When the temperature drops, the chance of you coming down with a cold or the flu increases significantly. It’s widely accepted you’ll get sick more often in the winter. That’s because you’re likely to be inside more and the common cold thrives better in dry air than where there’s humidity. And, when you spend more time indoors, you’re exposed to more germs.
The flu virus is also transmitted much faster when it’s cold out because the lipid (fatty) coating of the virus becomes more resilient the colder it gets.
Your immune system is the most powerful weapon you have against disease. Strong immunity means that the body is better able to fight off viruses and germs.
Fewer colds and sick days this winter would be good, right? There are many diets and lifestyle tweaks you can make to reduce your risk of catching a cold and flu this season (and ensuring it’s shorter and less serious if you do get the lurgy).
Here are my top five tips to keep you fighting fit this month – and beyond.
- EAT REAL FOOD
Your body needs real, unprocessed food to stay healthy and not the processed foods we kid ourselves are OK for us to eat.
Focus on eating natural, unprocessed food as often as possible. Follow the 80/20 rule (for the avoidance of doubt, this means eating healthily 80% of the time!).
Base your diet on whole foods like good quality proteins (eggs, fish, lean meats, nuts and seeds), legumes, whole grains as well as plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit. Avoid pre-packed, processed foods which are nutrients poor as well as being full of refined sugars, additives and all sorts of artificial ingredients.
- SPICE THINGS UP!
Adding flavour to food is a smart way to include delicious immune boosters on your plate.
Garlic, for instance, is a potent superfood. It is antimicrobial, thanks to the active ingredient allicin, which helps fight viruses, and has been used for thousands of years to boost the immune system and prevent sickness.
Most culinary herbs contain anti-inflammatory properties due to their phytonutrients, but oregano, parsley and thyme are particularly rich so make sure they appear on your dishes regularly.
Remember to add turmeric, cayenne, and ginger, too, as these are well-documented immune boosters.
- ENJOY ‘HAPPY TUMMY’ FOODS
Did you know that up to 80% of our immunity to germs and disease is in the gut? The mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) in the gut is part of the first line of immune defence, so getting the right balance between beneficial, or ‘good’ gut bacteria, and the ‘bad’, or potentially pathogenic bacteria, is key.
The gut environment takes a beating year after year, owing to poor diets, too much sugar, stress, antibiotics and other factors. Even if you have no obvious tummy troubles, digestive health is vital, so it’s worth the extra effort to take care of it.
Add probiotic and prebiotic foods to your diet, as these re-populate the gut with good bacteria and feed them well enough to crowd out bad bacteria.
Here are some gut-friendly choices to get you started:
- Organic, probiotic, natural yoghurt (such as Yeo Valley or Rachel’s)
Always buy full-fat, as the 0% or no-fat options have increased levels of milk sugars – and fat isn’t the enemy, either in life or in weight loss!
- Miso soup or miso bouillon paste (add these to soups and stews)
- Oats (soak first, as you would to make overnight oats, to release the goodness)
- Onions, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes
- Cooked, then cooled potatoes
- VITAMIN C & ZINC
Although it appears that taking vitamin C won’t prevent you from catching a cold, loading up on foods rich in this powerful antioxidant, might still help your body to fight infections and shorten symptoms if you do fall ill.
Broccoli and red peppers contain more C than oranges (contrary to popular belief) and other good sources are: kale, cauliflower, parsley, spinach, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, pineapple, mango, papaya and citrus fruits.
Zinc is also essential to our immune system as it supports the functioning of our infections-fighting white blood cells. Top up your zinc levels by eating more palm-sized pieces of lean meat (especially lamb, beef, venison and turkey), pumpkin seeds, ginger root, green veggies, oats, nuts, sesame seeds, yoghurt and scallops.
- KEEP HYDRATED
When it comes to hydration, plain water is great. Water flushes germs from your system, helps your blood to carry plenty of oxygen to your body’s cells and allows those cells to absorb important nutrients.
Invest in a filter jug or bottle to avoid quaffing high levels of chlorine and fluorine along with your tap water.
Green tea and chamomile tea are also immune system supporters, as they contain antioxidants that help battle free radicals.
- SAY NO TO SUGAR
Even if you don’t consider yourself a sugar addict, it’s worth looking at how much you do consume – and trying to swap sugary treats for something more wholesome.
Sugar fans the flames of inflammation and affects the ability of white blood cells to fend off viruses and bacteria. In fact, the immune system stays depressed for hours after consuming sugar, according to recent studies.
Addicted to chocolate? Enjoy raw cocoa hot chocolate on chilly evenings, adding your favourite milk or milk substitutes (with a little xylitol or stevia to sweeten, if you like). A few squares of pure, dark chocolate will also satisfy – Green & Blacks, or any good chocolate with a higher cocoa content (at least 75%), is ideal.
One last thing, an age-old way to boost immunity is to follow childhood rules – wash hands, go to bed early and take some exercise.
All these simple measures may seem boring (and more difficult to achieve than popping a pill), but science proves that they work. So, why don’t you give them a go? Your immune system will thank you for it.
Are you the kind of person who is ill more often than other people? Do you feel your immune system could use some support? I invite you to book in for a free introductory session with me by calling 07772491975 to find out how nutritional therapy can help you.