I woke up two days ago not feeling too great. I wasn’t shivering or sweating profusely, but there was some swelling around my throat and my sinuses were congested. Feeling anything more than the occasional sniffles only happens once (maybe twice) a year since I started eating a plant-based, vegan diet, so when it happens it’s not just an “Oh, I’m due for a cold and body aches” kind of moment. Nobody is ever due for that. What’s happening is my body’s way of telling me I took it passed a certain point without caring for it the way I usually do. This is actually how things have been the past few days.
I haven’t been eating junk, but I’ve been eating a bit more sweets than usual and less raw vegetables all the while putting in some really good running workouts. If I wasn’t pushing my body with my running, I may have gotten away with the brief lapse in proper nutrition, but I should have known better. Here what I think: Anytime you get sick, it’s your body telling you not that you have done something wrong, but that you haven’t been doing something right. A cookie (vegan for me…hopefully for you too) or slightly healthier dessert after dinner isn’t going to get you sick. It’s the lack of proper nutrients that will likely be the culprit. So if you’re sneaking a leftover dessert to enjoy while on lunch, fine. But don’t forget to leave room for the fruits and veggies in your lunchbag.
So, when I’m feeling not so hot, I like to reflect on what my food intake has been like. I described this part above and so when I check that step off, I then have to do something about it. So what do I do? First, I figure out when to run. There are plenty of studies that show that sweating boosts the immune system so as long as I don’t push my body to exertion, a good run and a good sweat are a must for me. Next, I figure out the gaps in my recent nutrition. Once I figure those out, I resolve to get back to my proper-eating routine ASAP. Lastly, I start to make a more conscientious decision to intake certain foods that I know will boost my immune system and help me recover as quickly as possible while also helping other systems in my body and preventing other issues from arising. I consume almost all of these foods daily anyway, but sometimes I may forget to incorporate them and so a check-in can be very helpful.
So what are the foods I gravitate toward? Here are four of them:
Turmeric is an antioxidant powerhouse. What this means is that it has antioxidants which fight free roaming radical chemicals that travel through the body and damage healthy cells and cell membranes. When you exercise free radicals in the body are amplified initially which is why proper and smart/targeted nutrition is key to helping your body recover and keep your systems healthy. Increasing one’s antioxidant intake is essential for optimum health. Because the body can’t keep up with antioxidant production, antioxidants (vitamins, minerals, enzymes) must come from one’s daily food intake.
Curcumin, turmeric’s active ingredient, is high in antioxidants and is very ant-inflammatory so it’s something I need to be including in my diet daily to take care of my body’s needs.
Val and I include turmeric in every dinner. We could be having veggies, beans, cooked tofu, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potatoes, mashed white potatoes…it doesn’t matter; there is turmeric in the dish. I’ve included it in oatmeal before just to see if the peanut butter and cacao powder I also use can mask the taste and I’d still get the benefits of turmeric, but uh…that didn’t really happen. It wasn’t disgusting, but it wasn’t something I’m going to repeat. At least I got even more turmeric that day!
Photo from NutritionFacts.org
I have to first mention that cayenne pepper is of the Capsicum family and so the benefits of cayenne pepper spice are also the benefits of most other peppers in the Capsicum family. Capsicum is an excellent course of so many key nutrients and properties that truly boost one’s health. Rich in antioxidants, beta carotene, vitamin C, and many other properties, Capsicum and cayenne pepper is extraordinarily good for immediately boosting the immune system. Capsicum is well-supported to almost immediately improve blood flow and circulation in the body as well which is incredibly important for recovery from exercise. If circulation is poor, unwanted issues can arise which is what makes cayenne pepper a staple in my pantry. Capsicum is also really helpful in improving one’s digestion so why adding it to my food is a no-brainer.
I sprinkle cayenne pepper onto my veggies, brown rice, lentils, quinoa…essentially, anything that I cook for dinner.
I don’t use ginger as often as I should, but it is a food that when I’m rarely feeling under the weather (once, maybe twice a year), I always want to go and get. What I’ve come to learn about ginger is that there is such a concentration of its properties that you don’t need to consume a large amount of the food in order to reap its positive health effects. So what are these health benefits?
You could write a book about the studies of ginger and the possible effects on the human body (perhaps preventing cancer; fighting gastrointestinal issues), but for purposes of this post…Ginger is antiviral and antibacterial food and it is also anti-inflammatory and has antioxidants. Whew! That’s a lot of anti-anything. This makes it a good for preventing sicknesses and for fighting them. After exercise, the body experiences inflammation and free-roaming radicals that can cause unwanted health issues and fight passed the immune system to render you feeling not so good. For this reason, you want to be sure to take in the best foods possible to reduce the chances of you getting sick after a hard workout.
If you’re into smoothies, add a thing slice or two of ginger into your blends. Like to stir fry or just want to keep it simple with brown rice tonight? Grate some garlic and add it to your dishes for an extra kick and some super tasty flavor. You could even grate some ginger and add it to a glass of room-temperature water with some lemon and cayenne spice to give your immune system the wake-up call it may need. Try it!
The very same sulfur-containing compounds that give garlic its off-putting odor are some of the very compounds that make it one of the most-supported foods for promoting good health. Just one clove contains about 5mg of calcium, 12 mg of potassium, and tons of sulfuric compounds which makes garlic a no-brainer when it comes boosting the immune system. What’s more, a key property of garlic is allicin which is known to kill certain bacteria and to fight off infection; there are other properties of garlic that have these abilities as well.
There are many ways to consume garlic and many forms it comes in, but Val and I usually slice and dice and then cook it in our dishes. What I’ve learned so regarding cooking garlic is the following:
To get the most out of your garlic, cut the clove open and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before starting to cook with it or consuming it raw. When a clove is left open, allicin starts to form which is where the power punch of garlic really comes from. Cooking the garlic does stop the sulfur enzyme from forming, but once the allicin has already started to form (after the clove has been left to sit for up to 10 minutes) it’s my understanding that the allicin has become more heat resistant and can be cooked in low heat for 10-15 minutes without the allicin being destroyed.
The body is a marvelous thing. It’s astonishingly good at being Ms. Prevention and Mr. Fix-it at the same time, but it doesn’t mean we can just sit back, eat popcorn and Twizzlers, and simply be along for the ride. We have to be willing to always be in the driver’s seat and to give our body the best care we can give it. It may be okay to put Regular in the gas tank every now and then (I certainly do it), but we should always strive to give our bodies the Premium it deserves.