1. Avoid (or reduce) mucous forming & bacteria inviting foods
Sorry to tell you, but some of these may be your fave things to eat. This is especially important if you start to feel symptoms or someone else in your family is sick
- Dairy – especially hard cheeses, and cold yogurt, and especially dairy if it is COLD (don’t freak, a little cream in your hot coffee or tea is okay, unless you are actually sick, but if I see you drinking an ICED coffee with cold MILK, then I will freak). The exception is raw dairy (see below).
- Gluten – actually, as long as you are robustly healthy with strong digestion, organic wheat and it’s relatives (like spelt) are great winter foods because they are warming, however, it should be in moderation, and if you are exposed to someone sick, or feeling a cold or flu coming on, take a break.
- Sugar – yep, sorry sister (and brother), this one is the real deal. Bacteria LOVE sugar, so if you think you might get sick, it’s time to avoid it. And in general, get OFF THE WHITE SUGAR. At least switch to sucanat, maple syrup or coconut sugar.
- Leftovers – sorry again, I know you like ’em. They are the worst thing for your belly and your immune system. I need a full lecture to explain this one, so if your fingers are in your ears and you are chanting “lalalala I don’t hear you”, fine, I’ll let this one go for now. Find plenty of daily seasonal food ideas here!
- Cold food – this is a big one. Take your fingers out of your ears… I said, TAKE YOUR FINGERS OUT OF YOUR EARS. Cold food should be TOTALLY avoided in the winter, especially if you want to protect the integrity of your immune system. You must increase warming, warm, foods (and wear socks too!)
So this basically means, you better not look at any cookie dough ice cream you have lying around in the fridge. I’m serious! Because if you take one collective tip from the above it is to avoid ice-cream for the ENTIRE WINTER because it is sugar + dairy + cold temperature.
Okay, now the things you can do! These proactive food-based habits keep excess mucous and the naughty bacteria at bay. Your immune system and digestive system are directly linked, and colds and flus are more likely to invade (and win) when your digestive fire is low, slow or weak or your lymphatic system is boggy. These tips keep your fire kindled and burning, healthy bacteria thriving and your natural mucosa lining balanced and healthy. And although ice cream is NOT on the list, these foods are delish and appropriate for the season.
- Daily probiotic – cause the good guys will seriously fight off the bad guys. There is PLENTY of research on probiotics in your gut and the impact on the immune system. Probiotic pills are easy, and in the winter season, increase your intake of raw cultured foods like sour kraut or kim chi and apple cider vinegar.
- Beet it – Beets (especially raw beets) keep the lymph moving, and the excessive mucous down. Generally ayurveda recommends eating mainly cooked, warm foods in the winter, however, raw beets are an exception. Try a “flash pickle” – shredded raw beet, apple cider vinegar, salt, black pepper, a little olive oil and a little raw honey (maple syrup if you are sharing with a child under 2 years old).
- Spicy – Spice can kick some serious bacteria-butt! These reduce mucous, fight the bad bacteria, keep you warm inside and keep your immune system strong especially try Turmeric, Black Pepper, Gingeṛ, Clove, Cinnamon, Pippali (long pepper).
- Raw Local Honey – Honey actually pulls excess mucous from the respiratory and digestive system! Don’t heat it or cook with it, if you add it to tea, add when the tea is cooled down to a drinkable temperature. Note, honey is not appropriate medicinally during pregnancy or for children under two.
- Warm Beverages & Foods – Herbal teas, green or oolong teas (in moderation), warm water (try adding a little lemon), soups, curries and stews. These keep you warm, and your inner fire burning strong.
- Ginger – Yes, ginger gets its own special seat at the cold-prevention table. Cook with fresh ginger rhizome, in your food, ginger tea, and if you get sick, keep up the ginger.
- Dark Leafy Greens – Your lymph thrives on these, and they are totally in season.
A simple way to work with these principles is to eat a bowl of warm, spiced soup as your main meal every day – here’s a creamy dal soup recipe to try, and vary as you like, or a similar (but more european take) recipe for a blended seasonal soup. These are great with a side of flash-pickle beets or sauteed ginger kale.
Many of the warming, spicy, mucous reducing measures are warm, light and dry, however, to maintain immunity, you need an optimal amount of nourishing bodily-juiciness (called Ojas in Sanskrit). The mucosa membrane of the digestive tract and respiratory tract are there for a reason… and it is a delicate balance to keep just the right amount of mucous lining. If you get too dried out, you can produce “reactive mucous”, in your body’s attempt to balance, and then, there you are again, at risk for getting sick! In fact, getting overly hot and dried out in the summer months is what leads many people to have autumn allergies and colds.Note that when you are healthy, you can stay healthy with these food-based measures that support healthy ojas.
- Dates – Rich, sweet, cooling, and powerfully nourishing. If you are sick, back off the dates, as they are too heavy and sweet and can exacerbate your symptoms.
- Raw Milk, Warm Milk and Ghee – Wait what? Remember I said not to do dairy? Well, as long as you are actually healthy and have robust digestion, you can do warm milk, and even better if it’s raw (there is plenty of research that raw milk can actually stave off colds). If you are sick, back off the dairy, as they it is too heavy and mucous forming and can exacerbate your symptoms.
- Almonds & Sesame Seeds – Nourishing, warming, and calcium and protein rich.
- Coconut Meat, Milk & Water – Nourishing, hydrating, easy-to-digest – did you know coconut water used to be used for blood transfusions?
- Healthy Fats – ghee, butter, olive oil and coconut oil are great options to keep you oleated on the inside.
You can accomplish getting these into your system with one yummy treat (when you are healthy!) – like a warm almond or raw cows milk blended with cinnamon, cardamom, saffron and a date. Or try these ojas ladoos.
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