We are going through times of uncertainty and fear in relation to global and personal health. One of the most empowering things you can do at times when so much feels out of your control is to manage your health by taking charge of your diet. Your immune system is the most powerful weapon you have against disease. Strong immunity means that the body is better able to fight off viruses and germs.
1. Eat real food
Your body needs real, unprocessed food to stay healthy and not the processed foods you kid yourself are OK for you to eat. Focus on eating natural, unrefined, unprocessed food as much as you can and cut out (or at least cut back on) sugar. That means focussing on eating meat, fish, eggs and vegetarian sources of protein like tofu, beans, lentils and chickpeas, and nuts and seeds, plus a broad range of fruit and vegetables. Follow the 80/20 rule (for the avoidance of doubt, this means eating healthily 80% of the time – think fresh apples rather than apple juice, or wholegrain bread instead of a white bread butty).
2. Enjoy 'happy' stomach foods
Did you know that up to 80% of your immunity to germs and disease is in your digestive system? The mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) in the gut is part of the first line of immune defence, so getting the right balance between beneficial or ‘good’ gut bacteria and the ‘bad’ or potentially pathogenic bacteria is key.
3. Serve chicken soup
If you thought it was just an old wives’ tale, you’d be wrong. Research suggests that a bowl of chicken and vegetable soup can slow the speed at which neutrophils move around your body. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system, protecting your body from infection. When the neutrophils move slowly, there’s a greater chance of them becoming more concentrated in the areas of your body that need the most healing. Studies have shown chicken soup to be particularly helpful in reducing symptoms in upper respiratory system infections.
4. Cook with herbs & spices
Adding flavour to food is a smart way to include delicious immune boosters on your plate. Garlic is a potent superfood. It is antimicrobial, thanks to the active ingredient allicin, which helps fight viruses, and has been used for thousands of years to boost the immune system and prevent sickness. To make the most of allicin, crush, chop or grate the garlic cloves and allow them to sit for a few minutes. This releases more allicin. Once formed, it is fairly resistant to heat. Most culinary herbs contain anti-inflammatory properties due to their phytonutrients, but oregano and thyme are particularly rich. Spice up your cooking with turmeric and ginger, too, as these are well-documented immune boosters.
5. Say no to sugar
Even if you don’t consider yourself a sugar addict, it’s worth taking a look at how much you do consume – and trying to swap sugary treats for something more wholesome. Sugar fans the flames of inflammation and affects the ability of white blood cells to fend off viruses and bacteria. In fact, the immune system stays depressed for hours after consuming sugar, according to recent studies. Enjoy raw cocoa or cacao hot chocolate on chilly evenings, adding your favourite milk or milk substitutes (with a little xylitol or stevia to sweeten, if you like). If you really miss that chocolate hit, try a few squares of pure, dark chocolate like Green & Blacks or any good chocolate with a higher cocoa content (at least 75%).
6. Drink more water
Staying well-hydrated is important for health in general. When it comes to bolstering your defences, water is a miracle worker. It flushes germs from your system, helps your blood carry plenty of oxygen to your body’s cells and allows those cells to absorb important nutrients. Invest in a filter jug or bottle to avoid quaffing high levels of chlorine and fluorine along with your tap water.
7. Try herbal tea
Green tea (and chamomile tea, if you’re interested) can help supercharge your immunity. 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.
8. Get enough sleep
Being tired is not good for your health. Simply, your body needs rest to stay healthy. 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.