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  • Writer's pictureAnna Rathbun, NC

5 Foods to Protect from the Smoke

The West Coast is burning. Those of us who are lucky enough to not be evacuating are still dealing with extreme smoke from the fires. Here on the Mendocino coast, the air quality has been bad for a few days and it’s supposed to get worse over the weekend. What can you do to protect yourself from smoke?

First – use a HEPA air purifier and stay inside. If you don’t have an air purifier, you can make one with a fan and a household filter here. If you have to go out in the air remember your mask – your covid mask can double as a smoke mask. An N95 mask with the nose crimped tight is the best for filtering smoke, but any mask will cut down on the quantity of particles inhaled.

The problem with smokey air is it can damage your lungs, but it can also get into the bloodstream along with the oxygen you’re breathing in. Here are a variety of different ways to use foods to help strengthen your lungs and help clean your bloodstream from the excess smoke.

Drink lots of water to help the bloodstream filter out excess toxins. Drink at least 8 – 8 ounce glasses of water throughout the day between meals. Too much water during meals will cause indigestion. Beverages without caffeine or alcohol all count towards your daily water. I keep a 2 quart jar on my desk then pour out of that so I don’t have to leave work to drink enough water. I also spike my water with a few drops of herbal bitters, fire cider or elderberry syrup depending on my mood. These improve the flavor and add some health benefits.

Enjoy fresh chopped garlic and ginger on top of your foods – If it’s cold I’ll top a soup or stirfry with this and if it’s too hot outside they can be added to Asian cole slaw. The benefit of garlic and ginger are in the strong smell and flavor. If you smell like garlic the next morning then you know that enough garlic has circulated your bloodstream to help boost your immune system.

Enjoy citrus and eat the skin. Citrus fruit is known for vitamin C, but it’s the white part under the skin that is stronger in protective bioflavonoids. Simply chew the white pith inside the peel of an orange, lemon or grapefruit before eating the fruit.

Green tea is known for antioxidant benefits to the lungs. You can enjoy green tea in the morning, decaf green tea has the same benefits if you want to enjoy it in the evening or even take green tea supplements.

Enjoy lots of green vegetables – think of broccoli, bok choy, cabbage and kale as the body’s brooms. Gently sweeping away toxins from the bloodstream as they improve liver and bowel function. Broccoli is the easiest – simply buy a bag of broccoli or cut up a head of broccoli and set it in a pan covered with ½ inch of water then steam for 5 minutes and add olive oil and salt.

Bok choy is a favorite for those who don't like the stronger cruciferous veggies. I like to sauté onions in olive oil then add sliced bok choy with a dash of salt – it’s soft and luscious.

Last week it was so hot I couldn’t think of turning on the stove so I made Asian slaw with red cabbage, olive oil, sesame oil, honey, miso, salt and fire cider as the vinegar. It was wonderful and lasted for days, getting better all the time.

Here’s hoping you’re safe and well and are able to weather this present air quality issue without being evacuated. In the meantime, nutrition can give you the tools to take something into your own hands. Give yourself some support and drink an extra glass of water, add some garlic and green vegetables to your body to help deal with the onslaught of toxins in the smokey air. If you become sick from smoke inhalation do see your medical doctor. Nutrition is not a replacement for medical care.

Learn more about Karin Uphoff at


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