With the kids back in school and cooler weather on the horizon, you may be starting to worry about staying healthy with the cold and flu season approaching. Given the current COVID pandemic, you may be wondering how you can support your immune system and what steps you can take to stay healthy. The good news is that there are many things you can do to improve your immune health and thereby improve your body’s line of defences against infection. Here is a list of things you can do to keep your immune system strong and healthy.
Eat a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet.
This means cutting out the processed packaged foods and replacing them with real, whole foods. Our immune system relies on a wide variety of micronutrients to function properly. Processed foods are lacking in these nutrients, meaning that if they make up a large portion of your diet, you are very likely deficient in many vital nutrients. Swap out the processed stuff for real, whole foods and you will drastically increase your intake of these immune-supporting nutrients.
Eat a wide variety and a large number of fresh fruits and vegetables.
A good rule of thumb is to eat the rainbow. Different coloured vegetables contain different nutrients. Eating a range of colours of vegetables means you’ll be getting a wide range of these immune-supporting nutrients.
Cut out sugar and refined (processed, white) starches.
Studies have shown that processed sugars suppress the immune system, and these effects linger for several hours after consumption. Cutting down on starches and sugars will improve your overall health and energy, as well as support your immune system.
Get enough protein.
This means getting protein from both plant and animal sources (or just plant if you’re vegan, but never from only animal sources). Nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, and legumes are all great sources of plant-based proteins. You can also supplement with high-quality protein powder if you’re concerned about your protein intake. Just look for one with clean ingredients, containing no artificial flavours, aspartame or sucralose. Protein is critical for proper immune function and inadequate protein levels are a risk factor for complications resulting from infections.
Eat fermented foods to support your gut.
The microbiome is closely connected to our immune system, which means an unhealthy gut equals a weakened immune system. Sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, kombucha, plain unsweetened yogurt and kefir (or their vegan alternatives) are all good options for fermented foods.
Eat lots of garlic, onion, and ginger.
These foods support healthy gut bacteria and possess natural antimicrobial properties.
Drink lots of water.
Staying hydrated is essential for good health and proper functioning of all body systems! Aim for 2L on a non-exercise day, and 2.5L on any day you’re working out. If you don’t love drinking plain water, try drinking herbal (non-caffeinated) teas, or adding some lemon or lime to your water for flavour.
This is our body’s time to heal, restore, and recover. Depriving yourself of sleep means that proper immune function is not possible, and you are making yourself more susceptible to infections. This time of year, try to get to bed an hour earlier than you usually do. Ideally, a bedtime of 10 pm is best, midnight being the absolute latest. I know it can be tough with a never-ending to-do list and a house full of kiddos, but prioritizing your sleep will allow you to take better care of your family in the long run.
Yoga and meditation are great ways to relax, but these are not the only options. Reading a book, laying down while listening to peaceful music, or getting out into nature for a hike are all great ways to relax.
Last but not least, exercise is a crucial part of keeping your immune system strong and healthy. The science shows that exercise can improve your immune response, lower the risk of illness, and reduce inflammation. Exercise increases blood and lymph flow throughout the body as your muscles contract, which means it also increases the circulation of immune cells. This allows your immune cells to move throughout your body at a higher rate and in increased numbers! Exercise actually helps your immune cells to find pathogens and wipe them out! In fact, a scientific review conducted in 2019 found that people who exercised for 45 minutes experienced this increase of immune cells circulating the body, and the effects lasted for up to three hours after! So, next time you’re feeling a little under the weather and don’t have the motivation for your workout, just remember that you’ll actually be supporting your immune system and helping your body fight off whatever has got you feeling down!
I hope these tips help keep you and your families strong and healthy this winter.
This blog post was written by Coach Isabel Botros, Holistic Nutritionist