Boosting your immune system all year will reduce your risk of catching colds or worse the dreaded flu during the colder months. Flu season peaks in the months of January and February within the UK and can cause serious illness for the young, old and at-risk groups. If you fall into one of these categories it is recommended you receive the flu jag. However, we can take steps to help ourselves by leading a healthy lifestyle by eating a nutrient dense diet, getting plenty of exercise, ensuring adequate sleep and keeping stress levels low.
Here are some of my top tips to help you boost your immune system this winter.
Eat your veggies Keeping your body well-nourished helps with more than just weight control; it also supports your body with energy, digestion, immune function and disease prevention. One of the most significant things you can do to start implementing an immune-boosting diet is to add fresh,whole foodswhen possible. Start with vegetables because they’re one of the foods that are typically missing in most diets (or we just don’t get enough of them) there are so many benefits for your overall health and well-being by consuming at least 5 servings of vegetables each day. Green fruits and vegetables are a nutritional powerhouse and contain lots of the vitamins (including A, C, K and folate) and minerals (even calcium!) we need every day. This includes magnesium and iron, which are highly beneficial for fighting tiredness and energy slumps. Leafy greens like spinach are also a good source of vitamins A, C and K, for strengthening your immunity, supporting your eye health and even helping other vitamins to be absorbed well. An array of green vegetables to choose from include: kale, spinach, cabbage, asparagus, celery, broccoli, cucumber, artichokes, leafy greens (lettuce varieties, collards), peas, and green peppers just to name a few. It’s not just veggies that add more greens to your plate though – don’t forget about your fruits such as green apples, grapes, honeydew, kiwi, limes, avocado. Foods from the yellow/orange group are also packed with vitamin C, a natural immune booster. Try pumpkin, oranges, pepper, cantaloupe, mango, squash, sweet potato, papaya, pineapple, carrots and lemon. Stocking up on citrus fruits during the colder months or start the day with a half lemon squeezed in some water each day all year round to boost your immunity.
Eat enough protein Proteins are nutrients that are essential to the building, maintenance and repair of your body tissues such as your skin, internal organs and muscles. They are also the major components of your immune system and hormones. Protein is found in both animal and plant foods such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, dairy products, legumes, grains and some vegetables. Try to include protein at each meal to feel the benefits.
Good Fats Consuming sufficient amounts of fat in the right forms and proper proportions have been shown to offer significant health benefits. Among other things, it can strengthen the immune system. Healthy fats are found in foods such as meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, and oily fish, like salmon. Purchase the highest quality you can if your budget allows.
Other good fat sources include olive oil, coconut oil and avocado (i.e. olive oil as part of salad dressing; coconut oil for cooking, baking and more; and avocado in smoothies or on your sandwich or salad). Remember you only need to eat a little of these to get all the benefits from fat.
Exercise reduces infections Moderate workouts temporarily rev-up the immune system by increasing the aggressiveness or capacity of immune cells. That may explain why people who exercise catch fewer colds.
Reducing stress There is a growing amount of research on the effect of stress on our physical bodies. For example, feeling overly worried can trigger stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline/epinephrine. It can also activate the “fight or flight” part of our nervous systems (called the “sympathetic” nervous system). When these are activated, they can physically suppress our immune systems, and make us more susceptible to infections. Try including 10 minutes of yoga or meditation each day to help reduce stress levels.
Improve the quality of sleepPoor sleep can lower immunity. If you seem to get every cough and cold going, your sleep habits may be to blame. Researchers deliberately exposed people to the common cold virus to see how likely they were to go on to develop a cold. Participants who had been sleeping for less than 7 hours per night had lower immunity and were almost 3 times more likely to be impacted. Even a small sleep debt has been linked to lower immunity.
Wash your hands regularly wash your hands to ensure you are not spreading germs. Germs can live for up to 8 hours on any surface, so getting into the habit of washing your hands after your morning commute particularly if you travel by public transport, after using the bathroom and avoid touching your face as much as possible.
If you are struggling to implement any of these changes to your diet and lifestyle, please book a free consultation callwith me and see how I can support you.
Your Quick Guide to Choosing the Ones That Are Right for You
Fermented foods are unique. For many years, fermenting was considered just a way to preserve food. Now we know that fermenting allows beneficial bacteria and sometimes yeast strains to build up in the food, turning it into a powerhouse of nutrients that helps the gut and the rest of the body.
Research does exist for fermented foods, plus there is a lot of historical information as to how they have been used in the past.
Most fermented foods are made with an anaerobic process, meaning the good bacteria build up lactic acid bacteria and other acids without oxygen. This means that there are no moulds or bad bacteria present.
Sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, and cultured vegetables are generally made with a salt brine, although homemade versions can be made from whey (strained from yoghurt) or a vegetable starter.
Milk kefir, water kefir, and kombucha also use an anaerobic process but must be made with a “SCOBY” (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). This means that both beneficial strains of bacteria and yeast are present.
Sourdough bread is made with a “starter” using an aerobic process. Oxygen is needed for the development of the wild yeasts. Wine and beer are also made with an aerobic process.
Most fermented foods contain various types of lactic acid bacteria which means they produce lactic acid. Wine and vinegars like apple cider vinegar or real balsamic vinegar have strains that produce acetic acid. All are beneficial.
As for the benefits, three different studies have compared the microbiomes of rural Africans, Japanese, and South Americans consuming a traditional diet with plenty of fermented foods. Researchers found that those consuming the traditional diet had higher levels of beneficial lactobacillus and bifidus strains and lower levels of pathogenic strains such as clostridium than people living in western urban centres.
Individually, each fermented food has been studied and found to be helpful in a number of ways. Some of the benefits for each fermented food are highlighted below. Learning more about each should make it easier for you to choose the right ones. However, the best way to choose is to try them.
How Do You Use Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods can be consumed on their own as a snack or served with a meal to aid digestion of the meal.
Kefir, yoghurt, kombucha, and pureed sauerkraut or sauerkraut juice work well in salad dressings, replacing some of the vinegar because they are all acids too, just not as strong.
Sauerkraut, cultured vegetables, and kimchi can be added to soups. Add after the soup has been ladled into the bowl.
Yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, and beet kvass can be added to smoothies.
A delicious beverage can be made by adding fresh juice to water kefir or kombucha.
Are the Benefits of Fermented Foods Lost When Cooked?
No. You will lose the enzymes, beneficial bacteria, and yeast strains. However, the microorganisms produce beneficial metabolites during the fermentation process, and these remain available to provide health benefits for the body. Also, the food that is fermented is somewhat predigested, and the nutrients in the food have been made more bioavailable. These benefits remain in the food even if it has been cooked.
What Is the Best Serving Size?
Try to consume 75g for sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt, and kefir. For beverages such as water kefir and kombucha, 224 ml is a good amount. For beet kvass, 56–112 ml.
The Easiest Fermented Foods to Buy:
Many good-quality fermented foods are easy to find in the health food stores and many supermarkets. Real fermented foods, with the exception of wine, will be found in the refrigerated area. Those found on the shelf have been pasteurised and will no longer have the active bacteria. These are the ones you will most likely find:
Sauerkraut is made by “sweating” the juice out of the cabbage with salt to create a brine. This is a simple process of rubbing cabbage with the salt. All the benefits of cabbage are present but in a more bioavailable form. Other vegetables or herbs can be used to add to the flavour and to increase nutrient diversity.
Sauerkraut has many benefits. It is antimicrobial and antifungal, and the juice can be used to preserve other foods. Phytonutrients found in cabbage, known as isothiocyanates, may have anticancer benefits and may be helpful with ulcers.
Sauerkraut aids digestion and helps digestion of other foods in the meal. It also contains prebiotics which helps feed our own good bacteria.
The benefits of kimchi come from several key foods as it is a combination of cabbage, carrots, onions, garlic, ginger, daikon radish, and hot red pepper powder (capsaicin). It helps carbohydrate metabolism, and the capsaicin in the red pepper powder may boost the body’s metabolism. It also contains the same isothiocyanates as sauerkraut which may help stomach cancer.
Kimchi can help boost the immune system. It aids digestion of all the food in the meal, has antimicrobial properties, aids intestinal health, and helps prevent constipation. A study found that Bacillus Pumilus, a strain found in kimchi, helped detox carcinogens and estrogen-mimicker Bisphenol A (found in plastic).
Kombucha is unique as it is made with a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), tea (with caffeine), and sugar. It aids digestion, helps stabilise blood sugar, and has antimicrobial properties. It may also help with cholesterol, and it offers beneficial antioxidant protection.
Research of kombucha focusses on the polyphenols found in black tea. They are more bioavailable in kombucha which can explain a lot of the health benefits.
Milk kefir originated from the Caucasus mountains in Russia. Despite attempts to duplicate them, only kefir grains can make traditional kefir. They are a symbiotic combination of 32 strains of good bacteria (both lactic acid and acetic acid strains) and yeast strains.
Kefir has anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce histamine, the chemical released during an allergic reaction. It may aid those who are lactose intolerant. Kefir is well-researched and has been shown to have anticancer properties, help reduce inflammation and stabilise blood sugar. It also helps inhibit candida albicans. And like all fermented foods, it aids digestion.
Kefir works best when made with cow and goat milk as the lactose and GOS help feed the grains. It can be made with coconut milk, but some type of carbohydrate such as date puree must be added to feed the grains.
Yoghurt is one of the oldest fermented foods and is made from at least two to four strains of good bacteria. It is common to more cultures than any other types of fermented food except perhaps wine or cheese. Different cultures use different strains for making yoghurt. Cow, sheep, yak, goat milk – all have been traditionally used for yoghurt. In North America, yoghurt is typically made with the strains Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.
Commercial yoghurt may be fermented in as little as an hour with thickening agents such as gelatin or modified cornstarch being added. In order to break down enough lactose and have a significant amount of good bacteria, yoghurt must be fermented for at least four hours or longer. Speciality yoghurts like Mediterranean and Greek are also popular – both involve the process of straining whey to make it thicker. Zero per cent Greek yoghurt is made with non-fat milk. Whole milk yoghurts have more nutrients than low-fat Greek.
Real yoghurt should only contain two ingredients: milk and bacterial culture.
Studies on yoghurt are inconsistent – mainly because they do not specify what type of yoghurt was studied. What is known is that it aids digestion and helps support immune function. It may also be helpful for ulcers.
Sourdough is made from a starter of flour and water that has been fermented by wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. A good starter or “sponge” can last for decades and be passed down from one generation to another. The fermentation process changes how the grain is used by the body.
It makes the nutrients in the grains such as zinc, iron, magnesium, B vitamins, and phytonutrients more available to be absorbed into the body. The yeast actually produces the B vitamins (even in white bread). It also helps break down the gluten and starches making the bread more digestible. Many people who have digestive issues with wheat have no issues with sourdough bread made with wheat.
Research has shown that sourdough does not spike blood sugar and insulin release, even when made with white flour. One study found that consuming sourdough in one meal positively affected blood sugar for that meal and the next. (Breakfast may be the best time to consume it.)
Look for sourdough bread at local bakeries. Some supermarkets and health food stores are now selling sourdough bread. It may also be available online and sold frozen.
Wine and Beer
Is there a place for wine and beer in a healthy diet? Yes. Both are traditionally fermented foods. Both are low in alcohol (in comparison to hard liquor).
To be beneficial for gut health, beer must be unpasteurised. This ensures that the good bacteria and yeast are present. Many commercial beers are pasteurised so be careful when choosing. Beer contains B vitamins and silicon which blocks the uptake of aluminium and may help prevent Alzheimer’s. Beer also contains hops which are anti-inflammatory and may help with sleep.
The health benefits of red wine are well known: anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-ageing,
anticancer, and may help prevent heart disease. This is due to the phytonutrients known as the polyphenols which also happen to be prebiotic and feed good bacteria in the gut.
Wine is traditionally served with a meal to aid digestion. Most studies are on red wine, but white wine has high phenolic values as well. As long as they are consumed in moderation, red and white wine can be part of a healthy diet.
Apple cider vinegar with mother (meaning it has the remnants of the apple in it) is a true fermented food. The same is true of an aged balsamic vinegar. There are other vinegars that are fermented, but these two are the easiest to find, have many health benefits, and are rich in nutrients. Even though we only consume a small amount, they are still worthwhile to add to our diet.
Don’t Forget About Cheese
All real cheese is made from a fermented process, but it’s the hard, aged cheeses like natural cheddar and parmesan that have the most benefits. The older the cheese, the more the lactose is broken down and the more enzymes and beneficial bacteria are present. Look for cheeses made from raw milk, preferably organic, as these are the very best. Milk has many properties that are good for the gut and consuming a fermented version makes it more digestible.
How Much Should You Consume?
A study looked at people who consumed at least three different types of fermented food and had at least five servings per week. The fermented foods were removed for two weeks, and the immune response was lowered. Yoghurt was added back first and while immune response improved, it did not return to previous levels until all the fermented foods were added back in. Quantity and diversity matter.
Easiest plan: Have a serving of one fermented food every day, and choose three different types to rotate throughout the week. For more tips on how you can improve your gut health check out my recent blog Better Gut Health & Well-Being
I created the Sugar Detox and Weight Loss plans to help provide my clients with the knowledge that allows them to understand how to support their bodies more effectively. Gut health is an ever-evolving topic. The research is coming so fast and furiously that it may seem impossible to keep up. My goal is to help you find the foods that work best for you.
Different cookie-cutter diets are being recommended, but the long-term results show that this doesn’t work. I focus on taking a more foundational approach allowing the body to correct itself. This requires patience and customisation.
For more details on my one to one coaching plans clickhere.
I have made the decision to share my personal journey with you all. This wasn’t easy to write as I am a very private person but as a coach, I feel it is important to be able to relate to my client’s struggles and be able to offer support and encouragement from a place of personal experience. I see so many people struggle with their own health and weight loss issues for lots of different reasons. Healthy eating and managing your weight isn’t just about what we put in our mouths. It’s so much more than that.
After having my second child I was diagnosed with postnatal depression and generalised anxiety. I lived in a constant state of fear. I can only describe it as living with that same sensation of that split second a car pulls out in front of you. You slam on your breaks, you get a fright, your heart is thumping, you can’t breathe and your legs are shaking. Depending on how big a fright you get this sensation of panic will pass. However, for me, I lived in this constant state of ‘fear’ day in and day out. I stopped leaving the house and was utterly terrified my kids and I would be killed in a tragic accident. We stopped going to the shops, I stopped walking with the buggy and we stayed in the house all day long. I lived like this for around 6 months before getting help.
Help for me came in the form of antidepressants, a particularly nasty kind because I was breastfeeding. After about three weeks the sense of impending doom lifted and I was able to function again. I went back to work a few months later and things were good. I was a bit of a zombie and gained a lot of weight which I couldn’t shift on my medication. Looking back now, I wish I knew then what I know now about the true powers of exercise and good nutrition.
When I was well and feeling better I weened myself off the antidepressants. My diet at this time was poor, highly processed and I consumed a LOT of sugar! I tried various diets and they worked for a few weeks but were unsustainable long term. I would lose some weight then put it back on, or I would reach my ‘goal weight’ then revert back to my old ways and pile it back on and feel like a failure. A common story for so many people. That diet treadmill is a horrible cycle to be stuck in.
Fast forward one year and I fell pregnant with my third child Charlie, he was a pleasant surprise, however, I was scared post-natal depression would rear its ugly head again. Fortunately, it didn’t. In fact, I felt amazing. I had three gorgeous boys and I felt really good. This came as a big relief to me, I was more sociable, outgoing and generally a much happier mummy. I believed my days of depression were behind me at last.
Five months later my world was turned upside down in a split second when I discovered my husband was having an affair with someone I viewed as a friend and had been since before I fell pregnant with Charlie.
My husband and I separated almost overnight and I found myself a new place to live. Due to the situation, I also made the decision to move my kids to a different school and nursery. (This all happened in a matter of weeks, 2 weeks to be exact!) This was such a difficult time for me mentally, I was terrified of the thought of being a single mum, bringing up three wee boys all by myself. It wasn’t how I thought my life was going to turn out. Silly things would sadden me, like family holidays, how would I ever manage two weeks on my own in Spain with three kids, silly I know but I felt like my dreams of a family life had been taken away from me.
At first, I muddled on the adrenaline got me throw the first few weeks but as the dust settled I could feel myself slipping down ‘that’ horrible road again. I just couldn’t go through all that again, my kids needed me more than ever! They needed a fully functioning, happy, loving mum. They also needed me to support them through this sudden change to their family life. Everyone I confided in about my concerns for my children, told me how resilient kids are and to not worry about them too much. How right were they, thank goodness!
After several trips to the doctor, I was prescribed another course of antidepressants. I reluctantly accepted them as I felt it was my only option. After arriving home from the doctor’s surgery clutching my prescription, I sat at my kitchen table staring at them, not wanting to take them but also not wanting to feel this bad either, I wanted the old me back.
I knew deep down this depression was caused by a situation in my life that I knew in time would get easier. I made the choice to researched how to help improve my depression and anxiety without medication. It became very clear quickly, that exercise was up there as one of the main ways to help improve mood and reduce anxiety. Nutrition also played a massive roll in alleviating the symptoms of depression. So that was it I was hooked! I threw my anti-depressants to the back of the cupboard and decided to get myself through this with healthy eating and exercise and it worked, it worked fast. I am not saying anti-depressants are bad or should be avoided because they helped me in the past. This time I wanted to help myself in a way that I knew would benefit me long term. I would not recommend coming off medication without consulting your doctor first.
So my journey to a happy, healthy Christy began nearly 5 years ago. I started walking every day with the buggy, then running and I started training weights, lifting heavy weights made me feel strong, with no man around the house I needed to be strong physically as well as mentally. I cut sugar from my diet and cut out alcohol Monday to Friday. I started my journey by eating clean, cutting all processed food from my diet, including flour, sugar, bread, pasta and avoiding preservatives, colour additives and fat replaces. I felt amazing, strong and above all HAPPY. At a time where I could have easily gone in the other direction, I managed to help myself through self-care and love. I nourished my body with everything it deserved. I was so passionate about how wonderful I felt I wanted to support others through their own struggles and help them make positive changes to their diet and lifestyle. I knew I could do this because I had gone through the changes myself. I 100% do not view this type of eating as a diet but as a lifestyle approach to food.
Honestly, I can say I felt amazing almost instantly, more energy, alert, I was losing pounds every week, my hair and skin started to glow. It truly did change my life and relationship with food forever. I was so pleased with my results and keen to learn more I went onto to study Nutrition.
It was at this point I decided to create Lose It and Love It, I wanted to help others achieve what I had with my health goals. My mission was to help my clients feel fabulous by nourishing their bodies with wholesome foods. My approach to weight loss, nutrition, my one to one coaching and accountability helps clients make lasting changes to their diet and lifestyle. I feel so privileged to have helped so many women make the change.
Life throws so many curve balls and that’s what life is about, right? I hope my personal journey has shown you that things have not been smooth sailing for me and that I struggle sometimes but I always know that if I focus on a healthy balance of exercise and good food I will feel better again very quickly. If you are struggling just now my biggest piece of advice is to start taking good care of YOU.
Lose It and Love It is so excited to be running a Facebook competition to WIN a 6 week ‘Clean Eating’package worth £150, 1 lucky person will receive the full plan, 100% tailored to their requirements which includes a two week meal plan and one to one support. This prize is perfect for anyone looking to lose a few pounds and make some big lifestyle changes.
All you have to do is visit Lose It and Love It’s Facebook page, to enter the competition, please ‘like’ the pinned post and tell me in the comments what your favourite ‘healthy’ snack is. If you wish, you can ‘share’ this offer with all your friends and don’t forget to ‘Like’ my page for lots of weight loss tips and meal inspiration!
Remember you have got to be in it to win it!!
The winner will be chosen at random at 5pm on Tuesday 21st June 2016.
Don’t forget to ‘Like’ my page too.