Last week I spoke about sleep and the importance it has on health, sleep also supports your immune system, many times I have not had as much sleep and then I am struck down with a cold. Subsequently this weeks winter wellness blog is on the immune system. Below are other tips that can support immunity at this time of year. Key takeaway is to eat a wide variety of foods to ensure you are receiving all the nutrients needed to help with developing a healthy immune system.
- Increase seasonal fruit and vegetables as they taste better and are richer in nutrients subsequently they contain the nutrients that we typically need for this time of year. Check out eat the seasons website for whats in season now.
- Make warm comforting, filling recipes such as soups and casseroles. Use warm spices such as turmeric, ginger, coriander and cumin. Ginger can be added to cold dishes to add heat and warmth. Invest in a flask so you can take to work.
- Eat colour of the rainbow foods that are rich in antioxidants. Key antioxidants are Vitamin A, C and E as well as the mineral selenium. They have immune supporting properties to help fight of the bugs and viruses floating around at this time of year. Beetroot, carrots, butternut squash, berries, apples, citrus fruits and green leafy vegetables are good examples. Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium, if you are not a fan, broccoli, chicken, dairy, garlic, salmon and seafood are other sources. Brazil nuts are meant to be the only true concentrated natural source, try a Brazil nut butter or milk.
- How are your Vitamin D levels? Good food sources are: cod, halibut, dairy, eggs and even mushrooms dried in the sun and sprouted seeds
- However the best source of vitamin D is sunlight and it is absorbed through the skin. As there is very little of that at this time of year, deficiency is more common in the winter months. Therefore supplementing is another option. I recommend testing Vitamin D levels first to know how much to supplement.
- Reduce sugar consumption –this time of year we are drawn to sweet comforting foods so don’t deprive yourself however sugar has been found to reduce immunity and the ability to fight of an infection. Subsequently opt for healthier options to satisfy sweet tooth, dark chocolate, dried fruit and fruit. Stewed fruit with some raisins and or dried apricots and cinnamon make a comforting breakfast, snack or desert.
- Avoid or limit alcohol – alcohol can increase your susceptibility to infections. Enjoy celebrations but try to limit and have some days off from drinking. Make some mocktails with fresh cranberries and apple juice. Drink green tea, it contains theanine, an amino acid that helps relax and calm the mind and body.
- Zinc plays a really important role in immunity. It is involved in the development and function of many important immune cells. Research over the years have found the zinc deficient people are at more chance of catching infections. Zinc rich foods include sunflower and pumpkin seeds, crab, seafood, eggs and ginger. Fresh ginger tea first thing in the morning is a good habit to develop because it will support your immune system, rehydrate after sleep and also support digestion.
- Foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics may support the immune system:
- Probiotics are good bacteria in the stomach and one of the first lines of defence when the body is faced with an infection. Prebiotics feed the good bacteria and help keep them living in the gut.
- Plain natural yoghurt, fermented vegetables and kombucha are good sources of probiotics and oats, onions, garlic, leeks, bananas, apples, sweet potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes are good sources of prebiotics.
- Mushrooms and oats contain beta-glucans, these are substances called polysaccharides that have been found to have immune supporting capabilities. Porridge for breakfast or how about mushrooms on toast?
- Reducing stressors and finding ways to relax can help with immune function. The mind and emotions can have a huge effect on immunity and so be kind to yourself. Indulge in warm long baths, meditate, go for long walks, watch your favourite film and enjoy time with friends and family. Several studies have shown negative emotions suppress immune function and so find opportunities to laugh.
- Exercise boosts immunity. Ultimately aim to increase activity levels, take 20-minute walks outside or try a new class, or do some gardening. Christmas(yes I said it) shopping can count.
- Aim for optimal sleep, see last week’s blog.
- Keep hydrated. Increasing vegetables and fruits are a great way to increase fluid as are soups. Water is important but can be a struggle at times, try herbal teas, Pukka teas are my favourite. Pukka Turmeric Gold has been shown in a study to support the immune system and also contains a high level of antioxidants. It tastes good as well.
Immune support recipes
- 4 carrots – washed and chopped in half, you can use the whole of the carrot
- 1-2 cloves of garlic unpeeled and washed
- 1 onion cut in half unpeeled and washed
- 1 stick of celery
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 whole chicken or chicken bones
- Place ingredients in a large pot of water
- Bring to boil – skim the froth of the top
- Simmer on a low heat with lid on for as long as you can at a low heat and I try to do this for at least 4-5 hours.
- Once cooked transfer stock to a container and refrigerate. After some time the fat will form on the top, you can skim this off if you prefer. I use this for stocks and soups. I freeze in small containers so I can add to sauces and larger ones for soups. I don’t use the cooked vegetables, but you can do if you prefer, peel the onions and garlic if you do.
Can be eaten as a clear soup add seasoning to taste
If boiling a whole chicken, it can be then used for making curries, adding to soups, salads, chicken pie and sandwiches.
Sweet Potato and Ginger, Turmeric Spiced Soup
- 4 sweet potatoes
- 1 onion
- 1 clove garlic crushed (keep crushed for 6 mins before cooking to benefit from immune supporting properties)
- 2cm piece of ginger
- 5 ml turmeric
- 600ml chicken stock
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Chop onion
- Crush garlic
- Grate ginger
- Sauté all 3 in 2 tablespoons of olive oil or coconut oil for a couple of minutes
- Peel and chop sweet potatoes into chunks
- Add to onion mixture
- Add turmeric
- Add stock
- Bring to boil
- Simmer with lid on for 30 mins
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- When potatoes are soft, pour into a blender and blend until smooth.
Supplements to consider (but advice from a professional is always best)
A good quality multi-vitamin is recommended especially if you are struggling with eating a wide variety of foods.
Vitamin C and zinc can be supportive at this time of year.
Probiotics support digestion and immunity
Echinacea if you are not allergic may support you when a virus hits
Black elderberry may also be supportive.