Boost Your Immune System For the Coming Cold Season Using Real Foods
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Boost Your Immune System For the Coming Cold Season Using Real Foods

blueberry seed yogurt

Written by Shannon, Contributing Writer

When I was a teenager I used to get several colds every winter. Along with that came the inevitable bouts of bronchitis and/or pneumonia. Every year without fail. Looking back I can’t help but laugh because now I know why I was always sick.

My immune system was shot because I ate junk, never gave my body proper rest, and had destroyed my gut through many rounds of antibiotics.

The good news is we can recover and build our immune systems by simply feeding our body real foods. I very rarely catch colds anymore, even when everyone around me does. I attribute this to God’s grace and a few major changes I have made over the past ten years.

Fix Your Gut, Fix Your Immune System

Upwards of 75% of your immune system is in your digestive tract. That means if your gut is healthy, you are healthy. If you’ve ever eaten processed foods loaded with sugar and starch, if you’ve ever taken a round of antibiotics, if you’ve ever had a diet void of fermented foods; you probably have candida or an unhealthy gut.

The good news is you can heal your gut. Stephanie has talked before about the GAPS diet, which I believe to be the best method of healing for the gut. I also wrote a series on the importance of gut health last spring, including:

Above all else, I attribute a healthier immune system to a healthier gut.

melting butter in pan

Image by jessicafm

Real Food Provides Real Prevention

The best way to avoid a cold is to simply feed your body nourishing foods everyday. That means high quality proteins and real fats, plenty of seasonal vegetables, and fermented foods every day.

That may seem too simple in the context of the nutritionism language we now speak. So if you’re hearing about specific vitamins, minerals, and superfoods then lets take a look at how your breakfast or lunch could give you everything you need.

  • Vitamin D. This is one of the latest buzz vitamins, and for good reason. Traditional cultures have known for centuries that the foods that provide this vitamin keep them healthy. Good sources include fermented cod liver oil, wild seafood, pastured lard and pastured eggs.
  • Vitamin C. Though most people reach for orange juice when sick, this may not be the best choice for vitamin C as it contains loads of sugar, known to break down the immune system for hours. Good sources include citrus fruits, berries, greens, and bell peppers. Acerola powder is a great supplement for vitamin C.
  • Probiotics. As mentioned above, these friendly bacteria can keep your gut defenses strong. Real food sources can include yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, kombucha, and water kefir. If you want a probiotic supplement I recommend finding a high quality brand like BioKult.
  • Fresh garlic. The allicin found in crushed, raw garlic is great for fighting infections and keeping up your immune system. When my husband feels something coming on he downs cloves of chopped garlic in his food and off a spoon with raw honey.

It really is as simple as what you put on your plate.

artsy garlic hanging

Image by modomatic

Real Food Supplements

Real food prevention is not limited to your meals. Taking a tea or tincture derived from healing plants can provide prevention. And if you do fall ill there are ways to treat both the symptoms and the underlying problem.

  • Echinacea. This is a power herb that can help fight infection. Both the roots and leaves may be used to create a tincture or tea. We try to keep a steady supply on hand for when someone is feeling a bug coming on.
  • Elderberry. This is my favorite for adults and children and for prevention. I keep a glycerin tincture on hand for the little ones and an alcohol derived tincture for adults. Taken several times throughout the day, I have seen the healing powers of this berry many times.
  • The Neti Pot. It is strange and hilarious and really effective. Whenever I have sinus congestion I use this and it works wonders for your symptoms. Katie at simple organic wrote a great article on how to use one.
  • Herbs for Chest Congestion. My husband has struggled with chest congestion on and off for a while. Everyone’s favorite soup herb, thyme, is great for this. I prepare several cups of tea throughout the day for him and keep a tincture on hand as well.
  • Horehound for cough. When someone comes down with a hacking cough I like to give them an expectorant herb like horehound to help bring up whatever it is they need to cough out. Horehound in syrup or tincture form works well.

There you have it: real prevention and treatments with real foods.

How are you boosting your immune system and treating with real foods?

This is the first post of Natural Home Remedies and Illness Prevention Month here at Keeper of the Home!

natural home remedies month at KOTH

Top image by thepinkpeppercorn

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  1. Yes! Over our healthful eating journey in the past few years I have noticed significant improvement in my family’s immune system just by what we eat {or don’t eat!}. The main thing I did was start cutting out as much refined sugar as possible.
    We also started using elderberry syrup at the first sign of a cold. That stuff is amazing and works so well. I am so blessed continually for learning what the Lord has made to keep our bodies healthy.

    Thanks for this article!

  2. What about allergies? I’ve been very healthy as far as colds go but I still struggle with allergies.

      1. @Shannon,

        Alright, thanks! I’ve heard local honey can help seasonal allergies, but the amount suggested it a whopping 16g of sugar.

        1. @Debra @ Happy To Be Home,
          I have a friend who used the “local honey” treatment for his allergies with outstanding results! He also cut out processed sugar. He used honey in his tea and coffee, on his cereal, on a spoon, drizzled over apples, etc. throughout the day.

          It may add a lot of carbohydrates but really, if you cut out processed sugars, you will probably net LESS carbs from sweets.

    1. @Debra @ Happy To Be Home, I have lots of seasonal allergies (and food intolerance issues). I’ve found a good deal of relief from using local raw honey as well as daily nettles infusions. Apparently goldenrod (leaf and flower) tea is also very helpful and a friend of mine who is an herbalist mentioned ragweed tea (astringent). If I’ve been outside a while I’ll usually use a neti pot to help rinse out some of the irritants. I still struggle with the fatigue and brain fog I get from allergies, but it seems to be more manageable and I have less of the itchy eyes/runny nose. Oh, and vitamin C in large doses (1-2g) for acute reactions really helps me.

  3. Goji berries! They are a nutritional powerhouse that heals the gut. They’re like a tiny vitamin that God attached to a bush in China! What a wonderful find!

    1. Hmm. The blog address came out all wrong, (please delete if necessary!) but there is a recipe for Goji crispy bars on the blog under the Nutrition heading.

  4. I totally agree. I need to do more in terms of natural remedies. Its just hard to due in a season of stress and sickness already. Its a priority whenever that ends!

    I don’t think people think enough about rest. I know I struggle with getting enough due to varying factors, but we can do what we can…and most of us don’t do even that. Our “to do” list calls and then we pay for it. Sometimes life throws things at us and we can’t help but loose sleep, but often its in our control yet we don’t get enough due to our own choices.

  5. I just made another batch of elderberry syrup today. All three of us (husband, 2 1/2 year old son, and myself) take a small spoonful every day during the fall and winter. We didn’t get sick at all last year, and I hope this year is the same. It’s really amazing how a real food diet can keep us so healthy!

      1. @Jenny in CG,

        It’s really simple! Mix 1/2 cup of dried elderberries (or 1 cup of fresh berries) with 2 cups of water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 – 25 minutes. Strain the berries out of the liquid, and you should have approximately 1 to 1/4 cup of liquid. Mix it with 1 cup of honey, and store in the fridge. That’s it!

        I use local, raw honey, so I let the elderberry liquid cool before mixing it with the honey, so the heat doesn’t destroy all the good stuff in the honey.

        1. @Jen,
          Thanks, Jen! I will definitely try this…I’ve used store-bought elderberry tincture the past few years with wonderful results, but I’ve never seen a recipe w/o sugar before. Raw honey would be the perfect solution! =)

  6. We too have noticed that we have less colds and what not. I have also been trying to heal my digestive system after undergoing pelvic radiation a few months back. Apparently, the radition kills off the good bacteria in the intestines. And after reading your post I think I need to step up the healing process because it leads to more probelms then just digestion issues.

    Thank you for this information.

  7. Just a note about echinacea in tea… I was just at a seminar today about herbs/supplements that was taught by a naturopathic doctor and she said that echinacea isn’t effective if heated like in teas. I can’t remember the reason why but I wrote it down and thought I’d pass it on. Anyone else ever hear this? I know I have teas with it in it and now don’t know how much benefit they’ll be! So much to learn, as always. 🙂

  8. Very helpful article, Shannon! We share many of the same goals with regard to what we eat every day for immune health. This year, I experienced a spring/summer with no seasonal allergies — first time in my life. I attribute it to better gut health and also supplementing with bee pollen. I took the bee pollen sporadically, but I focused daily for more than a year on eating probiotic foods with practically every meal in addition to the good fats, etc.

    Something we’ve done recently is to take diatomaceous earth (DE) internally, as a sort of cleanse. It is helping one member of my family with diarrhea. It is mentioned in this article for its use as a toxic metal remover (though that’s not our purpose with it):

    I am so interested in the Neti pot! Definitely adding that to my list of things to think about getting. Thanks, again, for a thought-provoking and well-written article.

  9. I love home-cooked chicken soup (whole organic free-range chicken, lots of vegetables, garlic, ginger and, for the grown-ups, chili). I always cook a big pot and freeze it. My husband even took a can full of it to the hospital after the birth of our daughter :o)
    I also love ginger lemon or spice teas (with cloves, pepper,…) to get the body warm in cold season, drinking hot water (from ayurveda) and taking warm to hot foot baths when you have a cold.

  10. Thanks so much!!! I think I will be making a trip to Shoppers to see if they have elderberries, if not we are placing an order to online! Have been addictied to your site since I have found it & just love it!! Thanks again for all the handy info!

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