Healing Foods: Lessons from the Flu

Healing foods are on my mind- I’ve been down with the flu the last few days. I was really bummed out by this illness, because I had just taken a week off from work, was enjoying ample sleep (except Christmas Eve),  was eating well, and was feeling relatively less stressed out (it’s the holidays, it’s all relative). I returned home from a short road trip, ready to embrace the new year.

I even blogged that it was time to embrace my vulnerability so that I would be free to “dare greatly.” This is not what I had in mind.

This illness really did force me to slow down, though, and focus on the basics of caring for myself. As the years pass, I am increasingly aware that the basics are where it’s at. While there was nothing I could eat that would cure the flu, I was reminded of the basic healing properties of food, which helped me to feel better in the moment. And these same things are on “the menu” for wellness and the prevention of heart disease and cancer.

So here are a few tips from my recent personal crash course:

  • Flood the germs! When I’m sick I always get this image of drinking so much water that the germs just can’t hang on. It’s not exactly accurate, but a sick body does need more water, for example, to regulate your body temperature (whether you drink it cold or hot). When a fever climbs, drinking plain water is a must, but it may not be enough. Tea, soups, and fruits will help close the gap.
  • Simmer down with a cup of tea. Tea will not only give you flavor variety as you down all those fluids, but will also help fight inflammation. Black, green, or white, drink up!
  • Behold, a hot cup of soup, a beautiful thing. In addition to the fluids, the tender grains and vegetables in soups are both soothing and strengthening. Collards, Swiss chard, kale, carrots, turnips, potatoes, peas, legumes, fennel, and tomato are just a few ideas to get you going. Onion and garlic have powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties-  a quick sauté in vegetable oil before adding broth will amp up the flavor (even though you may not be able to taste) and the healing power of your soup. The same can be said of many herbs and spices, such as rosemary, thyme, cilantro, cayenne pepper, and paprika. A helpful tip is to make a pot and freeze it BEFORE you get sick!
  • Sip on an immune-boosting fruit smoothie. Fruits are so important for not only vitamin C, but also immune boosting phytonutrients. Seek out blueberries, raspberries, tart cherries, mango, oranges, and pineapple, whether fresh, frozen, or canned. If the acidity of fruit irritates your mouth, throw them into a blender with yogurt to make a smoothie.
  • Slow down and listen to your body. With an upset stomach, it’s OK and actually important to cut back on fiber, spices, or acidic fruits if they bother you. Sometimes sleep is more important than eating, but keep a water bottle by your bed and keep sipping. When you are already sick, it’s too late to make a pot of soup from scratch- open a can and heat! In other words, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good (I need to find out who originally said this, because I’ve heard it a lot lately and it really hits home for me).

And of course, sleep, sleep, sleep. I haven’t had a cup of coffee in 5 days- who needs it after 10 hours of sleep a night!

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