With a bit of diligence and some tweaks to your diet, you’ll be giving yourself the best fighting chance to prevent any winter illness that comes your way.
Oh, the joys of winter. If it’s not your own child sniffling, it’s the ones at school or colleagues at work who are harbouring a whopper and ready to share the love.
It’s that inevitable time of year where every second person seems to fall victim to a cold, flu or some other snotty, winter virus.
We’re all familiar with the symptoms when something is about to strike – sticky throat, headache, body aches and a general feeling like you just aren’t right.
Once the virus enters the house, it acts like rampant wildfire as you play the waiting game – to see who it tags next.
Realistically, there is only so much you can do to avoid the spread of germs (without feeling like a social outcast).
As I see it, you have two options: one, rely on nutrients from your diet and strength of your immune system to guide you through or, two, be proactive and support your body with supplements and a side of caution.
I prefer a mixture of both.
My six tips to help ward off winter bugs
1. Prevention far outweighs cure: A packet of antibacterial hand wipes for the car, the handbag, and in the kids’ school bags may just be enough to stop the spread. I try not to overuse these (due to unnecessary chemicals on our skin), but they are a great solution when travelling where there is no soap or sink in sight.
2. Avoid overcrowded events: Illness is spread rapidly in overcrowded areas. Act with caution and be a little choosy about who you sit or stand next to – achoo!
3. Try to stay on top of things: Stress, lack of sleep or just too much of anything can leave our immune system compromised. Burning the candle at both ends at this time of the year is not the wisest move to make. Body signals are powerful things, so it’s time to listen to lessen the severity.
4. Maintain a clean house: This is your first point of defence. Regularly wipe down benches and clean sinks, electronic devices and remote controls and remove shoes before entering. Germs can last on surfaces for more time than you think, so now’s the time to stay on top of your cleaning.
5. Move lots: We tend to wind down our movement during winter, but even just going for a walk increases circulation in your body and boosts your immune function. Exercise promotes a feel-good hormone that helps to fight stress; the flow-on effect of choosing healthier foods, better sleep and a relaxed state should be enough of a reason to warrant getting out of bed!
6. Think about your diet: You can’t expect your body to ward off incoming enemies if you’re not providing the right nutrition. Diet plays a large role in our overall energy level, recovery rate and mood, and for this reason food should be approached as medicine. A ‘wholefoods approach’ is the way to go. Approach each opportunity to eat as a way of strengthening your system. Excess sugars, processed foods and trans fats rob the body of vital nutrients and leave us susceptible to illness.
Five foods that will help strengthen the immune system
Packed with more vitamin C than an equal amount of orange, a kiwifruit provides a terrific boost to the immune system with its high antioxidant levels. Chock-full of fibre, a kiwi also aids digestion and can soothe a sore tummy. Try and source golden kiwifruits; they have a ‘softer’ texture and taste.
Modern science shows that garlic is a powerful natural antibiotic and is popularly used for coughs, colds, flu and infections. Try using some in your spaghetti bolognese, stirfrys and soups.
Ginger root is another powerful and potent natural anti-viral, which helps to fight against illness and bacteria that causes colds.
Antibiotics are a double-edged sword and wipe out the good bacteria along with the bad. Probiotics act as little army corps to help increase good bacteria and override the illness-causing bacteria housed in our digestive tract. Researchers have found that probiotics help with the prevention of common winter bugs and may lessen the duration of symptoms.
Think about this for a minute: three-quarters of your immune system is in your digestive tract, and when you also consider that our moods and behaviours are directly linked to the health of our gut (the brain-gut connection), you can understand the enormity of good gut health.
Look for yoghurt brands that contain ‘live, active cultures’ or probiotic supplements with multiple strains.
Super greens are extremely high in nutrients, are a good source of fibre and provide digestive enzymes to help heal body tissue. The most common types include young cereal grasses (wheat, barley and alfalfa), along with algae such as spirulina and chlorella.
Most are edible in their natural, unprocessed forms, but since most kids (and adults for that matter) turn up their noses at such a thing, they are commonly offered in powder, capsule or juice form.
Favourable ways to include super greens in your diet are by adding the powder to smoothies, mixing it into energy bars or stirring it into yoghurt. Another way you can dose up is to add chopped baby spinach or spirulina to pasta sauces.
Bananas are an instant source of energy to power muscles, but at the same time they can calm anxiety due to the high levels of B6 that help the brain produce the relaxing hormone serotonin. Full of fibre, the energy bananas provide is released slowly, plus nature’s energy snack comes in its own wrapping. They are a great food to eat if to calm nerves and help wind down after a busy day. Try banana smoothies mixed with wheat germ, honey, cinnamon and milk, or simply banana with yoghurt.