Ready? Today I want to share with you how you can avoid colds and flu this season. Both are at their usual peak levels, and with a couple lifestyle changes, you can increase your chances of staying healthy.
How to Avoid Colds and Flu This Season
Let’s face it – it’s everywhere. Is it really possible to avoid colds and flu?
Across the country, we’ve been having excessively cold weather and epic low temperatures. This is giving many of us snow days with our kids, which can be a lot of fun. The flip side of that is, many times with the kids home, viral contagions come home with them. Why is it that kids catch and carry disease so well?
Partly it’s because they’re full of mucus. Mucus holds on to pathogens like cold and flu viruses. To some degree, kids and mucus go together, and that’s because of the link between their immature digestive systems and mucus itself. Kids also catch and carry disease because their immune systems are immature. Coming into contact with their environment is a part of the process of building their immune system, and sometimes the result is catching a cold.
So why is it that we adults with our grown-up immune systems catch their stuff so easily, as well as our co-workers’ and our spouse’s viral stuff? Here are a few of the major reasons we’re vulnerable to colds and flu as adults:
Lack of sleep
Overwork or excessively busy schedules
Lack of exercise
Diet (this is a really big one)
Your body constitution
You have a large degree of control over some of these factors, but especially the one I want to address in this blog – diet. Let’s talk about the factors in your diet that produce too much mucus and dampness.
Why? Because dampness and mucus are two of the biggest problems that influence our exposure to colds and flu.Dampness and mucous are two of the biggest problems that influence our exposure to colds and flu. Click To Tweet
How do you know if you have too much dampness in your body?
- You’re full of snot and phlegm all the time. You’re constantly clearing your throat, you’re coughing up clear mucus. These things might be associated with a cold for you right now, but in general, if your constitution is damp you’ll be experiencing this all the time.
- You’re puffy or swollen and feel like you retain water.
- You don’t pee out much urine because you’re retaining too much water.
- Your stools are loose or watery.
- You feel heavy and gain weight even if you just look at food. You feel bloated most of the time, especially at the end of the day.
- You have a tendency to develop nodules or lumps on various parts of your body, like your arms, stomach, the backs of your shoulders, legs, even on the wrist.
In Chinese Medicine, we have a saying, “The Earth element creates Damp and the Metal element stores it.” What this means is that poor digestion becomes a problem for the lung and the large intestine. Dampness creates mucus in the lungs and mucus-y, loose, sticky stools. Yuck!
So in other words, you’re already more prone to conditions with mucus if your constitution is damp.
What can you do about this? How can you reduce dampness and mucus and avoid colds and flu this season and for the rest of your life?
First, a lesson on snot.
We don’t want to completely eliminate mucus because we need that healthy goo to catch the nasty stuff that’s going into our mouths and our noses. Healthy mucus flushes viruses and dirt and environmental particles and other pathogens down what we call the ‘tracheal toilet’. This is basically your entire digestive system, starting with your mouth and throat. A healthy mucus lining is a really big factor in respiratory and immune health. Did I just blow your mind?
Two Important Lifestyle Changes You Can Implement Today to Avoid Colds and Flu.
You can reduce excess mucus by making tiny but daily changes to the way you eat. These might not seem small if you love your heavy, sweet foods.
Reducing the amount of these 3 foods in your diet will significantly impact how much phlegm and dampness your digestion produces. If you don’t believe me, take these 3 foods out of your diet for just 3 days. You’ll notice a ridiculous shift in your well-being.
Grains in and of themselves are not the bad guy. They provide certain nutrients and a degree of fiber for our diets. But for those of us with damp constitutions, they increase the tendency to produce more mucus. This means allergies, blocked sinuses, weight gain, bloated stomach, and loose stools.
What do I mean by sugar? I’m talking about foods that are downright sweet and full of sugar. Pastries and pies, cookies and candy and some kinds of chocolate. But also some less-obvious foods. Soft drinks are one of the worst. They contain a LOT of sugar – up to 16 teaspoons in a normal-sized can! And the diet ones are full of artificial sweeteners, which create the sensation that they’re extremely sweet. This stimulates your desire for even more sweet. Did you hear what I just said? Even artificial sweeteners can stimulate your desire to eat more sweets!
Because oranges are in season in winter, I have to single out these little delicious fruits. Oranges are one of the worst offenders causing dampness in damp people. Next time you eat an orange, notice how within a short period of time you get a wad of mucus in the back your throat. I know oranges are full of vitamin C, and that’s a really great nutrient for us this time of year. But you can get vitamin C from other fruits that don’t cause phlegm. Consider replacing oranges with green apples, pomegranate, cranberries (without the sugar added), blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or a nice firm pear. You’ll notice all of these have just a tiny degree of sourness to them. Also avoid super sweet fruit – melons, cantaloupe, watermelon, pineapple, honeydew. Just like any sugar, they encourage more desire for sweet flavors.
I have to make special mention of a special category of dampening foods that isn’t strictly sweet. Sticky foods, like bananas, avocados, and dates aren’t so great for your damp body, even if they are loaded with nutrients. Sorry to all you avocado lovers. 🙁
We all know that dairy is mucus-producing so I won’t spend a lot of blog time explaining this. Particularly in this season, minimize your intake of dairy. You can read more about this as you scroll down.
2. Eat for Warmth
An unusual and not commonly acknowledged piece of wisdom for damp, mucus-y people is to eat a strictly warm diet. This is especially important in cold weather climates.
Cold food injures digestion if you’re already prone to dampness. Cold can also injure digestion when these foods are eaten over a long period of time, even if you aren’t prone to dampness. Over time, coldness in food and diet causes everything from bloating to weight gain.
In Chinese Medicine, we say Dampness (which is often created by Cold) combined with Heat (an opposite but equally problematic condition) can even cause cancer in some circumstances. Avoiding cold foods is a serious thing. A warm diet allows a stressed out tummy to stop working so hard and take a break.
And speaking of tummy stress, dairy is another cold-natured, damp food that causes no end of problems for many people. Avoiding ice cream, cold milk, and cheese lightens the load on our winter bodies.
If it comes out of the fridge and you don’t warm it up, it’s too cold for you. Maybe it goes without saying, but avoid iced tea, ice water, and refrigerated fruit this time of year, too.
Even if you do warm up a cold-natured food, like milk and cheese in a recipe, for instance, they’re still mucus producing, but slightly less so. It’s certainly better than just snacking on cheese slices to go along with your favorite crackers or chugging a big glass of milk along with your sandwich.
If you want to know more about why coldness creates dampness, you can google this information. Search ‘cold’ and ‘damp’ and the letters ‘TCM’ and that’ll help explain in the words of Traditional Chinese Medicine why cold and damp are related.
So let’s summarize:
Too much dampness makes you vulnerable to illness. To avoid excess mucus and keep your body healthy this season and all year long, follow these two simple rules:
- Avoid grains, sugar, and dairy – the top 3 mucus producing foods.
- Warm up your diet. Doesn’t a bowl of soup sound great?!
There are other body types and dietary imbalances that can lead to illness for their own unique reasons. That’s for another post. But fitting in just these two changes can make all the difference in your health this season.
I’d love to hear some of the changes you’ve implemented to avoid colds and flu this season. Feel free to SHARE!
Mo Horner is a professionally trained Registered Herbalist, specializing in botanical support for women and families. From hormones problems to emotional ups and downs, you’ll feel better about plant healing. Mo co-founded a donation-based community clinic associated with Herbalists Without Borders. She has two Omaha-area practices where she serves her clients in person or online, for those outside the area. Consultations are available by appointment.
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