Eating to Support Your Immune System
Like Venus, I have an autoimmune condition but what I have is called Alopecia and it’s characterized by my immune system attacking my body’s hair follicles, leading to total hair loss. I want to show you, based on my own experience, how what you eat has a profound impact on your body’s immune health and your overall energy.
From a young age, my goal was to play professional soccer – a goal I was able to realize in my early 20s. Throughout most of my life I suffered with really bad asthma, eczema, and low energy. It’s quite remarkable that I was even able to play soccer considering I would sleep 12-14 hours per day just to get by. Like so many young athletes, I was fit but I wasn’t healthy. I didn’t realize that until I lost all the hair on my body (scallp, eyebrows, eyelashes, etc…) in the space of 6 weeks when I just 17.
My immune system had turned against my body. Why? Because of the foods and stressors that I had subjected my body to since I was a young child. My immune system could no longer differentiate between a real “foreign invader” and my own body. That’s what can happen when you continue to abuse yourself with allergenic and inflammatory foods.
Growing up, my diet consisted of the typical standard American fare – lots of cereal, bread, dairy, sugar, processed foods, and very few vegetables and fruit. These are the very foods that create inflammation in our body and impose a huge stress on our immune system. Sadly, I didn’t realize the impact of my dietary choices until my mid-twenties when I pursued studies in holistic nutrition. The good news is that when I discovered the truth, I improved my diet and cleaned up the toxic wasteland inside of me and, as a result, my hair started to regrow. Within a few short weeks, most of my hair had returned. I was pumped!
Even more amazing for me was that I had more energy than ever before. I was sleeping 6-8 hours per night and waking up feeling refreshed. I had energy that lasted all day long and my mental acuity was razor sharp.
So what did I do differently, you ask? It’s actually quite simple. Here was my 2-pronged approach:
- I cut out most (if not all) of the inflammatory and allergenic foods in my diet. The three big culprits were wheat, dairy, and refined sugars. By removing these foods, I alleviated the load on my immune system almost overnight. Since 80% of our immune system is located in and around our gut, it’s helpful to remember that the foods we eat can be our biggest enemies or friends. The former trigger the immune system into unfavorable, hypersensitive responses, which can over time to lead to increased allergies and even autoimmune disorders.
- I included more real, fresh food into my diet. I personally believe that focusing on adding in more good naturally pushes out a lot of the bad. Here my focus was on following a predominantly plant-based diet, which is so powerful because of its anti-inflammatory benefits. Tons of vegetables and non-sweet fruit were (and still are) the name of the game. I’m not saying you have to become vegan or vegetarian but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single study that does not support the massive importance plant foods have on our health.
For me, the easiest way to consume 8-10+ servings of vegetables and fruit each day was (is) by juicing and making smoothies. Think about it – in one green juice or smoothie you can easily get 5-6 servings of plant foods into your body. Then, add in a salad with lunch or dinner and you’re laughing. And to get you started, here’s one of my favorite green juices that you can whip together to your morning started. Simply run everything through a juicer and you’ll get about 500 ml of energizing green juice:
- 1 head of kale or Swiss chard
- 6-8 stalks of celery
- ½ handful of parsley or cilantro
- ¼ cucumber
- 1 carrot
- 1 apple
- 1 lemon
The take-home message from all of this is simple: limit your consumption of foods that wreak havoc on your immune system (the ones that cause inflammation, as noted above) and focus on eating more foods that cool inflammation (plant foods).
When you do this, it’s amazing how your body responds. You feel more energetic almost overnight, your skin improves, athletic performance and recovery are enhanced, and if you have any pre-existing health issues (like an autoimmune condition) they become so much more easy to manage and hopefully overcome.
Now, it’s your turn.