Boosting the immune system with food & lifestyle

The dreaded ‘flu season’ is upon us here in beautiful Brisbane with the cooler mornings and brisk evenings. As you probably already know I am a big believer that what we eat and how we live have a huge impact on our health and well being so in light of winter learn how to protect you and your family over the cooler months using food and lifestyle approaches… after all prevention is better than cure!

Nutrition:

Avoid processed/refined foods as these are high in refined sugar, Tran’s fats and preservatives & additives which actually burden the immune system increasing the risk of catching a cold. Stick to fresh wholefoods with a focus on warm, cooked foods. Think slow cooked meats and vegetables, chicken soup, steamed greens, buckwheat/rice flake/quinoa flake porridge, caramelised roast vegetables – anyone else’s mouth-watering?

Consume bulk vegetables and eat them in all the colours they have to offer. Purple, red, orange, green, yellow etc etc. Lots of colour equals lots of antioxidants as well as potent vitamins & minerals that help lower inflammation and give our immune system the best chance to fend off any colds/flu’s/illnesses. Bonus vegetables that play a role here too are leeks, artichokes, onions, fennel, asparagus, bitter greens. See next point to find out why.

Eat fibre. On top of those vegetables mentioned above include good sources of fibre rich foods such as quinoa, rolled oats, brown rice, buckwheat, spelt, nuts & seeds, LSA, flaxmeal, whole grains, cooked and cooled potato, beans & legumes, lentils (just to name a few). Special types of fibre found in these foods feed our inner ecosystem of gut bacteria (aka PREbiotics) which have a HUGE role to play in our immunity. Feeding these bugs keeps them alive and healthy (they need to eat too) and in turn keeps us well - win, win.

Include an abundance of ginger, chilli, garlic, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, thyme, parsley, onion, rosemary (dried of fresh). These foods are warming and have one of or both anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant properties making them exceptional when it comes to supporting the immune system and heating the body from the inside out. Add these to your slow cooker, stews, soups, steamed with your greens, added to a tea, in with your scrambled eggs, just any way you can will do. Not only will it boost its nutritional profile but the taste will be next level!

This is never an easy one – especially in winter but keep your fluids up! Yes gone are the days of fresh lemon in chilled water to make this task easier but let’s say hello to herbal teas, broths, soups, almond milk chai’s, warm lemon water, hot coconut cacao’s and turmeric ‘milk’. Just because it isn’t your typical H2O doesn’t mean these beverages don’t count. Remember it’s all about adopting to our surroundings and the body still requires hydration even when it’s cold out.

Lifestyle:

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how some animals hibernate throughout the winter? As much as I think a lot of us wish we could do this (me included) it’s just not practical in our modern day world. Here are some lifestyle tips to nurture yourself over the chilly months to come.

Rest. Have you ever noticed that when you get sick it is usually in a time where there is high stress, lack of sleep and just a build-up of burn out? Prevent this by ensuring you get to bed at a decent hour and when you feel yourself getting to this stage you take time out. There is nothing worse than getting sick and not being able to properly recover (due to work deadlines, children and any other life commitments). This is when the body gets into a cycle of better, sick, better, sick – all because we now never have the time to properly recover.

Dress warmly. If you feel the cold easily than get layering. A cold, shivering body is a body that is trying to redeem its ideal temperature to function optimally. Constantly being in this cold state can potentially hinder the immune system. A great tip is keeping your head and feet nice and warm as these are areas where a lot of heat can escape.

Get outside. Sunshine is incredibly healing and important to the immune system. Not only does the feeling of the rays instantly make you feel better but it is also triggering the production of Vitamin D. An important nutrient/hormone in regulating the immune system. I know it can feel like such an effort to even get dressed on those chilly mornings but your body and mind will thank you for it. When I am stuck in this mindset I like to think and actually feel the emotions of what it will be like when I am outside in the sun, and you know what not once I have ever regretted doing it.

Move your body. But wait, you just said rest. The rest I meant in the context of preventing burn out. Moving your body is just as important in winter. It helps with getting the blood pumping in turn helping to heat the body, even after you have stopped exercising. Plus it helps you get outside and enjoy those beautiful winter days. Again I use the same mindset with inspiring myself to get dressed and get outside. I always feel so amazing after exercise – anyone else?

And finally, a bit of an interesting one but probably one of the most important. Don’t think about getting sick. If it seems that mum, dad, children, friends, work colleagues, aunties, uncles, mums best friends cousin is sick around you and you start thinking and feeling paranoid that you’re next, its highly likely you will be. Why? Because life is created by our thoughts. What we think and our beliefs will manifest into life to prove what we were originally thinking. So think happy, warm & healthy and that’s what life will show you.

Enjoy the season change and embrace all the above to ensure a happier, healthier winter.

FYI – for people further interested in what the research says about the effects of the typical western diet on immunity follow this link - www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4074336/