Although we are unaware of its working when we are in a state of good health, we are dependent on the effective functioning of our immune system. This complex and vital system is central in the fight against foreign invaders that assault our bodies all the time, especially during that inevitable cold & flu season. While this season typically peaks from December to March, influenza activity begins to increase in October, and can last as late as May. With this in mind, we encourage you to take steps today to minimize your risk. Read on…
While we may not realize it (or consciously choose not to think about it…), the body is constantly coming into contact with bacteria and viruses that need to be dealt with effectively by the immune system. In addition, the immune system has been shown to be profoundly influenced by protracted stress, as well as several other lifestyle factors (which we touch on later). When our immune system is working at peak efficiency we should not be conscious of any symptoms of ill health; at most, we may be aware of feeling slightly below par while the invaders are being dealt with.
It is encouraging to understand that if this system is working in a balanced and effective way, the benefits to us are impressively wide ranging. Apart from being free of the strain of recurrent infections, we are also likely to find that we don’t suffer from intense allergies, digestive problems, skin disorders, or joint stiffness and pain. We should also discover that we enjoy optimal energy levels and an enhanced sense of wellbeing, which can have the added benefit of making us feel emotionally balanced and resilient.
By taking the empowering steps of boosting our diets with vital nutrients, maintaining adequate hydration levels, tending to our digestive health, and practicing good hygiene habits each day, we can feel ourselves playing a major role in enabling our bodies to reach a state of optimal health.
Indeed, there is little question that immune health is an important determinant of our overall feelings of wellbeing, so what’s an active and involved individual to do? To start, let’s review the practical steps you can take to arm yourself for this years cold & flu season:
- Practice Balance in your Dietary Intake
If you make a point of including foods in your daily eating plan that have a reputation for exuding health promoting properties (such as legumes, herbs & spices, nuts & seeds, and fresh produce), you will give yourself the maximum opportunity for experiencing high level health. Such a way of eating should not involve a harsh or overly restrictive diet. Rather, following a balanced approach, leading to a strong sense of satisfaction from what you eat, is essential if you are to be truly well and healthy.
Adopting too restrictive an approach to eating can cause problems, different from the problems arising out of eating too much nutrient-poor foods, but important issues nevertheless. When taking on an eating plan designed to give the body’s immunity a boost, it is important to aim for a well-balanced, varied diet that does not make you feel socially isolated or deprived. You may even discover that you enjoy what you eat during this immunity boosting plan more than previously, because you’re feeling more aware and energized with increased levels of vitality.
- Get your 2 fruit and 5 veggie serves in each day
When looking to improve immunity, the best place to start is improving the micronutrient content of your diet.
As they are absolutely packed with health promoting agents that will boost the immune system, strive to eat fresh vegetables and fruit regularly throughout the day. The vitamins and minerals abundant in plants are important for a huge range of reactions within the body including, but certainly not limited to, growth and repair of tissues, muscle function, energy metabolism, and protection from free radical damage.
In addition to hindering these important functions of a healthy body, deficiency in key nutrients can also compromise immunity. For optimal health, focus on getting a wide variety of nutrients each day from fresh fruits and vegetables. The more colours, the better to ensure you’re getting an optimal amount of important, sickness busting vitamins and minerals.
Consider trying these suggestions to keep up your daily dose of F & V during this comfort food season:
- Go for warm salads with plenty of roasted vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, and onion.
- Try vegetable soups loaded up with all of the leftovers in the fridge at the end of the week; be sure to include a protein source (such as diced chicken, veggie beef crumbles, or lentils) if this is your main meal.
- Baked fruits like apples, pears, and/or pineapple make perfect snacks with a little Greek yogurt and honey on top.
- Drink up
Make sure low grade dehydration does not become a problem by consuming fluids regularly throughout the day. If you suffer from an on-going problem with inadequate hydration you are likely to suffer from recurrent headaches, poor quality skin, and digestive problems, (including never welcome constipation). When the last-names becomes a chronic problem, additional strain is placed on the body’s organs of detoxification, which can have a subtle but significant undermining effect on general health and on energy levels.
- Look after your gut micro-biome
Your gut plays a huge role in maintaining your immune function, so you’ll want to look after it to prevent picking up colds and flu’s this winter. Our digestive systems are home to trillions of microbes, most of which are beneficial in that they play a vital role in our digestion, immune system functioning, and even the regulation of our weight. A diet lacking in nourishing foods, involving frequent antibiotic use, poorly managed stress, and general feelings of sickness can contribute to your friendly flora’s decline. As the good bacteria numbers decrease, undesirable bacteria begin to creep up and can cause gastrointestinal issues and a weakened immune system.
You can help promote a balance of beneficial bacteria by basing your diet on fresh fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, and low-fat dairy (or suitable alternatives). Additionally, take antibiotics only when they are absolutely necessary. Remember, antibiotics won’t help you if you have a virus such as a cold or the flu.
For optimal gut health we encourage you to include pre and probiotic rich foods in your diet regularly. Probiotic rich food include some dairy (including yogurt, cheese, and kefir with live and active cultures), fermented veggies (pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi), fermented soy (miso and tempeh), and other fermented foods (such as soy sauce, wine, and kombucha).
Prebiotics support the health of probiotics. The best whole food sources of prebiotics are those with fermentable fibre such as veggies (including asparagus, garlic, artichokes, leeks, and onions), fruits (like apples, bananas, berries, citrus, and kiwi), starches (such as barley, beans, oats, quinoa, rye, wheat, potatoes, and yams), and fats (including flax and chia seeds).
Eating 2-3 servings of pre and probiotic rich food per day can help feed healthy gut bacteria and keep things balanced.
- Be hygienic
This shouldn’t be news by any means, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands frequently can help stop the spread of germs and prevent getting sick. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
While good old soap and warm water work best to thwart germs, if you must, use anti-bacterial hand gel to clean your hands. Just make sure you use the sanitizer liberally – you need to wet your hands for at least 15 seconds to break up and kill the microbes. Other good hygiene practices include:
- Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces frequently, especially when someone is sick.
- Disposing of tissues hygienically (even when you’re well, don’t leave them lying around).
- Not sharing cutlery, glasses or water bottles with someone that may be sick.
- If family or friends are sick, giving them space and be extra careful with hygiene.
- If you travel frequently, not touching your eyes, nose or mouth unless you’ve washed your hands with warm water and soap.
Other lifestyle factors effecting immunity:
- Sleep – both duration and quality
- Stress – both acute and chronic
- Activity – long story short, movement should be a regular part of your life
- Smoking and Excessive Caffeine & Alcohol – strive to minimize whenever possible
Take charge – it is a wonderful thing when you come to realize that instead of resigning yourself to experiencing a lacklustre kind of health every day, there are simple steps to take that will positively impact how you feel mentally, emotionally, and physically. Don’t expect all these immune-impacting lifestyle factors to line up right away, all things worth achieving take time and consistent effort. The important thing is you begin to take reasonable steps to support this important health cornerstone. We encourage you to take a deep breath, re-read this article, and select one or two areas you will address today.
Stay well friends!