Eat to thrive: Fight the winter blues with these immune boosting strategies
Written by Margaret Floyd on 27/01/11 am31 07:00 AM
It’s that time of year. Colds and flu bugs run rampant as sales of NyQuil and Kleenex go through the roof. Ah, flu season. Are flu shots and excessive hand-washing really your only, or best, prevention?
Here’s a list of my top strategies for boosting your internal army of bug fighters. With the right love and a little attention, your body’s own natural defenses will do a fabulous job of keeping you healthy and strong.
Did you know that approximately 80% of your immune system lines your gut? That means the health of your immune system is intricately linked to how well you’re digesting your dinner.
:: Stimulate your digestive juices by incorporating the taste of bitter into your diet. An easy way to do this is to add bitter greens (endives, dandelion, arugula, and radicchio) to salads, stir-fries, and soups.
:: Make sure your intestines are in great shape by incorporating probiotics into your diet. Probiotics are like super-powered housekeepers for the lining of your intestinal walls, keeping it in prime condition for maximum nutrient absorption. Try this recipe for cultured veggies or eat probiotic-rich foods like kefir, kombucha, and (plain!) yogurt.
I know I’m like a broken record these days about the whole sugar thing, but it’s really a key piece to the nutritional puzzle for so many things that ail us. Sugar shuts down your immune system for up to several hours after eating it. It prevents those little macrophages from properly tackling bacteria. It’s a crime that so many cold and flu remedies are loaded with sugar.
:: Cut out the sweet stuff! If you feel that little tickle in the back of your throat, get diligent eliminating deserts (yes, even chocolate), the sugar in your coffee, and all sodas (steer clear of the sugar free varieties too – those artificial sweeteners have their own set of health hazards and you don’t want to go down that road)
:: No juice. Even orange juice. Juice has just as much sugar as soda even if it’s “natural” (excessive fructose is actually quite harmful to the body, but that’s the subject for another post). If you’re going to eat fruit, eat the whole thing with all the wonderful minerals and fibre that comes with it. Juice is pasteurized (kills much of the nutritional value), all the fibre is gone, and what’s left is tasty sugary water. It’s a no-no.
Move that body
Exercise is a key component to keeping your body healthy. Particularly any exercise that involves bouncing. Your lymphatic system – the circulatory system for your immune system – doesn’t have the benefit of a heart to pump it around. It depends entirely on YOU moving your own body, and it really likes it when you bounce. So:
:: Go for a jog. Runners have some of the strongest immune systems because of all that bouncing and arm swinging. Or, if you don’t like to run, try some jumping jacks or skipping rope. But trust me, jogging’s a lot easier.
:: Do some yoga. It’s not bouncing but it gets you into some wonderful positions and gets things moving. And breathing deeply with intention will help you get into your body, which is key for staying healthy.
Your body only heals when you sleep. Read that again. Your body ONLY heals when you sleep.
:: If you’re feeling a little under the weather, power down and let your body do what it needs to do to be well again. Don’t try to power through. That’ll only drag it out longer. Trust me.
:: If you’re in the prevention stage of the game, make sure you’re getting enough sleep. It’s winter. That means longer nights, shorter days. Our bodies naturally want more sleep. Give them that or they will take it in whatever way they can. So: nap, sleep in on weekends, go to bed earlier. Do whatever you need to do to get more sleep.
Hydration is so important for every function in your body, not least of which is flushing out toxins. Drink up! Most of us aren’t drinking enough. (Interesting stat: the biggest nutritional deficiency in north America is water!)
:: Here’s an easy way to figure out how much water to drink: take your body weight in pounds, divide that number in two. That’s the minimum ounces of water you should be drinking daily, before anything caffeinated, alcoholic, or loaded with sugar (sugar dehydrates – did you know that?) So if you weigh 160lbs, you should be drinking 80oz of water daily. Bet that’s more than you thought.
:: Garlic & ginger – Handy that they make things taste so good, isn’t it? You can throw these two into anything from stir-fries, to soups, to sauces and salad dressings.
:: Miso soup – This Japanese staple is an immune-boosting superpower. I make a nice hearty version.
:: Warming foods like soups and stews are really nice in these cold and dark winter months. Now might not be the time of year to try a raw diet (not that raw foods aren’t wonderful). Give your body what it’s asking for: something warm and yummy. Much like miso, homemade bone broths are nutritional superpowers. Save those chicken bones and make some soup!
:: Cod liver oil – Your gramma was right, this stuff is great for you. Make sure to get a brand that’s of the highest quality. My personal favorite is Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil by Green Pastures. The fermentation gives a deeper and broader range of nutrients, so you’re getting even more benefit than with normal cod liver oil. And don’t worry – they have a capsule version so you don’t have to taste it.
:: Dark leafy greens – Anything dark and leafy and green is very balancing to your system. You can eat them raw, steamed, lightly sautéed, or even roasted (see my Kale Chips recipe). Throw them into soups, add them to salads, drink them in a smoothie. The options are endless.
If you do these things consistently at this time of year, you’ll be in great shape. If I left out your favorite immune-boosting strategy, post it here in the comments. I’d love to hear your ideas.
- Healing Foods: Hearty Miso Soup
- Sweet Misery: How our sweet tooth is killing us
- Recipe for the Holiday Season: Butternut squash soup