Monday, August 22, 2011

Eating (the rainbow) to Live Well

I am on maternity leave through August and September, so please enjoy today's guest post by BITL contributing author, blogger, midwife, and nutrition expert, Beth Genly, CNM, MSN.

Unless you eat a rainbow of whole foods, you probably won’t be able to produce all the immune cells and substances you need, and the ones you do produce may be compromised.”

About a year ago, I was electrified when I heard this sentence.1  I wrote it right down, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It matched my own experience: more than seven years ago, after decades of getting sick with every cold or flu virus to come down the pike, I got healthy -- when I changed to eating a lot more fruits and veggies every day. Let me share what I’ve learned.

Our immune system is vast, flexible and creative. It does all this:
  • Fights infection. Antibiotics, antivirals, immunizations… all rely on a functional immune system!
  • Patrols. Any invader, irritant, or trauma – whether on the skin, in our lungs, or most especially in our mouths and guts -- is checked “at the border” by our immune system.
  • Maintains a “most wanted” list. Our immune system keeps a reference list of all the “bad guys” it has ever met. (The midwife in me just has to point out that archive is passed to your baby via your breast milk – an advantage no formula can ever provide!)
  • Heals. The most vital step in healing is inflammation… more on that in a minute.
  • Prevents cancer. Your immune system identifies and clobbers cells that “go rogue” long before they have a chance to establish themselves as cancer, a vital service of which, happily, we generally remain unaware.
  • Detoxes and cleans up. Clears away chemical and other debris remaining after immune system activity, and returns everything to its healthy and functional best.
Within hours of a challenge by any irritant, infection, or injury, it responds by doubling and re-doubling its population of immune cells and substances. On an average-day there are 5 to 10 thousand immune cells per drop of blood. When challenged, that rises to 7 to 25 thousand cells in every drop2 – with a matching increase, of course, in all those immune substances, cytokines and so on. These new immune cells, initially quite vulnerable to toxins and stress unless they are created in an antioxidant-rich environment, must also arm themselves with more antioxidants to be able to do their jobs.
Thus, to build and supply this immune surge, your body rapidly draws lots of nutrients from reserves in the bloodstream. I call all those nutrients the “rainbow reserve.” Every deeply-colored whole plant food we eat contributes thousands of nutrients.3

Health situations that expose the immune system to multiple challenges means those rainbow reserves need to be even deeper. For example, have you ever had a winter where you just couldn’t get well from the flu before the bronchitis hit? Or had infectious complications after surgery? Or watched your child spiral quickly into asthma every time he got a cold? When our rainbow reserves are not so deep, then our immune system can get really confused. That confusion manifests as systemic inflammation, which is a central bad actor in pretty much everything… from skin breakouts to asthma to heart disease, from diabetes to infertility to dementia. (Not to mention making allergies worse!)

The good news is, our immune system can respond dramatically, within days or weeks, to a healthier eating pattern. When you replace inflammatory foods (processed, fatty, sugary, artificial) with a delicious, simply-prepared plant-based diet, you soothe, balance, support, and strengthen your immune system, and you feel better and live longer.


  1. Karen Jones, MFT, discussing psychoneuroimmunology, dropped this little bombshell in my brain.
  2. Technically, per cc. A cc is a drop roughly about the size of the tip of your little finger, down to the root of its nail.
  3. Check out one of my favorite books, “The Color Code, A Revolutionary Eating Plan for Optimum Health,” by James Joseph, Daniel Nadeau, and Anne Underwood, for more details on the benefits of the plant rainbow, along with a bunch of yummy recipes.
About the Author
 Beth Genly, CNM, MSN is a retired nurse-midwife.  She earned her midwifery degree at Yale University and worked for more than 20 years providing women’s health care in a variety of settings, from small birth center to university hospital.  She served on the nurse-midwifery faculty at Oregon Health and Science University for many years, where she enjoyed the opportunity to offer water birth to laboring women. 
Currently, Beth influences the health of generations through evidence-based nutrition seminars and products, including Juice Plus+
, with which she is proud to be affiliated.  Her blog, Wholly Nutritious, is her forum for discussing plant-based nutrition.  She and her husband have just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary in 2011, and they have two grown children.

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