5 Foods Everyone Should Eat More Often for Optimal Health (and Avoiding the Flu)

Can eating proper foods really protect you from a cold or the flu? I strongly believe that diet plays a major role in health. What we eat (and breathe and otherwise take in) is what we are.

Our bodies survive on what we put into them. Garbage in, garbage out (and vice versa). We must satisfy the needs of our various systems while keeping as many toxins out as possible, a term I use to loosely describe anything harmful to the human person, from arsenic to white sugar, trans fats to chlorine bleach.

I can vouch for our family’s experience: we have been much more healthy since incorporating more whole, nutrient-dense foods into our diet and cutting down on the junk (although we still have plenty of compromise foods and sweets).

5 Foods To Keep you Healthy

I left you hanging a month ago with 5 Foods Women Should be Eating and the mystery of which food I blame for my reduction in cellulite. Today you get to hear about that food, plus four more that improve the health of not only women, but men and children, too.

Katie Fox has already talked about Foods to Keep you Healthy recently, so that makes my job one step easier.

1. Cruciferous vegetables

Photo by La Grande Farmer’s Market

Why everyone should eat more: Vegetables always bring nutrients along, and the deeper the color, the better they are. Everyone needs to bulk up on antioxidants to fight the toxins in our air, our food, and our water, and broccoli and kale especially fill this need. Antioxidants support the immune system and fight cancer.

Why women should eat more: Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage) have a special compound called indole-3-carbinol, which reduces estrogen in the body, i.e. fights build-up of synthetic estrogen that all women take in from our environment. I just tackled that subject at Green…Your Way with “Does Your Water Have Estrogen in It?

Other Resources:

2. Chicken stock

Photo by Katie Kimball

Why everyone should eat more: Properly prepared chicken stock has gelatin to boost your immune system, aid digestion, increase protein efficiency (i.e., you can eat less meat and have the same benefits), and pump up bone density. You won’t believe how many diseases chicken stock can help!

Why women should eat more: Glucosamine in the stock rebuilds connective tissue damage that helps cause cellulite (see more at Cellulite Investigation). The collagen from the bones may also help the cellulite deal, but this is not even the food I assumed was responsible for my loss!

Other Resources:

3. Cod liver oil

Aw, man. I know, cod liver oil (or “CLO” for those in the know) sounds really yucky. Our family just started taking it this fall, and I cannot tell a lie: it is really yucky. We’ve learned to toughen up and take it because it’s good for us. Did you know CLO also comes in capsule form? Lovely.

Why everyone should eat more: Among the nutrients we really need for immune system and general health, Vitamin D is at the top of the list. Cod liver oil has twice as much Vitamin D as the next closest food in the running (pastured lard), four times that in sockeye salmon, and over 50 times as much as pastured eggs. The Vitamin D in CLO is more bioavailable than the synthetic stuff in your breakfast cereal or store whole milk. It also helps us balance our omega 3s with our omega 6s, which is key for many health issues. (You can also lower your intake of omega 6s by cutting out polyunsaturated vegetable oils.)

Why women should eat more: Omega 3 fatty acids and DHA, a healthy fat found almost exclusively in fish and breastmilk, both serve to help women build healthy babies, balance hormones, and fight depression and mood issues. Vitamin D also helps proper absorption of calcium, for which women over 40 have a particular need.

Other Resources:

4. Yogurt

This one is pretty easy to swallow, and just about everyone will agree that more yogurt is healthy for you.

Photo by Katie Kimball

Why everyone should eat more: Our guts house 80% of our immune system. I kid you not. If you want to have a balanced intestinal flora, you need to make sure you invite “good bacteria,” aka probiotics, to be among your 100 trillion microscopic houseguests. Make sure your yogurt has “live and active cultures” listed on the container, or make homemade yogurt to save money and increase your nutrition even more.

Why women should eat more: Probiotics help protect from yeast infections and osteoporosis, and they also ease symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, recently pegged as an attacker of more women than men. Yogurt also helps you feel full longer, a nice bonus.

5. Coconut oil

Photo by Chandrika Nair

Why everyone should eat more: As a saturated fat, poor coconut oil has gotten a bad reputation in our time. However, coconut oil is still a plant oil, and its medium-chain fatty acids are unmatched in their ability to give quick energy. Lauric acid, a crucial component of breastmilk, is found in nature almost exclusively in coconut oil, to the point that formulas have to include coconut oil just to get it right. This fat is metabolized quickly and would be hard-pressed to stay on your figure as stored fat/extra pounds.

Coconut oil is naturally antiviral and antibacterial, so who wouldn’t want to have it regularly in their system while the viruses and bacteria from your neighbor’s sneeze are trying to take root?

Why women should eat more: The lauric acid is great for mother’s milk supply, and coconut oil also promotes strong bones for women as we age. Personally, I think the easily digested saturated fats may have been my cellulite’s undoing. Including coconut oil in our regular diet was one of many changes I’ve made in our family’s nutrition over the past two years, so my claim is certainly not backed by empirical data…but the coconut oil surely isn’t hurting!

Other Resources:

Don’t forget that the five foods women should be eating more of have an awful lot of healthy components for men and children, too. The brain-boosting choline in eggs, the energetic B Vitamins in liver and red meat, the incredible antioxidants and eye health packed into spinach, salmon’s omega 3s and the immune-system supporting fats in whole dairy and butter all work together with today’s five foods to make not only a great meal, but a healthy family.

What’s your first line of defense against sick bugs?

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33 Comments

  1. Alicia

    I am doing pretty well on number one and five. Any chance of a vegetarian or vegan five? 🙂

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Alicia,
      Most of my research points to the fact that well-raised animal products are very healthy for humans to eat. However, if you want to mimic this list, consider what nutrient is the shining star of a given food and try to find a vegan alternative. For example, it’s the probiotics in yogurt that are highlighted, so water kefir, kombucha, or even something like coconut milk yogurt would be a good substitute.

      I don’t know that you could get nutrition like chicken stock without animal bones, For Vitamin D, there aren’t any foods on the list that have natural D, and this one is the only non-animal product that is even in the running for a worthwhile amount: mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light to increase Vitamin D. (??? Is that radiation?) I would recommend more time in direct sunlight for that one!

      You may want to read the archives of Jenny at Nourished Kitchen who was a vegan before coming around to traditional foods.

      🙂 Katie

    • Linda

      As a long-time vegan, nutritionist, and mother of three, I strongly disagree that we need to/should consume animal products for good health. Quite the opposite. There has been so much research showing that plant-based diets not only prevent but reverse disease. I don’t understand where the idea that geletin and chicken broth are beneficial for one’s health is coming from. I’ve heard all the arguments for the “Nourshing Tradition” style of eating. But it really is unfounded. Yes, there is a difference between eating the flesh of a hormone pumped chicken being fed antibiotics and animal protein, and a chicken that is not full of chemicals.
      Still, there is no further benefit to eating this way. Any diet that claims any benefits to filling one’s diet with animal products is unfounded and dangerous.

      • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

        Linda,
        If I’ve learned one thing in my reading on nutrition, it’s that you can always find the opposite of what you just read, both research-based and with people following. I’m sorry you feel I shared dangerous information, but at least I think we can agree that people should be eating food in its whole form, not those made in a lab. We’re both battling against the larger part of the population’s eating habits just with that step alone, since it would discount all the packaged dinners and fast food restaurant meals that our culture is so dependent upon.

        Thanks,
        Katie

      • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

        Linda,
        I’ve been thinking a lot about animal products being “dangerous” and the fact that you’re a trained nutritionist, and I’m not.

        I wasn’t going to stir the pot, but I’ve become curious. How do the following issues work for vegans, especially children:
        1. Phytoestrogens in soy. I know it’s not impossible to be a vegan and avoid soy, but it’s awfully tough. Isn’t soy a dangerous food, especially for little girls?
        2. Vitamin D. How to get enough in the winter in northern climates when sun exposure just isn’t going to happen?
        3. Vitamin B12. I understand that vegans have to get a B12 shot, because without animal products you can’t get this nutrient, and it’s not even assimilated unless it’s intramuscular. How would this have been possible 100 years ago? If eating animal products is dangerous, what choice would former generations have had to have a well-balanced diet?

        I love my veggies, and I’m always pleased to see my daughter eating cucumbers and carrots before dinner, but it just feels odd to exclude all animal products, when they’re such a vital part of so many traditional diets.

        I hope we can have a civil and interesting discussion here, and I’m looking forward to learning from you.
        🙂 Katie

        • Tanya

          I can’t bear it when vegans preach about the dangers of animal products in our diets. Veganism is not natural to humans, a fact which is easily proven by the presence of the different types of teeth humans have in their mouth. We are omnivores. There are cultures that eat mainly meat/animal products and have survived and flourished for centuries like this. Our physiology is that of an omnivore (hydrochloric acid in the stomach, types of digestive enzymes manufactured in our pancreas, types of teeth). How can a diet that fails to provide all of the nutrients necessary to human health be considered best? Such a diet is surely the more dangerous one?

  2. priest's wife

    Thanks for these tips- my husband works in health care, so I am concerned with the germs he brings home

  3. Nicola

    Thanks for the tips. We are all sick with the flu at the moment so it’s very relevant to us. Must admit we are quite good with our cruciferous vegetables. Everything else we could work on.

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Nicola,
      The bone broth makes SUCH a difference – I try to include it 1-2x a week in the winter. Hope you’re all feeling well soon! 🙂 Katie

  4. Kika

    Can’t do the chicken stock as I don’t eat meat; I make my own veggie stock but I know that is not the same.

  5. sarah

    Hmm. Bummer. I really can’t handle yogurt. So, so icky. I just can’t take the smell or the consistency. *shivers* I suppose you mean the fun “plain” yogurt, too – the stuff without all the added sweetener?

    I go on kicks where I’ll try it for a while, but my brain always loses. Every time! Chicken stock we have sometimes when we aren’t feeling like being vegetarians. And cod liver oil? I’ve never even tried that.

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Sarah,
      I hated yogurt until I was pregnant with my first child – isn’t that weird! I’ve grown to love it *almost* as much as ice cream. In fact, with frozen fruit and raw honey, it gets that “cold and creamy” fix that I look for from ice cream. You could always try regular smoothies with plain yogurt, frozen fruit (bananas help a lot) and raw honey.
      🙂 Katie

  6. Melissa @Cellulite Investigation

    Thanks for spreading the word about cellulite, Katie! So many women think its something we just have to live with. They would be surprised at the number of women I’ve heard from who noticed results like yours when they switched from the usual industrialized foods to a more traditional nutrient-dense diet. Chicken stock and coconut oil are two good places to start when it comes to cellulite reduction. My latest theory involves homemade shrimp stock. This theory is still in the testing phases, but it has real potential as an anti-cellulite powerhouse.

  7. Nisha

    Great article Katie! I never thought to use chicken stock as a natural way to get in more glucosamine. My poor knees need all the glucosamine I can get!

  8. Tiffany Nixon

    as a raw food vegan I definitely don’t believe this list is top 5 foods. it may be a list of some foods people rarely eat that could have some benefit, but i think there are plenty of healthier choices…. my list of foods we should eat more often would be ORGANIC DARK GREENS (like kale); ORGANIC TOMATOES; AVOCADOS (especially if you’re underweight like my husband who runs marathons and eats raw but rarely eats enough); and then I would just say TURMERIC ROOT and CAYENNE (especially for those with allergies and inflammation) and I almost forgot ORGANIC BLUEBERRIES…man, i hate to choose since I love a ton of variety in my fruits and veggies 🙂

    • Linda

      I agree 100% Tiffany! I envy you raw vegans!!!! Someday… 🙂

      • Tiffany Nixon

        I have only been doing it for about 9 weeks, but have been vegetarian or vegan for 15 years. I feel the best i have felt in my life and lost almost 30 pounds in 9 weeks…. totally worth it! go for it!

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Tiffany,
      In my first segment, 5 Foods Women Should be Eating, I did include dark leafy greens as they are definitely a nutrient powerhouse.

      Although my kiddos eat their veggies much better than average in the 5-and-under crowd, I can’t imagine life without any animal products. We’d rely on grains so much it would be crazy.

      I do think there are many variations on diet that can keep a person healthy, and as long as you’re eating real food in its whole form, I can’t fault you.

      I often say that when it comes to food and nutrition, it’s almost more a matter of belief than science, because you can find conflicting evidence wherever you look. Clearly raw veganism feels right and is working for you, and I’m glad of it!
      🙂 Katie

  9. Alicia

    I didn’t realize this was a Nourishing Traditions blog or I wouldn’t have asked for veggie options. I figured a blog with a title like “Simple Organic” would recognize the health benefits of a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. No biggie. 🙂 I will say that our family is very healthy, even (especially, actually) the vegetarians.

    As for the veggie alternatives, I find that broth soups (especially with lots of garlic and onion) help our immune systems immensely and I agree about sunlight being a great source of vitamin D — I’d say the best, actually!

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Alicia,
      I’m glad you appreciated the veggie options I tried to share, and you’re right, garlic and onion in a broth would do wonders.

      To be clear, Simple Organic is absolutely not a Nourishing Traditions blog. I am one of many contributing writers here, and I am familiar with and blog about some Nourishing Traditions concepts over at my own blog, Kitchen Stewardship. However, I also like to challenge some of the bad science I see in that tome, and I’m not afraid to disagree.

      For me, I have never really considered a vegetarian diet. It’s just not something I have felt called to or interested in (and S.O. is not a Christian blog, but I happen to have a personal faith that impacts my decisions, even about food). I’ve been making chicken stock and yogurt since long before I read NT or discovered the traditional foods philosophy that resonated with me.

      We all do what we feel is best for our families, and I am glad you know what food choices work best for you. I’m certain you’ll find other articles of interest here at Simple Organic – we surely don’t talk food all the time!

      Thanks, Katie

  10. Courtney

    These are all amazingly tasty as well as good for you. I have been encouraging moms to cook a whole chicken, use the leftover meat for another meal, make broth from the carcass, and soup from the broth. A great penny saver meal!!

    A friend just told me she has been adding a teaspoon or so of coconut oil into her coffee or tea with cream and loves it. I have also added it to smoothies and cook with it quite a bit.

  11. Eliza

    There are many benefits of Cod Liver Oil, but it also has the effect of lowering the immune system, which it did in the case of my son. It should be taken as directed by a health professional who understands the full health profile of the individual.

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Eliza,
      This is a new one for me, and I’m curious to hear more as we just started taking cod liver oil (and my daughter’s had a cough ever since). What aspect of CLO hurts the immune system? Do you have any articles that you read about this that I could check out? Thank you for commenting! 🙂 Katie

  12. Maryline

    So what foods should teens really eat ?

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Maryline,
      I would think very similar to adults, if not exactly the same. Teens might need even more quick energy (coconut oil) and brain power (salmon and other fish, well-raised eggs). And of course…eat your spinach! (j/k…well, no, I’m not…) A well-balanced diet is good for everyone!
      😉 Katie

  13. April Montgomery @ Blendtec Blender Reviews

    I am interested in everything related to food, as I have been a cooking lover for quite some time. These 5 foods are very healthy, indeed, and they also taste good, so it is not too difficult to take care of our bodies by eating them. There are many meals in which these products can be combined. There is no reason not to be healthy!

  14. Sara

    LOVE this post!! I’m a fairly recent simple mom reader but I’ve been making steps toward eating better. Currently my husband is in school and working and I work full-time fr a home office and have an 8 month old so I can’t do it all, but I prefer to make my own spaghetti sauce, bread, sweets (if I have a sweet food craving) etc. I have yet to attempt stock. Last time we had a whole chicken I didn’t have time to cook the stock but I tossed the bones in a ziploc bag & put it in the freezer… I joined a CSA this spring and it’s been a great experience that I will do again. Can’t wait for hubby to be out of school so I can slow down my work & spend more time taking care of the home. My mormor (Swedish grandmother) did everything from scratch – I so admire her and someday I hope to prepare our foods how she did. She rarely bought processed and her food cellar was stocked w jams, pickles, potatoes & other such items. Her basement freezer was also fully stocked w berries, chicken stock, veggies or other foods she prepared. Sorry for uber long comment!! Love the post!!!

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Sara,
      For someone who’s never made stock, you sound like you know what you’re doing! 😉 I always freeze the bones until I have at least 2 birds, so that I can make a bigger batch of stock all at once. You’ll love it when you do it!
      🙂 Katie

  15. MaloneSusanne26

    I guess that to receive the home loans from banks you must present a good reason. Nevertheless, one time I’ve received a commercial loan, just because I was willing to buy a bike.

  16. removals hertfordshire

    In my way of thinking from the evolution of plant and animals I have discovered that eating everyday a recapitulation of the 3.2 billion year evolution of plants is the food for optimal health. It’s the food mother nature has provided for us. It is very orderly and well structured as one can obviously see in the farmer’s fields: grain, vegetables, beans, seeds and nuts, giving humanity endless sources of food!

  17. locksmiths basingstoke

    I use my mums old recipe to keep away from flu and stay fit and energetic during the winter. Here is my recipe: prepare garlic paste (just simply smash row garlic), boil some milk and once it starts simmering add garlic paste and table spoon of organic honey. Mix everything up. Leave it for a few min and drink it.

  18. Auretha Callison

    I was an organic vegetarian for 10 years and relied heavily on soy milk, almond cheese and diverse vegetables and fruits, grains, pastas, etc. Sadly, my healthy teeth developed cavities and my gums began to recede. I had terrible cellulite and felt weak and dizzy so much of the time. I never lost weight, only gained, and I ate no junk food, only a very “healthy” diet. The lack of grass-fed animal based nutrients created a health crisis for me. I have added these foods to my naturally vegetarian diet.

    Re-introducing consciously cared for grass~fed nutrients has changed my life. My teeth and gums are healing, and quickly! I need to implement more of the coconut oil (I use it alot on my skin, but need to eat it more) for weight loss. I now crave healthy amounts of grass-fed, consciously raised beef, eggs and raw milk & cheese. I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER.

    I don’t enjoy the thought of animals dying for my food, but they do in the wild. It’s the circle of life. I am very kind to all creatures but have found that this way of eating is EXTREMELY HEALING to my physical body and I would encourage every vegetarian to try it for a short time to see if you notice the difference. You do have to be energetically open to it for it to work, however. 😉 I notice how my BRAIN WORKS MUCH BETTER. I think we have to not have such strict ideas about what we “should” be eating and relax into our bodies own innate wisdom. (Omnivore’s Diet?)
    I highly suggest MUSCLE TESTING since your body can need nutrients differently through the year.

    My body’s wisdom is finding more water-based foods during summer is working well, with small amounts of protein, and as little sugar as I can manage. Iced green tea lattes with raw milk are my morning staple. My body doesn’t like coffee and sneezes every time I intake quality chocolate. I avoid all grains except occasionally quinoa and rice, unless my body is telling me it’s time for some carbs!

    I think aging well (GROWING YOUNG) is all about letting go of what anyone else thinks and doing what works best for you.

    All my love,
    Auretha Callison,
    Image Stylist, Aliveness Guru
    http://www.Auretha.com

    • Katie @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Auretha,
      What a fantastic comment! I love the term “consciously cared for,” so much better that the rather haughty sounding “well-raised” or “properly raised” phrases that I’ve defaulted to. I think I’ll use your term from now on!

      I find it fascinating to hear of people really tuning into their bodies like this. Thank you SO much for enhancing the information on this post!
      🙂 Katie

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