Top 10 Tips to Prepare Your Immune System for Winter
It is that time of the year again when crazy, unsettled and extreme weather precedes a change of seasons.
Winter is on its way.
We are all acutely aware that our circumstances can change very quickly but it currently looks as though winter 2021 will be very different to winter 2020.
After last winter spent predominantly indoors and distanced from each other, we are now entering a “COVID- normal” winter, with kids back in the classroom and people once again sheltering from the cold and wet in shopping centres and cafes.
Despite social distancing and good hand hygiene, this increases our chances of catching the common, winter cold.
As we prepare our winter wardrobes to have coats, scarves, hats, gloves, woolly socks and warm boots at the ready to get out and about on those chilly wet days, so too do we need to prepare our immune systems to be ready to fight the winter cold viruses.
While there is no guaranteed way to prevent catching a virus, there are a few things you can do to reduce the time and severity of an illness if you do catch a virus.
Here are my top 10 diet and lifestyle tips to help support your immune system this winter.
1. Avoid refined sugar and processed carbohydrates
Refined sugar and processed carbohydrates impair the ability of your immune cells to destroy viruses, so choose whole grains and starch vegetables as your carbohydrates rather than biscuits, cakes, pasta, crackers etc.
Need a bit of sweetness? Try adding a bit of honey.
For thousands of years honey has been embraced and celebrated for its culinary, nutritional and medicinal properties.
Honey has antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that support healthy immune function to help the body fight infection and prevent disease. A teaspoon of honey also reduces coughing and provides effective relief from sore throats in an upper respiratory tract infection.
2. Spend Time Outdoors:
Get some fresh air and exercise every day.
Research shows that time spent in nature not only supports your immune system to protect you from a wide range of diseases (including respiratory disease, obesity, diabetes, depression and more) but also supports your parasympathetic nervous system to help you reduce stress.
In this more relaxed state, the body can devote more energy to growing and reproducing immune cells to strengthen the immune system.
Moderate exercise also helps to increase the pathogen - destroying white blood cells of your immune system.
Spending more time outdoors reduces our exposure to the contagious winter viruses and bacteria, while sunlight gives us an immune boosting dose of vitamin D.
3. Eat the Rainbow
Phytonutrients are natural compounds found in plant foods that have biological activity in the body. In addition to imparting characteristics such as the taste, aroma and colour of foods; phytonutrients have profound health benefits as they possess immune-supportive antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may help to protect against cancer, diabetes and heart disease.
Eating plenty of colourful fruit and vegetables also provides antioxidants to help clear up the mess left behind when your immune system fights infection. It is these free radicals that make you feel so awful when you are sick.
Eat a variety of coloured vegetables in soups, salads, stews, stir fries, tray- bakes etc
4. Vitamin C
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid) is an essential micronutrient for the human immune system. It stimulates the production of white blood cells which help to fight off viruses and bacteria and helps the body to produce antibodies which recognise and neutralize invading pathogens before they can harm you.
Vitamin C also promotes the formation of collagen, the main structural protein in skin and connective tissue, and thus plays a vital role in forming the physical barrier that protects us from harmful elements.
Vitamin C- rich foods include: red/yellow capsicum, kiwi fruit, black currants, berries, citrus fruits, apples, papaya, tomatoes, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, green leafy vegetables, parsley, ginger and garlic.
Zinc is essential for the growth and function of cells that facilitate our immune defence. In addition to regulating the immune system, zinc functions as an anti-oxidant to reduce oxidative stress and supports healing and recovery.
Zinc is most abundant in animal products (beef, lamb, turkey and chicken) and shellfish (oysters, scallops, lobster) but is also found in plant based foods such as cashew nuts, almonds, beans, lentils, chickpeas, mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and quinoa.
6. Vitamin D:
The primary source of vitamin D is by absorption through the skin during exposure to the sun.
Vitamin D plays a regulatory role in the immune system by triggering a strong, anti-microbial response, which helps to fight off invading pathogens before they become an infection.
Include a daily dose of vitamin D-rich foods on those days when the sunshine is elusive or it is just too cold be outdoors.
Vitamin D-rich foods include: cod liver oil, salmon (canned or fresh), sardines, mackerel, brewer's yeast, eggs.
The majority of your immune system is found in your intestines.
The good bacteria that line the walls of the gastrointestinal tract protect you from harmful bacteria by competing for space and food, altering the chemical environment to be less hospitable to invading pathogens and by regulating the inflammatory immune response.
Probiotic bacteria are found in fermented foods. Including a daily serve of probiotic foods will give your immune system an extra boost.
Probiotic foods include: miso paste, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha.
*Note: Good bacteria need feeding too. Prebiotic foods contain insoluble fibre which feeds and supports the growth of the probiotic bacteria. Prebiotic foods include: leeks, artichokes, garlic, onion, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel, barley, oats, chickpeas and lentils. Include a serve of prebiotic foods daily.
8. Culinary Spices:
Ancient, culinary spices have long been used for their medicinal properties. In addition to being aromatic, spices have active compounds that support immune function and healing.
Spices are known to have many health benefits including anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, as well as beneficial nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc.
While I am not recommending consumption of these spices in therapeutic doses (as supplements) here, I do suggest adding some spices to your cooking to give your immune system a boost.
Mushrooms are one of the most nutrient-packed, health-promoting foods on the planet. The delicious and versatile micro-fungi have been used medicinally for thousands of years, and mushroom extracts are still used in immune-boosting herbal preparations and nutritional supplements today.
Mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamins C, D, B- group vitamins and minerals including potassium, magnesium, calcium and selenium.
Mushrooms are anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial and antioxidant. Eating a variety of mushroom species will support your immune system to help to protect you from cold and flu.
Sleep is a critical factor for both our physical and mental health.
Good quality sleep is essential to maintain good health and strengthen the immune system.
While we sleep our bodies produce and organise the immune cells and proteins that initiate the immune response, fight infection and facilitate healing.
Inadequate sleep causes an imbalance in the immune function which leaves us vulnerable to infection by harmful pathogens.
The key to a happy and healthy winter is to start now. The earlier you begin to prepare your immune system, the stronger and more ready it will be to fight.
If you feel like your immune system could do with a little bit more support this winter, book in for a free, 10 minute Discovery Call with me to find out how I can help.