Struggling to shake off the lurgy? Unfortunately, by the end of January and into February, our summer stores of vitamin D have dwindled to a year-round low, negatively impacting our in-built immune defences and leaving us more prone to picking up bugs. With over 200 varieties of the common cold virus it is hardly surprising that the average adult typically suffers an average of 2-4 colds a year, and for children this can be as many as 12.
However, there are some tasty ways to protect yourself, here’s our Top 10 Immune Boosting Foods:
Mushrooms – shiitake in particular contain sugars called ‘polysaccharides’, which along with zinc can increase the production of white blood cells and help to prevent infection. Mushrooms are also a source of vitamin D, leave them outside or on a sunny windowsill for 30 mins to increase their natural vitamin D content. Sautee with garlic and parsley as a tasty side dish. Alternatively, top up levels on the go with our delicious Vitamin D Mango & Passionfruit.
Garlic is a well-known anti-viral, as we breathe the essential oils move through our respiratory tract helping to combat lurking bugs or viruses, if you can face it, raw is best!
Yoghurt – a healthy gut means a healthy immune system, choose probiotic live yoghurt containing strains of lactobacillus to support beneficial bacteria and promote antibody production.
Cruciferous veg like cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are packed with nutrients and contain ‘choline’ which strengthens cells in our gut wall, helping to keep bugs out! Whip up a garlic yoghurt dip to have with cauliflower or broccoli crudités
Sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and dark leafy greens contain beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A and helps to protect the respiratory and intestinal tracts, you may also like our Vitamin A Blackcurrant & Blueberry.
Eggs are rich in protein and provide key fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K for immune function. They also contain B vitamins for energy production, plus minerals zinc and selenium. If you’re feeling run down, enjoy a boost of energy with our Apple & Raspberry blend of B Vits.
Greens, like kale and spinach have high levels of vitamin C our number 1 healing nutrient, try to include at every meal by adding a handful to smoothies, soups and salads. As vitamin C is water soluble you need to keep levels topped up, our Vitamin C Sparkling Orange is a tasty solution.
Cinnamon has antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties as well as helping to support the metabolism. Combine with oats at breakfast, dust on fresh fruit or add a sprinkle to coffee or hot chocolate.
Ginger – when a cold sets in, an inflamed respiratory tract causes congestion. Ginger contains powerful anti-inflammatory compounds, try it fresh and steeped in hot water with lemon as a soothing drink or grate into curries and stir-fries for a fiery kick.
Tomatoes – lycopene gives their flesh it’s red colour and offers an array of health-building benefits, including reducing respiratory inflammation.
Every single cell in our body has receptors for vitamin D making it arguably the most important vitamin for overall health, and with shorter days as the nights draw in it's worth knowing how to keep levels topped up through winter.
Vitamin D is actually a hormone that is produced in our skin in response to sunlight and has a wide ranging effect on the body. Vitamin D helps to maintain bone density by encouraging the absorption of calcium, it supports the immune system and can have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect in autoimmune conditions like psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis, it helps to protect nerve cells and support brain health, balance our sex hormones and plays a role in healthy digestion. However unlike most vitamins it is impossible to get enough through diet alone, here's some nutritionist know how to help maintain your levels.
Top 10 tips to get more vitamin D
Spend as much time as possible outdoors - not only is sunshine essential for vitamin D production but it helps to regulate our circadian rhythm and encourage healthy sleep. While it’s still light, walk the dog or go for a jog before breakfast, roll up your sleeves and eat lunch outside or enjoy an evening stroll before dinner.
Make a habit of including a food source at every meal - try eggs for breakfast, tuna for lunch and salmon for dinner.
Wild salmon - one fillet can contain up to 1000 IU (more than double our daily dose), although farmed salmon contains around half that.
Dairy – cow’s milk is often fortified with vitamin D, it’s also found in butter, yoghurt and cheese, especially ricotta. Some alternative milks such as soya and nut milks are now also fortified.
Eggs – you would need to eat around 20 per day(!) to achieve required levels but they also contain a wide range of other nutrients such as choline for a healthy brain and as a complete source of protein make a good addition to any diet.
Tuna – 1 tin contains around half your daily vitamin D requirement, tinned sardines, mackerel and herring are also good sources.
Meat – pork, lamb and offal contain the highest levels.
Mushrooms – are the only plant source of vitamin D, they absorb sunlight much as we do. Choose wild or those grown outdoors and leave on your windowsill or anywhere in direct sunlight to increase vitamin D content.
Fortified cereals – many cereals are fortified with vitamin D particularly those for children, but it’s important to be mindful of added sugars.
Supplement with vitamin D3 from October to March or try fortified drinks such as Get More Vitamin D which provides your recommended daily allowance of 400 IU.
The clocks going back might have brought us an extra hour in bed and a little more light in the mornings, but some research suggests that this twice-yearly event may have a damaging effect on our sleep in the long term.
One of the key ingredients for healthy sleep is the hormone melatonin which helps to regulate our sleep and wake cycles. Typically lowest during the day, melatonin rises at night to promote tiredness and the natural onset and maintenance of sleep. For a peaceful night’s rest it’s important not to disrupt the body’s production of this sleep hormone.
If you struggle to drop off or often wake during the night, now is a good time to review your sleeping habits:
Top 10 tips for better sleep
Natural light: try to get outdoors during the day – not only does this help to support a healthy circadian rhythm, it can improve energy levels and the quality and duration of your sleep. If you struggle to find time or work irregular hours, you might like to think about light therapy, there are various alarm clocks that replicate sunrise, waking you gradually rather than the sudden jolt experienced with traditional alarm clocks or your phone.
Avoid artificial light: blue light from laptops and phones have been proven to reduce melatonin production in the brain. Try to limit access to digital screens for at least an hour before bed, and if you have ‘night mode’ which dims blue light and changes it to a more amber glow, use it.
Exercise: is scientifically proven to improve the quality and length of sleep, so aim to factor in a workout at least 3 times per week. However, avoid high energy routines too close to bedtime or you might feel too wired to wind down in time for sleep, opt for swimming or yoga in the evenings instead.
Caffeine: the rate at which we process caffeine can be influenced by genetics however the average effect of caffeine lasts for approximately 4-6 hours. Drinking tea or coffee late in the day can stimulate the nervous system and prevent sleep, so switch for caffeine free herbal or fruit teas and before bed try calming camomile or valerian. If you’re particularly sensitive be mindful that green tea, chocolate and energy drinks contain caffeine as well as medications such as cold and flu remedies.
Alcohol: you might be tempted to have a ‘nightcap’, and while alcohol is a sedative which initially makes you feel drowsy the effects are short-lived. After a few hours the alcohol begins to wear off and we experience a ‘rebound’ effect causing lighter, less restful sleep and often waking earlier than usual. Alcohol also suppresses melatonin production and can block REM sleep (the most restorative form), so even if we sleep for the same length of time, the quality is affected making us feel tired and groggy. If you’re going to drink in the evening, the optimal window is between 5-7pm (happy hour!) allowing time to process the alcohol and limit the impact on sleep.
Dinner: avoid eating large meals too close to bed time. Feeling full can not only be uncomfortable but breaking down food can also drive up body temperature at a time when it should naturally drop to encourage sleep, the same goes for overly spicy food which can also cause sleep disrupting heartburn.
Instead, eat a small snack before bed: a balanced protein-rich snack helps to balance blood sugar. Sudden drops in blood sugar during the night can cause your adrenal glands to kick in and produce the stress hormone cortisol, stimulating us out of sleep. Try oatcakes with nut butter and banana which contain ‘tryptophan’ an amino acid (protein) which encourages the production of melatonin.
Relaxation: a warm bath an hour before bed slightly raises body temperature, which when it subsequently drops helps to send you to the land of slumber. Gentle yoga, meditation or breathing exercises are also helpful.
If you can’t sleep get up and try again: after 20 minutes tossing and turning, try getting out of bed and find a quiet spot to read a book or try a breathing exercise, but whatever you do – avoid bright lights.
Don’t clock watch! It will only stress you out and reinforce negative thoughts about not being able to sleep, it’s a vicious circle. Resist the urge to check your phone or even better invest in a regular alarm clock - just be sure to turn it away from you before getting your head down.
Get your summer glow on!
Warmer weather means time for the big reveal, but if you suffer with skin issues like acne, eczema, psoriasis or are worried about the sun’s aging effects, read on for some simple tips to help protect your skin from the inside out.
One of the main drivers for skin flare ups and skin aging is inflammation. This may sound abstract but in actual fact and regardless of skin health, if you experience allergies, aches and pains, digestive discomfort, difficulty losing weight or struggle with low mood, it’s highlylikely that inflammation is playing a role.
What is inflammation and how can food help?
Think of when you fall over and cut your knee, as immune system messengers flood to the site of injury you experience pain, swelling and redness – this is inflammation, and a completely normal reaction. This essential acute response helps us heal from injury and protect against infection. The problem is when inflammation becomes chronic, driven by a poor diet, stress, a lack of exercise, excess weight, smoking, alcohol and our environment.
An ‘anti-inflammatory’ style diet can help to keep inflammation in check. This way of eating is a key ingredient in my skin health toolkit and one with which I have seen great results.
Nourish skin from within in 5 easy steps:
Load up with healthy fats
Number 1 are omega 3 rich foods which have been shown to reduce inflammatory hormones in a similar way to anti-inflammatory drugs. Monounsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocado also provide skin soothing benefits
Eat 2-4 portions of oily fish per week -salmon, sardines, mackerel.
Drizzle salads with extra virgin olive oil or omega 3 rich flax or walnut oil.
Snack on nuts and seeds - walnuts, chia and flaxseed are particularly high inomega 3.
Steer clear of sunflower oil, peanut oil, margarines and processed spreads high inomega 6 and hydrogenated fats which can upset the delicate balance with anti- inflammatory hero omega 3 and make inflammation worse.
It’s all about the antioxidants
Antioxidants work at a cellular level, helping to neutralise ‘free radicals’ and preventthem causing damage - minimising inflammation. Vitamin C and E are particularly powerful for healthy skin.
Eat the rainbow – the more richly pigmented your fruit and veg the better. Add blueberries at breakfast, choose dark green leaves for salads and switch carbs like rice or pasta for cauliflower or broccoli rice, courgetti or squash noodles. These days you’ll find them ready prepped in most supermarkets.
Enjoy a cuppa – regular tea, green tea and coffee all provide protective polyphenols.
Treat yourself to a glass of red wine, dark chocolate or a spoonful of peanut butter - they’re rich in resveratrol, shown to be a powerful force against oxidative stress and help slow the aging process.
Dark chocolate is also rich in flavanols that may protect against sun damage, so tuck in before your holidays!
Spice up your life!
Herbs and spices can be as potent as anti-inflammatory drugs at combatting inflammation
Curcumin, the active compound in turmeric packs a powerful punch and can alsohelp manage blood glucose balance, crucial for weight loss. Add liberally tohomemade curries, or try turmeric tea.
Combine with black pepper which has it’s own effect anti-inflammatory effects andincreases the absorption of curcumin.
Compounds in ginger can block the release of pro-inflammatory hormones and isalso rich in antioxidants
Cinnamon helps to maintain blood sugar balance, important for weight management and keeping inflammation in check.
Pay attention to your digestion
Your digestive system is home to around 100 trillion bacteria, outnumbering human cells by around 10-1, so it’s important you keep these little guys happy and healthy. In addition, between 70% and 80% of the immune system is based in the gut so for keeping skin healthy and inflammation under control, your gut could hold the key.
Include a daily helping of:
Probiotics - live beneficial bacteria created during fermentation in yoghurt,sauerkraut, miso, kefir, kombucha
Prebiotic fibre - feeds healthy microbes, found in leeks, onions, garlic, oats, barley, green bananas, asparagus and chicory
Common food sensitivities can often show up in the skin as your immune system respondsto ‘foreign’ proteins so try reducing or removing these foods and you may notice an improvement.
Dairy – also contains hormones that can encourage inflammation, people with acne and eczema usually see a dramatic difference by reducing dairy
Gluten – can cause digestive problems and impact skin health too
Sugar promotes the release of the hormone insulin, too much of which can lead toweight gain, but sugar can also bind to collagen causing skin to become rigid and prone to wrinkles.
Becky offers personal nutritional therapy consultations, online coaching, functional testing and health talks at www.healthyhedonist.co.uk
Or try her free 7 day clear skin plan delivered straight to your phone through Facebook Messenger.
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