Cold and flu season is bearing down on us! With a household of sick family members I thought I would share some immunity boosting goodness: cold and flu prevention tips, behaviors and foods that I have found to be helpful in keeping a strong body and immune system.
How To Stay Strong Amidst A Barrage of Germs
The more the better. The earlier the better. Every hour before midnight is worth two after midnight to your recovery and health. If you want long term health and a strong immune system, rest. If you live consistently on inadequate rest you will get sick and it will likely be at a very inopportune time. Turn off the lights early, unplug from your electronics and rest as much as possible.
Stress = sick. The more stressed you are the less effective your immune system operates. No matter where it comes from stress will break down your immunity. Everyone knows this to be true, I just wanted to make sure we don’t forget it. Limit stress as much as possible, even more so when colds and flus are floating around. Keep things in perspective, implement good life planning/scheduling and take time to slow down every once in a while. Ten deep breaths first thing upon awakening is a great way to center the body and set the stage for the day. Things like relaxation tracks can be a nice way to wind down your day and reconnect when life gets a little crazy. Be lazy every once in a while, too, it’s good for you.
Laughter is the best medicine… literally. So many good things happen in the body when you laugh. What stress does to hurt you, laughing does to help you. Keep fun things and people around you, listen to comedians, watch funny movies, smile, be silly and just have fun- it will absolutely make you feel better.
Don’t let the winter months trap you indoors. Fresh air and sunshine will do wonders for your health. A lunchtime walk can recharge your system and provide some much needed vitamin D (vitamin D is one of the strongest immune boosters in the body).
When done at a mild to moderate intensity, exercise is a fantastic health promoter. Mild activities like weight training, hiking, yoga, tai chi and bodyweight exercises can be a great asset in keeping healthy. Be active but don’t overdo it. Too much exercise is a stress and that often leads to a depressed immune system. Overtraining is one of the biggest threats to your immune system so be careful. If you are feeling sick, a walk might be your best bet for fighting off a would be illness.
Eat Immune Strengthening Foods
Nourish your body and support your immune system with great food. All of these foods are good for you on an everyday basis and contribute to overall health but you can certainly ramp up their role during the winter season, when you’re feeling a little down/stressed, or as a preventative measure if you know you might be exposed to some pathogens (i.e. plane flight, family get together, business meetings). What are the most immune boosting foods out there? Although this is not a comprehensive list, let’s take a look at some of the best immune supporters.
Water – the most important “nutrient”
Garlic – add it whenever you can, it is very versatile
Onions – same as garlic, use liberally
Mushrooms – all kinds, particularly shiitake, maitake and reishi
Ginger – a fantastic healing food, fresh is best but any version helps
Hot Peppers – all peppers, but hotter means better for immune boost
Saturated Fat – grass fed beef/lamb/butter and coconut products containing saturated fat are huge for the immune system
Probiotic Foods – miso, raw sauerkraut, unsweetened yogurt, kombucha, kimchi
Green Tea – unsweetened or with a touch of honey, can also use black, red, white or oolong tea
Berries – black/blue/straw/raspberries all pack nutritional power
Liver – yes, a nutritional powerhouse, liverwurst is a nice option
Eggs – particularly the yolks
Fish – fatty versions: salmon, mackeral, herring, sardines, anchovies
Seafood – oysters, crab, shrimp, lobster, scallops
Sweet Potatoes/Yams – probably be the most nutrient dense starch out there
Vegetables – whether it’s kale, spinach or carrots nearly every vegetable will help your body’s immune system.
Bone Broth – made from beef, chicken, pork or fish, fantastic for soups and sauces and filled with health fortifying nutrients
Chicken Soup – the old fashioned version: chicken bone broth with vegetables and chicken, NO noodles
Miso Soup – also look for the old fashioned kind with limited ingredients
Most people should get their nutrient needs met through food, period. Try to get all of these through the above listed foods but if you feel like a little extra this is one time I don’t mind exceptions. Here are a few supplements/herbs that have shown some promise for helping keep us healthy when bombarded by pathogens.
Probiotics – look for a wide ranging probiotic with 5 or more strains
Digestive Enzymes – helps the body get the most out of the food you eat
Glutamine – helps heal the intestines and precursors glutathione, a major antioxidant
Vitamin C – spread throughout the day to maximize absorption and assimilation
Vitamin E – eaten with fat to enhance absorption
Zinc – powerful mineral, often found in lassenges
Vitamin D – huge for health, good idea to supplement if you’re not getting good sun exposure
Vitamin A – if you take D, think about balancing it out with A – I use a fermented cod liver/butter oil blend for this
Selenium – another great mineral, found in high amounts in Brazil nuts
Fish Oil/Krill Oil – look for a good source but keep them out of the light and heat
Antioxidant Mix – a collection of some or all of the above listed supplements offers a nice option to have on hand
Don’t Eat Toxic Foods
Bad, inflammatory foods that challenge our immune system puts the body at major risk for sickness. If your immune system is on overdrive (or just plain worn down) from dealing with toxins it will not be strong enough to fight off illness. What are the major food toxins to look out for?
Sugar (and all sweeteners) is a killer for the immune system. As little as one teaspoon (5 grams) can shut down your immune system for 5 hours! Think about that next time you grab a muffin or a sweetened coffee drink. Honey might be an exception but I personally tread lightly with all sweeteners, particularly when immunity is a high priority. Get your sweetness from fruits if you “need” it. Avoid high fructose corn syrup/corn sugar and agave nectar at all costs.
Right behind sugar is wheat. For nearly everyone, wheat is an extremely inflammatory food. From a blood sugar and food toxin perspective it is right there with the worst of them. The more you can limit wheat and all it’s offspring the better you will likely feel. This applies for year round vitality as well.
Vegetable/Seed Oils and Trans Fats
All of the industrial oils are toxic and inflammatory. Avoid soy, corn, canola/rapeseed, peanut, sunflower, safflower and grapeseed oil. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils are also devastating to our immunity.
Food Chemicals & Additives
Anything food manufacturing companies add to food to enhance its flavor, mouth feel or shelf life will run havoc in your body. Flavorings (natural or artificial), dyes/colorings, artificial sweeteners, preservatives and all other “additives” are bad news. Rule of thumb: keep it simple. If man made it, stay away.
Don’t Be Dumb
This is the catch all category. Stay away from sick people when you can, wash your hands when handling food and objects touched by other people, and try not to put yourself in too many situations where you compromise your immunity. If you just spent a day interacting with sick people at work, don’t beat yourself up with a big workout, cheat on your diet and stay up late.
If you do feel yourself coming down with some symptoms, don’t ignore them. Hydrate, rest and eat well. Attack the illness with healthy behaviors, don’t let it catch you unprepared. Typically, a virus will get in your system and show up about 2 days later. The minute you feel something a little off, a tickle in your throat, some sinus congestion, a couple sneezes or coughs, abnormal fatigue, etc. get your immunity program kicked in overdrive.
As an example, when my family came down with colds the last week I became even more conscious of my body, looking for anything a bit off. I felt a little tired yesterday morning so I headed over to Mother’s Market and got a drink called Cold Comfort. I don’t normally drink juice but this blend combines carrot, garlic, ginger and cayenne. I added a little pineapple/lemon juice and it packed quite a nice clean punch. I took it easy yesterday, ate well, added a couple antioxidant supplements, rested and as a result I feel pretty good so far today. No one is perpetually immune to everything but we certainly control our destiny most of the time.
So there you have it- some ideas on keeping yourself healthy during the “cold and flu” season. Your goal should simply be the person who just doesn’t get sick. Take care of your body and it will take care of you.
Thanks for reading, have a great immune boosted week!
**Pictures courtesy of ncrunnerdude.blogspot.com and betterbodyjournal.com
Reading your post while I am sitting here drinking my “cold comfort” juice from Mother’s Market. I love the idea of adding pineapple/lemon juice! I am a preschool teacher and my immune system is compromised almost every winter due to constant exposure to sick little one’s, stress (working, going to school full-time, caring for my family, etc), and lack of sleep due to my demanding schedule. I like the idea of your post and look forward to getting lost of ideas about staying healthy and strong!
Love it Niki! My wife teaches kindergarten so she certainly has felt the impact from being proactive about her immune system.
My feeling is that, for the most part, strong immune systems can fight off anything- even pesky old preschool germs! 🙂 Since life has a way of throwing constant stress on us like you noted, the more you can do to take care of yourself the better you can fend off illness. Thanks for the comment, love those Cold Comforts!