Do you dread the winter flu, as it knocks you out for days?
Can you guarantee that you will get sick when someone sneezes near you?
Does your immune system feel like it's at rock bottom?
You may think its 'normal' to be knocked out by a virus each year and have to take several weeks off work, but let me tell you it's NOT and there are many steps you can take to increase your immunity and prevent illness.
You will probably never hear these things from your GP as sadly many of them believe that you have no control over catching a virus apart from taking the flu shot. Yet many people still become ill after having it. ( That makes sense? )
As a Nutritional Therapist, I always look at food first.
We are blessed, especially here in the UK, to have great seasonal produce available in autumn/winter. It’s actually my favourite time of year for buying delicious and nutritious veggies! ( Yes I'm one of those weirdo's who love brussels sprouts )
There are several chances throughout the day to choose foods that are either going to nourish you and promote wellness or choose nutrient void, even harmful foods, that promote ill-health.
Here are 3 food and 3 lifestyle recommendations to help you get through this winter more easily and reduce your chances of getting sick!
Food recommendations to boost immunity:
Add Warming Foods
We naturally gravitate towards soups, stews and root veggies when the weather turns cold. We no longer crave salads, raw foods and ice cold drinks and there is a biological reason for this!
Eating cold food, whether they are physically or energetically cold, takes lot hard work and energy. Your body would rather use this energy to not only keep you warm through the colder months, but also regulate your digestive system and hormones.
Historically, food like this wouldn't have been available to us during certain times of the year. Now you can eat bananas grown in Costa Rica for breakfast, in the middle of December!
This is not normal!
Sync with your body's natural requirements and increase your intake of hearty stews, bone broths, soup, roasted beetroots, parsnips and sweet potatoes during this time of year.
Swap your cold water and iced drinks for a steaming mug of herbal tea or golden milk. Add warming herbs and spices to your food for that extra boost of nutrition and 'heat'. Cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, garam masala, nutmeg, clove rosemary and thyme are just some of my favourites, all come amazing health benefits and taste great!
Limit your sugar intake
There is a correlation between the foods we eat more of during the holiday season (chocolates, cakes, desserts, biscuits) and our increased rates of illness during the winter months. That and the lack of sunlight and vitamin D!
Sugar, especially when refined, can create inflammation in the body and promote the growth of certain 'bad' bacteria and yeast strains in our microbiome, therefore impacting our immune health!
Now, I'm not saying don't enjoy a slice of cheesecake or a few chocolate truffles if you fancy them on Christmas Day! If you eat healthy the majority of the time your body will be able to handle the 'not so healthy' choices, once in a while!
Real food sweeteners are also preferred over the 'white stuff' so if you really need to add a sweet touch to your food (or drinks ) go for raw honey, high quality maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, dates, stevia or fruit. But still be mindful of your intake, especially if you are dealing with digestive or hormonal imbalances.
Care for your gut bugs!
Lets give some love to those little microbes inside of us all, that provide us with so many things like energy, nutrients, immunity and neurotransmitters!
When buying presents for your loved ones this year, think about spreading the love to your microbiome! Trust me , your body will thank you!
They love to feed on prebiotic foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, artichokes, beans, legumes, broccoli, and cabbage. And why not add some diversity and also consume fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt (dairy free if sensitive) and kombucha, which are all probiotic foods.
Be aware, if you are dealing with underlying gut imbalances you may experience some discomfort and digestive upset when adding in prebiotic foods.
Also, if you find that you develop symptoms like itchiness, a runny nose or headaches after fermented foods, you may have a histamine intolerance like me! In this case, a histamine reducing probiotic supplement is recommended.
Adding some new species to the microbiome can really boost immunity by helping to crowd out any overgrowths of ‘bad bacteria’ and increasing levels of secretory IGA which is a marker of gut based immunity.
Lifestyle recommendations to boost immunity:
Move your body!
The dark, dreary days can affect our energy levels and motivation when it comes to maintaining our exercise routine. We would rather stay indoors, wrapped up by the fire, than to venture outside into the cold and drive the gym.
The health of our immune system depends on it! Sweating daily helps our body to eliminate toxins through our skin. Also, movement is the only way we can pump our lymphatic fluid. Our lymphatic system acts as the first line of defence against pathogens, and is responsible for circulating white blood cells (WBC) around the body. If you have access to a local sauna, use it!
Don’t just ditch your workout schedule as soon Halloween's over! If your bored, switch it up. Wrap up warm and go for a walk in nature, try that new dance class you’ve been hearing about (you can show off your moves at your works Christmas party ! ) or get into strength training at your gym. Find something you enjoy and do that!
But also make time for rest!
This time of year can be really stressful for many people due to finances, being around family or the fact that you're running around like a headless chicken ( or turkey! ), doing errands.
Yes, we need to stay active, but it is important to balance it with some 'me time'. Enjoy time with family and friends, take an epsom salt bath and finally read that novel you were gifted at Christmas....last year! Epsom salts provide our body with magnesium sulphate. Magnesium is used as a co-factor in over 350+ known functions within the body, including immune support and reducing cortisol!
Actively managing your stress hormones will positively affect your immune system, as we know that chronic cortisol output can deplete immunity. We've all had the experience of working really hard and being highly stressed, then you finally get a week off work and you get sick, right?
Improve Your Circadian Rhythm
Late night parties, dark winter days and staying up till 11pm trying to squeeze in some last minute online shopping, are all things that can throw off your circadian rhythm.
Not getting adequate sun exposure during the winter months is already going to be affecting your immunity and energy levels, so these extra stressors can really be the straw on the camels back!
Get outside during the day, even if it's for 10 minutes, and expose your eyes to natural sunlight. Combat this by shutting down your devices at least 90 minutes before bed. The blue light that is emitted from smartphones, iPads, laptops and TV's affect melatonin production, which is our main sleep hormone.
Even though you may feel like its not impacting your sleep, your sleep quality will be negatively impacted. Our body secretes growth factors and immune cells while we sleep, to help us repair and become more resilient the following day. On those nights that you don't have an event to attend, try your best to be in bed asleep by 11pm at the latest, 10pm ideally! Your body and immune system will thank you.
If you are currently dealing with a cold or flu virus, don't worry I have a blog post for you! Find out how to get better quickly by clicking here.
Do you have any natural remedies that you swear by in the winter months? Share your tips and tricks in the comments section below!
You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram @vivanaturalhealth for daily nutrition tips, meal ideas and inspiration. Come and say hi!