health.

Xo, Susie