Updated: May 20, 2020
We are going through times of uncertainty and fear in relation to global and personal health. One of the most empowering things you can do at times when so much feels out of your control is to manage your health by taking charge of your diet.
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.
Here are my top tips to keep you healthy:
1. EAT REAL FOODS
Your body needs real, unprocessed food to stay healthy, so focus on eating natural, wholesome, unrefined food as much as you can and cut out (or at least cut back on) sugar.
That means focussing on eating meat, fish, eggs and vegetarian sources of protein like tofu, beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds, plus a broad range of fruit and vegetables. These types of food will provide you with a good range of all the different vitamins and minerals that are going to be of benefit for your general health and immunity: including the B vitamins, zinc, selenium, vitamin A, chromium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin E, C, and D.
Follow the 80/20 rule ( this means eating healthily 80% of the time). Think fresh apples rather than apple juice, or wholegrain bread instead of white bread.
2. ENJOY ‘HAPPY TUMMY’ FOODS
Did you know that up to 80% of your immunity to germs and disease is in your digestive system? The gut is the body's first line of defence to keep us healthy. If your gut health is impaired or simply, out of balance - you are more prone to develop health issues. Even your mouth bacteria relate to your gut flora. This is because your oral microbiome and teeth are the beginning of the digestive system, which means your oral microbiome can tell you about your gut microbiome.
A major 2019 study in the Journal of Oral Microbiology discovered that bacterial populations from the mouth make their way to the gut microbiota. This can alter immune responses and potentially lead to systemic diseases. Getting the right balance between beneficial or ‘good’ gut bacteria and the ‘bad’ or potentially pathogenic bacteria is key.
How to do this:
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 – sometimes called ‘live’ yoghurt or kefir like Chuckling Goat.
- Always buy full-fat yoghurt, 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, in order to release the goodness).
- Onions, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes.
- Green Bananas.
3. SERVE CHICKEN SOUP
Did you hear that chicken soup is great when you’re unwell? If you thought it was just an old wives’ tale, you’d be wrong. Research suggests that a bowl of chicken and vegetable soup can slow the speed at which neutrophils move around your body. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system, protecting your body from infection. When the neutrophils move slowly, there’s a greater chance of them becoming more concentrated in the areas of your body that need the most healing. Studies have shown chicken soup to be particularly helpful in reducing symptoms in upper respiratory system infections.
4. COOK WITH HERBS & SPICES
Adding flavour to food is a smart way to include delicious immune boosters on your plate.
Garlic 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. To make the most of allicin, crush, chop or grate the garlic cloves and allow them to sit for a few minutes. This releases more allicin. Once formed, it is fairly resistant to heat.
Most culinary herbs contain anti-inflammatory properties due to their phytonutrients, but oregano and thyme are particularly rich. Spice up your cooking with turmeric and ginger, too, as these are well-documented immune boosters.
5. SAY NO TO SUGAR
Even if you don’t consider yourself a sugar addict, it’s worth taking a look 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.
Enjoy raw cocoa or cacao hot chocolate on chilly evenings, adding your favourite milk or milk substitutes (with a little xylitol or stevia to sweeten, if you like).
6. DRINK MORE WATER
Styling well-hydrated is important for health in general. When it comes to bolstering your defences, water is a miracle worker. It 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.
7. CONSIDER HERBAL TEA
Herbal teas, like green tea, contain antioxidants that help battle free radicals that wreak havoc across the immune system. Other teas, like chamomile and lemon balm, have calming effects that decrease anxiety and helps to fall asleep.
8. HELLO SUNSHINE!
As difficult as this is to achieve sometimes (particularly in winter and spring), spending sufficient time in sunlight is a vital immune booster.
Vitamin D is made by your skin absorbing sunlight, so planning an hour or two outside during daylight hours is a good reason to go for a walk. Even sitting outside in while you have your morning cuppa is a good thing right now. Expose as much of your bare skin to the sun as possible, and don’t wear sunscreen during that time either as it inhibits the process.
You can boost your vitamin D levels by eating more of the following foods: oily fish (salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna), beef liver, mushrooms, cheese, egg yolks.
It’s worth checking whether you are low in vitamin D, you can ask me for recommendations.
9. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Inadequate sleep lowers your immune response. Research has shown that missing even a few hours a night on a regular basis can decrease the number of ‘natural killer cells’, which are responsible for fighting off invaders such as bacteria and viruses.
Simply, your body needs rest to stay healthy. In one study done at a private research university in Pennsylvania in the US found that, even if people said they felt fine and dandy if they’d had less than 7 hours of sleep a night, they were three times more likely to catch a cold than people who had had an average of 8 hours or more of the ole shut-eye.
Make sure you have got a good sleep routine - switching off electronic devices one hour before bed, using blue light blocking glasses, limiting caffeine, keeping your bedroom cool and dark.
10. MOVE IN A WAY THAT FEELS GOOD
Your lymphatic system contains a network of tissues and organs that help your body get rid of toxins and waste. Its main role is to transport a fluid called lymph around the body, which contains infection-fighting white blood cells. Unlike the blood, which moves around thanks to your heart pumping, there’s no automatic way of moving lymph about. The only way to shift the stuff from A to B is by moving yourself. A recent study from a university in North Carolina in the US showed that people who move for 5 or more days a week experience 43% fewer days with upper respiratory infections (that’s throat, sinuses and or lungs – basically the common cold). The aim is 30-60 minutes of exercise 5 times a week. I usually jump on my mini rebounder or run up the stairs. I love doing Yoga with Adrienne and PE with Joe Wicks.
For more tips, recipes and friendly chats and a virtual cup of tea or coffee - join my FB community at Anna's Cafe here.
Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice and any changes should be done in consultation with your healthcare provider.