If it were all about relaxing in front of cosy fires and yuletide cheer, winter would be my all-time favourite season. The truth, for many people, is that winter is not all that. Yes, we love Christmas (but even that can be a double-edged sword – but that’s for another post) but winter is also the time when we feel at our very worst. Skin is dry and flaky thanks to the central heating, while dark mornings and nights make us feel bleak, and we spend much of our time trying to dodge cold and flu bugs that spread like wildfire through our homes and offices.
Gosh that sounds grim, doesn’t it, but it needn’t be so bad. Here are my top 20 tips to help keep you fighting fit through the next few months.
1) EAT ‘HAPPY TUMMY’ FOODS
Up to 80% of our immunity to germs and disease comes from our gut. What we want is a balance between beneficial or ‘good’ bacteria and the ‘bad’, potentially pathogenic bacteria. The gut environment gets out of balance through years of poor diet, including too much sugar, or else stress, antibiotics and the like. Even if you don’t have tummy troubles, because the gut environment is so important for your health, it really is worth the extra effort to take care of it. When it comes to eating well for the gut, that means adding in probiotic and prebiotic foods, which repopulate the gut with good bacteria and feed those good bacteria so they crowd out the bad guys. Eat probiotic, natural yoghurt (like Yeo Valley or Rachel’s – and full fat only because the 0% or no fat option has added sugar and most yoghurt is low fat anyway, so no need to bother PLUS it is not fat that is the enemy when it comes to losing weight. Glad we’ve got that sorted). Miso soup or miso boullion paste (to add to soups and stews) should also be on your list, along with oats (soak them first; like you would to make overnight oats, to release the goodness), onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, beans.
2) TAKE A PROBIOTIC For most people, taking a daily probiotic can helps bridge the gap between the ideal diet and real life. There are a number of professional grade probiotics I use in clinic, tailoring each to my clients’ requirements and what’s going on for them. However, an excellent general one that covers most bases is Nutri Probio Plus. You are very welcome to order it through the supplier I use for all my supplements, and use my name as your practitioner and my discount code (see the bottom of this mail), though you are likely to find the samethrough that big old electronic retailer, too.
Another little note on your immune wellbeing… Do try to avoid taking antibiotics unless absolutely necessary. Some doctors give them out like sweets (though thankfully these GPs are fewer and fewer). Although they will kill the bad stuff involved in a bacterial infection, they nix ALL bacteria – even the good ones.
3) EAT REAL FOOD
Your body is crying out for real food, not the processed sh1t that we kid ourselves is OK for us to eat. Truly, your body doesn't know what’s going on when you shovel in heavily processed or chemically altered foods. So, we’re talking meat and fish, fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, all of which will help keep you fighting fit for the season ahead. Following the low GL diet – the kind of diet I work with all the time with clients in clinic and in my Facebook Group – will also help, providing your body with a steady supply of energy through the day rather than a high-octane rollercoaster of energy spikes and troughs. If you’re not already a member of the Facebook group, you are very welcome to come right in and help yourself to the low GL basics, a presentation you will find in the files section. In the videos section, there’s also a video of me in a red spotty dress talking you through it. It was recorded as a live Facebook broadcast, so please bear that in mind when you are watching (I am not normally quite that crazy)…
4) TAKE A GOOD MULTI VITAMIN
Just like probiotics, a good multivitamin bridges the gap between what you ARE eating and what you SHOULD be eating, plus it takes care of any nutrient deficiencies you may have developed over time. For women, you want something that is high in B vitamins (for hormone balance), among many others. Every practitioner has their favourites (and I do vary mine greatly according to the client I am working with) but my top general female multi is Nutri’s Women’s Multi Essentials, which has most bases covered. It has high levels of all the important stuff for women at most lifestyles and in their most absorbable format. It even contains broccoli (really, I’m not kidding you). You can get it from the Natural Dispensary using my code if you wish (see below).
5) HAVE PLENTY OF VITAMIN C
You really do need to go large when it comes to some vitamins and minerals over the winter months, and one of those is vitamin C. Often, people tend to think of oranges as being the main way we can get in the vitamin C. I’m not going to tell you oranges aren’t good. That would be a lie, but they are not the thing with the highest levels of vitamin C. Not even close. You might be surprised to find that broccoli and red peppers are ahead of the game here, and that many, many other fruits and veg are higher. Here are a few vitamin C-containing foods to layer into your diet – kale, cauliflower, spinach, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, blackcurrrants, kiwi, pineapple, mango, papaya – then any citrus fruit (including oranges).
6) TOP UP YOUR ZINC
Zinc is partly responsible for the development and functioning of the white blood cells, the little infection-fighting cells you need at this time of year. You can get all you need for a day in a single oyster but, realistically, are you going to be eating that? So where next? You’ll find zinc in a palm-sized piece of lean meat (especially lamb, beef, venison and turkey), and pumpkin seeds are your next best bet followed by ginger root, green vegetables, oats, nuts, sesame seeds, yoghurt and scallops.
7) WARM YOUR COCKLES WITH COCOA
Unsweetened cocoa is choc full of antioxidants, specifically flavonols, which stimulate the immune system. Before you think a bar of dairy milk will do the trick, it won’t. I’m afraid the cocoa content is too low and the level of sugar too high. You’ll want to either make yourself a raw cocoa/ cacao hot chocolate with your favourite milk or milk substitute (adding in a little xylitol or pure stevia to sweeten, if you like) or enjoy a few squares of the darkest, purest chocolate you can muster. My tip would be Green & Blacks, the higher cocoa content the better (and at least 75%).
8) EAT MORE GARLIC
Garlic is one of nature’s most potent superfoods. Not only is it antimicrobial (that’s code for helps kill bad stuff in the gut), it’s been used for thousands of years to boost the immune system and prevent sickness. That’s because of its magic ingredient allicin that helps fight viruses. Try to include (ideally) fresh garlic or garlic powder in as many meals as you can. A garlic capsule at this time of year can also be helpful. I recommend BioCare Garlic Plus (again, available at The Natural Dispensary).
9) COOK WITH HERBS AND SPICES
Herbs and spices contain special plant chemicals called phytonutrients that help quash inflammation and boost immunity. Most herbs have some kind of anti-inflammatory benefit, but oregano and thyme are particularly potent. When it comes to spices, try to cook where you can with turmeric and ginger, both of which are well-documented immune boosters.
10) DITCH THE SUGAR
There’s no question that sugar is bad news for everything health related, even if you’re not trying to lose weight. Sugar fans the flames of inflammation but, as we’re talking here just about boosting immunity, it’s worth knowing that a study carried out at a university in California looked at people who consumed 6 tablespoons of sugar a day (when sprinkled on their cereal, in fruit juice or other sugary drinks, honey and the like) and found their infection-fighting white blood cells loss the ability to fend off viruses and bacteria. And, that was not just in the moment. The immune systems stayed depressed for hours after they ate the sugar. Scary stuff indeed.
11) DRINK LOTS OF WATER
Drinking oodles of water is the best way of flushing out nastiesfrom your system. Keeping well hydrated also means your blood will carry plenty of oxygen to your body’s cells, and allows your cells to take in important nutrients. You’ll want a filter jug or bottle so you’re not also quaffing high levels of chlorine and fluorine found in normal tap water.
12) DRINK GREEN TEA
Green tea (and chamomile tea, if you’re interested) can help strengthen the immune system. That’s because they contain antioxidants that help battle free radicals that wreak havoc across the immune system. In truth, we don’t know how large the effect really is on the immune system but, let’s say the effect is there but minimal, every little helps.
13) MOVE YOUR BLOOMING ARSE
I NEVER (and I mean never) miss a chance to add a My Fair Lady quote. Sorry about that. Seriously, exercising is one of the key ways you are going to stay fit, healthy and bug free this winter. That’s because of your lymphatic system, a parallel universe to your blood stream, contains a network of tissues and organs that help your body get rid of toxins, waste and other bad stuff. Its main role is to transport a fluid called lymph around the body, which contains infection-fighting white blood cells. Unlike the blood, which moves around thanks to your heart pumping, there’s no automatic way of moving lymph about. The only way to shift the stuff from A to B is by moving YOURSELF. I know, pretty low tech but there you have it. In order to have a strong immune system, you need to move yourself regularly to get the old lymph moving. The action of breathing in and out doesn’t cut it.
A recent study from a university in North Carolina in the USshowed that people who move themselves for 5 or more days a week experience 43% fewer days with upper respiratory infections (that’s throat, sinuses and or lungs – basically the common cold). The aim is 30-60 minutes of exercise 5 times a week.
14) TAKE A SUNNY BREAK
Yep, that’s what the Doctor ordered. To be clear, that’s obviously just a saying but, even though I’m not a doctor, that’s what I WOULD order if it were up to me. The reason? Vitamin D is essential for immunity but we don’t make enough of it in winter because there isn’t as much sun and, even if there were enough daylight hours, it would probably be too chilly to spend enough time out there. How does it work, you cry? Vitamin D is made by your skin absorbing sunlight. So, when you are less exposed to it, your body won’t be able to make as much (and plus, as you age, your body is less efficient at making it).
You’ll find vitamin D in the following foods, though it’s really tricky to eat enough through your diet alone: oily fish (like salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna), beef liver, mushrooms, cheese, egg yolks and foods that have been fortified with vitamin D (typically things like dairy products and orange juice).
How to get more vitamin D: take a sunny break and get your bod in the sun. So that’s your prescription. You have permission to book that mini break.
If the budget doesn’t stretch, just get outside as much as you can. Even winter sun is good, and the more exposure you get on bare skin (not skin with suncream or creams with protective factors in it), the better.
15) WASH YOUR HANDS
Bacteria and viruses survive on hands for ages longer than you think so you’ll need to clean your hands frequently. It goes with saying after the loo, but also after touching anything (or anyone) that might be germ. Think hanging rails on the tube, etc. Drying your hands thoroughly is also really important. Germs are a lot more clingy to wet hands than dry. So there you go.
16) GET ENOUGH SLEEP
When you are tired, all kinds of bad things start to happen. Simply, your body needs rest to stay healthy. In one study done at a private research university in Pennsylvania in the US found that, even if people said they felt fine and dandy, if they’d had less than 7 hours of sleep a night, they were three times more likely to catch a cold than people who had had an average of 8 hours or more of the ole shut eye.
17) CHECK OUT YOUR TOOTHBRUSH
This is gross… In the same way viruses can pass from one person to another based on touch or kissing, let’s say, the germs on your toothbrush can contaminate others if they’re touching, so make sure your family toothbrushes are not kept together in the same pot to avoid germs from one brush spreading (eek).
18) LOOK AFTER YOUR SELF CARE
I am always writing about self care and the reason why it’s go good for you. Your whole body and mind needs it. If you don’t make enough time for self care (that simple efforts to do nice things for yourself every single day – the more fun and frivolous the better), you don’t empty your stress bucket. Stressed bodies get more illnesses. Fact. Check out point 18, too.
It seems the benefits of getting involved in mindfulness practices are written everywhere. If you’ve not looked into it, I urge you to see how and where you can fit it into your life (my favourite book and CD combo with guided sessions is here http://amzn.to/2gsI3L2). Here’s why you need to take extra note of it in winter months: you can cut your chance of catching a cold by up to 50% by meditating. A University of Wisconsin study a few years back showed that people who practiced mindfulness noted 13 fewer illnesses and took 51 fewer sick days (wow, that’s a lot of sickness if you DON’T get involved - I’m off to meditate right now). The researchers put it down to the fact that meditation reduces the physical effects of stress, which in turn is known to weaken the immune system.
20) GET THE PARTY STARTED
Although people are full of germs and, if you go out and about at this time of year, air kissing all and sundry, you MIGHT end up with the lurgy, science shows that the more social relationships you have, the healthier you’ll be. Researchers think the psychological benefits of friendship and social interaction boost immunity and can help you keep to better health habits than if you were left to your own devices. So wrap up warm, and get your groove on!
Yours, in health,
PS If you’re the kind of person who ALWAYS has a cold or gets things worse than everyone else, wouldn’t you like to try to fix that? Maybe you have other health issues or niggly symptoms you know you need to work on. You’d be amazed how you can chance your situation by following a good eating plan. You know where I am… Use the contact form to message me, or check in 'work with me' and book a discovery call.
PPS The Natural Dispensary is www.naturaldispensary.co.uk Thediscount code is AIL10