Winter is not over yet and as every year many people around get sick. If you are one of them, you may wonder how you can support your immune system and minimize the risk of getting sick. Below I share with you my proven tips.
One of the most important aspects of avoiding catching a cold or flu is by boosting the immunity. There are many factors determining whether you get sick or not, such as your genetics, the condition of your immune system, your nutritional status and your health, the type and the virulence of the infectious agent. Some of the factors we can influence whereas others we can’t. Now, let’s focus on the ones we can influence which are primarily related to adopting the healthy-living strategies.
Superfoods for super immunity
Since about 75% of your immune cells are located in your gut, this is the place you want to nourish by knowing what you put in your mouth.
For a healthy immune system you want to:
- Eat Real Foods. Real Foods equal health. Invest in meals made from real foods and not factory packed food like substances. For example real plant foods, apart from being a source of nutrients (protein, carbs, fats, vitamins, minerals and water), are complex packages of biologically active compounds, a so called phytochemicals or phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are bioactive compounds primarily important for the growth and survival of the plant but they also support you, they are indispensable for the optimal function of your immune system. Think of herbs such as oregano or thyme and their powerful anti-microbial properties. Human beings rely on these plants for health and survival as these plant foods contain thousands of intricate cells and biochemicals working in harmony and living in synergy with us – with humans and other animals. Moreover, antioxidants (majority is of plant origin) such as vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients support your body to rid off “free radicals”. If you have real foods on your plate, foods laden with phytonutrients and antioxidants, your immune system will be positively triggered. A white bread sandwich with margarine and commercial cheese will not provide you with this sort phytonutrients but a salad with leafy greens, tomatoes, and a dressing of olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, fresh basil, sea salt and pepper will do. Realize that no supplements can replace these phytonutrients. Eating real foods, eating colors, eating diversity of foods, and using herbs should be your priority for a healthy immune system.
- Eat Cruciferous vegetables. They contain protective micronutrients and phytonutrients that are anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-cancerogenic and immune boosting. Include broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, radish, watercress, cauliflower, or bok choy in your daily menu if you want to boost your immune system. If you want to get the most benefit from eating these vegetables, chew them very well, do not overcook them so they are not too mushy, you can also chop, blend or puree them in soups and stews.
- Eat Mushrooms. Mushrooms are super foods for your immunity, they are rich in glyconutrients such as mannose, galactose, fucose, or N-acetylglucosamine and other phytonutrients with immune-modulatory and disease-fighting properties. Nutrients from mushrooms immobilize your immune system and help against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria, in addition being also powerful anti-cancer agents. There is a variety of mushrooms to choose from such as shiitake, Portobello, oyster, reishi, maitake, or chanterelle.
- Eat Onions and Garlic. Onions, garlic, chives, scallions and other allium family of vegetables add more than just flavor to your dishes. They provide anti-oxidants, they are anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer. For a reason, the past generations have been using garlic and onions to fight a cold, flu or cough; if you eat them on regular basis you reduce the risk of getting sick. Their powerful compounds such as organosulfur compounds, glyconutrients and prebiotic fiber make them shiny stars in terms of immune boosting properties. Best eaten raw.
- Eat superhero fruits such as Berries and Pomegranates. Their colors speak for themselves. They are laden with phytonutrients that promote your health on various levels, starting from their anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties. Indulge yourself with these nutrient dense fruit bombs for optimal healthy.
- Eat seeds for their amazing package of nutrients. Under right conditions, seeds can initiate a new life because they are packed with essential nutrients. For example, they are a good source of vitamin E (sesame seeds, sunflower seeds) and omega-3 fatty acids (flax seeds, chia seeds). You can get some minerals and nutrients from seeds as well. Seeds are a great addition to salads or can be eaten as a snack.
- Eat 3 x P = prebiotic rich foods, probiotic rich foods and polyphenol rich foods to boost your beneficial gut bacteria. Probiotic rich foods include fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi or kefir. Prebiotic rich foods serve as food for beneficial bacteria, food = dietary fiber = complex carbohydrates. By eating vegetables, fruits (skin especially), or seeds you get the fiber to feed your beneficial gut microbes. Polyphenols (flavonoids, tannins and more) are plant phytonutrients that to become active undergo diverse intestinal transformations thanks to the action of your digestive enzymes and gut microbial metabolism. By eating polyphenol rich foods (onions, apples, grapefruit, plums, broccoli, citrus fruits, tomatoes, green tea, cocoa, banana, berries, chickpeas, beans, soy, parsley, thyme, celery, walnuts, grapes, flaxseed, apricots, peaches) you not only benefit from their anti-inflammatory properties but you also promote the growth of your beneficial gut microbes.
Now, only imagine how you can support your immune system just by regularly eating cruciferous greens, mushrooms, onions and garlic! Moreover, these foods apart from providing you with nutrients, they also provide food (prebiotic) for your beneficial gut microbes. So, you are actually boosting your immune system also by nurturing your beneficial microbes. Your gut microbes interact with your immune system constantly so they better be in your gut, well fed and happy.
“Fundamentally, the best immune boosting strategy comes from eating real foods, having adequate sleep, being physically active and managing stress”
What else can you do for your immune system?
Get adequate sleep. You cannot be healthy without adequate sleep. Sleep is absolutely essential for basic maintenance and repair of the neurological, endocrine, immune, musculoskeletal and digestive systems.
Be physically active, in moderation. It’s in human nature to be physically active, yet we’ve become a world of sitters. Physical activity provides a sort of triggers, release of hormones and neurotransmitters that enhance your immune system. Studies show that people how have regular physical activity have fewer and milder colds. Whether you walk, jog, bike, play football or swim – just find something you enjoy doing and do it regularly.
Enjoy life. Do things that give you pleasure.
Manage your stress. Stress management is very important because no matter what diet you follow, how much you exercise and what supplements you take, if you’re not managing your stress it will compromise your immune system. Doing things that give you pleasure can counter-balance the negative effects of chronic stress.
Avoid sugar. Sugars (processed, simple sugars) undermine your immune system and promote the growth of pathogenic microbes in your gut.
Wash your hands frequently to reduce the exposure to disease promoting bugs.
Tips on when your immune system fails and you get sick or you are about to get sick
Rest…rest… and rest again – as much as you need
Stay properly hydrated
Have elderberry, berry flavonoids or echinacea
Eat light and easy to digest foods – meals prepared like for a baby, well cooked, blended and easy to digest. Soups or bone broths are preferable.
Consider supplementing with zinc (50-100 mg daily), vitamin D3 (2000 IU daily), vitamin C (1000 mg x 4 daily), omega-3 fatty acids (cod liver oil), probiotics, allicin (garlic extract), or oregano oil.
If these tips do not enhance your immune system, look further for an underlying cause. Do tests, talk to a professional as it may need a special attention or a treatment.