Go Wild (or at least organic)

Want to give your immune system a boost? Then eat your vegetables! And the wilder, the better.

You already know that when you get sick, your body responds by making antibodies to fight the germs. But did you know that plants make antibodies too? We call them anti-oxidants. When a plant is threatened by pests, fungi, or other invaders, the plant produces chemicals to repel the invader and protect the plant. These protective chemicals form an essential component of the plant’s immune response. When we eat plants containing such immune-enhancing substances, our own immunity is strengthened. Anti-oxidants from plants protect our cells from premature breakdown, aging, and diseases, including cancer.

Babies develop their immune systems by catching colds and getting sick. This allows their immune system to “practice” fighting germs. These childhood illnesses strengthen the baby’s immune system by giving it exercise. So a few germs can actually strengthen us. By the same token, research tells us that children raised in too clean an environment grow up to have more allergies and chronic illness as adults.

It’s the same with plants. When plants must struggle to survive, they grow stronger and produce more anti-oxidants.

Therefore, when we choose our food, we want to choose plants that have had a “rough childhood.” No molly-coddled, pampered, hothouse tomatoes for us! Give us wild spring onions, fiddlehead ferns plucked fresh from the woods, and wild huckleberries pulled straight from the bush as we hike by. Wild plant foods are tremendously strengthening.

In the summertime, you may find wild blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and mulberries. (My daughter even found wild strawberries last weekend growing on the grounds of the American Museum of Natural History right here in Manhattan!) You can also collect the leaves of wild violets and add them to salads, or cook the greens of wild dandelions. Even in the city, we find wild onions. When you shop for herbs, try to get wild grown.

But we can’t live solely on wild plants. So our next choice should be organically grown plants, since organically grown plants have not been weakened by artificial pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. In other words, the had to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and fight for their lives. Sure enough, studies show that organic fruits and vegetables are richer in nutrients than produce grown with synthetic chemicals.

Using this same logic, I recommend vegetables grown outdoors over hothouse produce. Those hothouse plants have too cushy a life!

Think of it like this: If you had to hire a bodyguard, whom would you choose? One who led a sheltered, pampered life, never got much exercise, and never learned to hustle? Or a street-smart, scrappy fighter? Well, your vegetables protect you in much the same way as a bodyguard. So next time you go the grocery store, pass up those wimpy conventional veggies, and go for the brawny, burly organics! Your immune system will thank you.


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