The one thing that could be hurting your immune system?
It's not how much you exercise, although that certainly doesn't hurt.
It's not the supplements you take or the natural practitioner you visit — though both of these are important too.
Can you guess what that one thing is?
It's the food you eat!
Here are the top five foods that are compromising your immune system. Avoid or eliminate these foods, and you're sure to see a positive difference in how often you get sick or how long you stay sick.
1. Processed Foods
According to trusted natural doctor, Dr. Mercola, there is one change you can make today that will lower your risk of chronic disease, help you lose weight, and make you feel happier and more energized (source).
Cut processed foods out of your life.
These denatured foods are nothing more than chemicals and empty calories. They harm, not heal, the body.
Processed foods are full of additives, genetically modified ingredients, preservatives, monosodium glutamate (MSG), synthetic and rancid vegetable oils, and more. These ingredients give them a long shelf life, but are unrecognizable to your body which perceives them to be foreign invaders.
What does the body do in response to foreign invaders? It sends powerful antibodies to fight them.
Having to constantly produce massive amounts of antibodies to battle against these foreign foods weakens the immune system over time. This makes some people more susceptible to common illnesses, such as the flu or a cold, but causes serious issues, like autoimmune disease, in others.
Avoid boxed cereals, meals in a box, frozen dinners, canned foods, store-bought sauces and dressings, and store-bought condiments.
If it has a long shelf life, you shouldn't eat it!
Also, don't be fooled by the words “organic” or “natural” on food packages. There are plenty of health food stores carrying “healthy” organic and natural boxed cereals, cookies, and crackers, frozen meals, and canned soups that are just as processed as anything you'd find on the shelves of your supermarket or big box store.
Action step: Buying whole foods, that don't need a label at all, is the best and only way to avoid processed food.
2. Vegetable Oils
Vegetable oils are highly processed, unnatural, rancid fats. They compromise the immune system because they contribute to and cause systemic inflammation. The inflammation is caused by a disproportionate ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids to Omega 6 fatty acids.
Vegetable oils are extremely high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Today, it is believed that the average American's 6:3 ratio is 16:1. A healthy 6:3 ratio would be more like 4:1 – 1:2 (source).
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods like flax seeds, wild-caught salmon, pastured beef, and walnuts, promote healing and have anti-inflammatory properties (source).
Too much Omega-6 without enough Omega-3 to offset it results in harmful chain reactions throughout the entire body, including a suppressed immune system.
Dr. Ray Peat says vegetable oils can cause “acquired immunodeficiency” and weaken the immune system's function in ways similar to the damage caused by radiation, cancer, and viral infections.
A vegetable oil emulsion, made for intravenous injection, was marketed during the later part of the 20th century specifically for the purpose of suppressing the immune system of patients who have received organ transplants.
A 1978 study showed that vegetable oils kill white blood cells (source)! The immune system needs white blood cells to do its job, so why would we want to kill them by consuming vegetable oils?
Soybean, canola (rapeseed), grapeseed, sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, and peanut oils, margarine, and any oils labeled “unsaturated” or “polyunsaturated” have no business in the body of someone who is trying to maintain a high-functioning immune system.
Sugar literally wreaks havoc on our bodies. Here are a few ways it contributes to suppressing the immune system:
- It promotes inflammation (source). Inflammation rears its ugly head in many different forms, including weight gain, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, autoimmune disease, acne and eczema, allergies, and more. An inflamed body is a body with a weak immune system.
- It feeds harmful bacteria and yeasts, such as candida albicans, in the gut. It is a well-known fact that at least 70% of the immune system is in the gut. If we are feeding the harmful bacteria and yeasts, we contribute to their overgrowth, which results in fewer beneficial bacteria and yeasts to populate the gut. These beneficial organisms are what fight off germs and pathogens. It makes sense that, if we don't have enough of them, our immune systems are compromised and won't be able to fight off illness when it strikes.
- Sugar feeds cancer cells (source).
While some raw honey can be very beneficial for the body, eating lots of sugary foods, including tons of fruit, is not.
It's far better to use whole sweeteners, such as sucanat, coconut palm sugar, and raw honey; however, baked goods and other foods that use these sweeteners should always be reserved for the occasional treat, and not something that's consumed often.
Action steps: Significantly reduce or even eliminate sugar to boost your immune system. Avoid all sugar during times of illness because the sugar feeds the pathogens that cause illness. When you do want a sweet treat, make your own and use whole sweeteners like raw honey, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, or sucanat.
4. Restaurant Foods
Most restaurant food is nothing more than overpriced processed food. The majority of the food on a restaurant's menu, particularly chain restaurants, arrives pre-made and frozen. It only requires the restaurant to bake, fry, or microwave it to get it to your table as quickly as possible.
Because large profit margins are the only thing most restaurants are interested in, they use the cheapest ingredients possible: factory-farmed meat and eggs, non-organic produce, commercially produced dressings and condiments, and cheap, rancid vegetable oils.
None of these foods benefit your body in any way.
Another way restaurant food compromises your immune system is through poor food storage and unsanitary preparation methods. You are twice as likely to get a food-borne illness from a restaurant than from food prepared at home (source).
This doesn't mean you should never eat out. Eating out should be the exception and not the rule, however.
We have a couple of favorite restaurants where we always go when we eat out because they are committed to using locally sourced and organic ingredients whenever possible.
When we travel, we always search for a Chipotle if we'll be stopping to eat. Chipotle has a storewide non-GMO policy, uses local and organic produce whenever possible, sources grass-fed meats, cheese, and sour cream, and doesn't use soybean or canola oil in their cooking.
I believe that more and more restaurants are seeing the rise in folks demanding healthier menu choices and are starting to respond. This is promising for sure! In the meantime, avoid restaurant foods, especially chain restaurants and fast food joints. Your immune system — and your wallet — will thank you.
Action step: When you do eat out, do your research first. A quick Google search will tell you pretty quickly if there is a worthwhile restaurant near you. Use search terms like “farm to table”, “organic”, “local”, and “sustainable”.
5. Artificial Ingredients
There are over 3,000 different chemicals added to our food. There have been NO studies or research to show the effects of these food additives when consumed in thousands of combinations over time (source).
Food coloring found in many processed foods can cause our bodies to develop immune responses, leading to allergies, eczema, and food intolerances. These colorings are added to processed foods, especially those for children, to make them more fun and appealing, yet their effect is anything but appealing.
There is evidence that food dyes interfere with digestive enzymes and increase intestinal permeability (source). Hello, leaky gut.
Artificial sweeteners are another ingredient that compromises immunity, mainly because it is a foreign food that your body recognizes as an invader, cannot process, and sends antibodies to attack.
Artificial sweeteners are most commonly found in diet or “lite” foods, such Yoplait yogurt, Diet Coke and all diet drinks, chewing gum, chewable vitamins, ice cream, and sugar-free foods aimed at diabetics.
When reading labels, look for aspartame, sucralose, Splenda, NutraSweet, Acesulfame-K, and others. If you're unsure about an ingredient, don't buy that food until you've researched its ingredients.
I have a personal story that shows, anecdotally anyway, the inflammatory effects of aspartame. My dad drank Diet Coke every day for years. In his late 40s, he began to notice that he was developing stiffness and aches in his hands, especially in the morning. He would have to run his hands under hot water every morning in order to move his fingers without pain.
Somehow he came to the conclusion that his Diet Coke habit was to blame for this early arthritis, so he stopped drinking them. Within a few days, the stiffness in his hands diminished. He was able to move his fingers freely, without running them under hot water first.
Without a doubt, there is a direct connection between artificial sweeteners and systemic inflammation. Who knows how much pain he would be in now in his 50s if he had not made that connection and continued to drink poison.
Artificial flavorings are another chemical additive to food that is compromising your immune system.
Because processed food is so denatured, it doesn't taste like food anymore. So fake lemon, orange, vanilla, or berry flavors have to be added in to mask the fact that no actual lemons, oranges, vanilla, or berries were used to manufacture the food and the fact that the food would taste awful without these flavorings.
These substances are unrecognizable, without nutrient value, and trick our brains into thinking they taste better than whole foods. Even if these artificial ingredients weren't proven to be harmful — which they are — eating them in any quantity compromises immunity because the more fake foods you eat, the less whole foods make it into your body.
Action step: Carefully read labels on any pre-packaged food you buy or eat. If you don't recognize an ingredient or can't pronounce it, it's best to avoid that food and reach for something you can recognize without a Ph.D. in chemistry.
It is the whole foods — vegetables, pastured meats and eggs, healthy fats, traditionally prepared grains, nuts, and beans, and raw dairy products — that energize, strengthen, and heal your body. No manufactured, “enriched”, flavored food can do for us what Real Food does.
What you're eating every day is either strengthening your body's defenses against sickness and disease or it's compromising those defenses. Eat wisely!
Do you regularly eat any of these foods? Do you think reducing or eliminating them from your lifestyle could have a positive impact on your immune system and overall health?
This post was featured in 82 Ways To Heal Your Gut.
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