Suzie Sawyer – Clinical Nutritionist
With the year or two that everyone’s endured, many of us are looking forward to celebrating this Christmas with friends and family. However, with lots of viruses and bugs around, plus with the added stress the festive season often brings, the body needs to be as robust as possible. Here’s five tips that may help your body to fight back.
Protect the immune system
It’s the immune system that protects the body from unwanted invaders. Unfortunately, It’s under threat from a wealth of bugs at the moment, and not just Covid-19. With lots of mixing now taking place, together with crowded, centrally heated spaces with poor ventilation and access to fresh air, busy shops and public transport, the body is under threat. However, it’s perfectly possible to wrap an invisible protective shield around yourself to try and prevent an immune attack.
Many people have become much more aware of their eating habits during the pandemic and have made some positive changes. One of the easiest ways of doing this is whizz up a juice or smoothie each morning. Fruits and vegetables are all loaded with vitamin C, beta-carotene and many other immune-boosting antioxidants. Plus, you can add ginger, also great for the immune system, to many different juices or smoothie recipes. Beetroot, apple, berries, bananas, avocado, mango, carrot, pear, spinach ……. the list goes on. Just throw in your favourites, the more colour, the better. It’s all about trying to include as many nutrients as possible throughout the day. Remember colour equals nutrients. Why not aim for a daily rainbow?
High stress levels can really impact on the immune system. This is because elevated cortisol, the body’s stress hormone, dampens the body’s normal inflammatory response, which is one of the ways the immune system does its job. High cortisol also reduces production of the body’s white blood cells that kill off unwanted invaders.
If you’re feeling wrung out right now, then try taking the herb, Ashwagandha. It’s known as an adaptogen, meaning it adapts to what’s going on internally and helps manage cortisol levels. It can really help to calm feelings of stress and anxiety. Take it in the mornings and you’ll get a boost of energy too.
Watch sugar intake
Sugar is the immune system’s enemy. Part of the reason is that high sugar levels tends to suppress production of the body’s immune-boosting white blood cells. Therefore, sugar may stop the body fighting off infections as it should.
Sugar is sugar in all its forms; white and brown sugar, honey, molasses, cane sugar, artificial sweeteners, fruit drinks, natural fruit juices and processed, sugary foods and snacks will all have a detrimental effect on immunity.
Instead load up on immune-boosting foods (as well as your morning juice or smoothie). Mushrooms, natural yoghurt, whole grains, garlic and chicken soup are all great choices.
Relax and repair
It’s amazing how much less stressed you feel when you take even a short time away from everything and enjoy some relaxation. Most importantly, this can have a really positive effect on stress levels, which in turn helps the immune system.
Total relaxation for even 20 minutes each day can make all the difference. There are so many relaxation apps you can download or just read a book or magazine. Watching TV or looking at your phone are not conducive to relaxation as they simulate the brain, plus their blue light may prevent you from getting peaceful sleep.
Embrace the great outdoors
The wintry miserable weather makes us all huddle indoors, meaning germs are more likely to spread. Breathing fresh air, perhaps taking a brisk walk, can feel wonderfully restorative. Indeed, moderate exercise helps stimulate the immune system.
Even if you have to endure some wind and rain, the health benefits will be worth it. If you enjoy walking, there’s so many groups you can join if you want some company. If you climb a few hills, you’ll be rewarded with some amazing scenery as well; the world looks very different from up high.