Kick-start your immunity and fight off those colds: top nutrition tips to prepare for winter

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With a slight chill in the air the seasons have definitely changed and many of you may have already started suffering from the seasonal colds and bugs.  However, catching a cold doesn’t have to be inevitable just because winter is approaching: with some smart lifestyle choices you can boost your immunity and prepare yourself as much as possible for the cold weather.

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Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, gives us her five top tips on staying as healthy as possible this season!

AVOID THE SUGAR!

Sugar is actually an immune suppressant.  And we’re talking about sugar is all its forms: table sugar, honey (but not including Manuka honey, which is actually a great immune-booster), fizzy drinks, biscuits, and of course, alcohol. Don’t forget the ‘hidden’ sources of sugar such as in cereals and ready meals when trying to cut down.

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It has been found that drinking two averaged-sized fizzy drinks can suppress the immune system for a minimum of two hours afterwards, and in some cases for as long as five hours, which really highlights the damage too much sugar can do to our bodies. So how can you cut down the sugar?

Try to eat food as close to its natural state as possible (i.e. fewer processed foods). Swap added sugar for naturally derived sweeteners such as xylitol or stevia.  When it comes to fluid intake, there’s nothing better than just drinking plain water – always try to drink a minimum of 1.5 – 2 litres of water per day – more when you’re exercising.

IMMUNE-BOOSTING VEGETABLES!

There’s no such thing as a bad vegetable, but some are overflowing with so many nutrients that they should feature on your plate as much as possible.

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When planning your meals always think about trying to eat a rainbow of colours every day.  Green leafy vegetables, such as broccoli, sprouts and cauliflower have amazing immune-boosting nutrients, particularly vitamin C.  Other great green vegetables including spinach, kale and Swiss chard are all high in vitamin C and antioxidants.

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Orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene which is turned into vitamin A in the body and is also a great immune-boosting nutrient.

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For even more immune-boosting power seek out the purple: why not add some purple sweet potatoes, beetroot, aubergine or cabbage to some of your meals for an extra boost!

IMMUNE-BOOSTING SLEEP!

Your body needs sleep to restore and repair; lack of sleep can cause an imbalance in the immune system so that it’s less able to fight off any potential infections.

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The body has a natural 24-hour circadian rhythm that never changes even if you’re a shift worker – it likes to be awake when it’s light and asleep when it’s dark.  Shift workers can often find their immunity gets depleted and that they become poorly more often (although this can be conquered to some extent by ensuring decent catch-up on lost sleep).

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Generally, eight hours sleep a night is optimum. However if you’re having trouble sleeping it’s worth getting a good bed-time routine in place. Try a warm bath with some lavender or bergamot drops, a milky drink and a good book: avoid TV and smart phones or tablets just before bed as they are too stimulating for the brain. These are just a few great ways to unwind and get the body prepared for sleep, but whatever works for you try and keep the routine consistent and go to bed at the same time each night.

IMMUNE-BOOSTING HERBS!

Two herbs that are well worth keeping at the ready to boost your immunity: Echinacea and Pelargonium.

Echinacea helps support white blood cell production, which are essential for a healthy immune system. Remember to take this herb for a couple of weeks, especially if you’ve been around people with nasty bugs or your children are in danger of bringing infections home.

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If you’re starting to feel the first signs of a cold – that slightly scratchy throat coupled with a few sneezing fits – the herb Pelargonium is particularly effective and is suitable for all the family. Pelargonium is actually one of the most widely researched herbal medicines and it has been found to have some pretty potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Start taking it at the very first signs that you might be coming down with something for best results.

IMMUNE-BOOSTING EXERCISE

It’s a fact – exercise boosts your immune system. The increase in blood flow to your cells from exercising helps to increase the production of immune-boosting cells, particularly white blood cells.  And you don’t need to be running a marathon every week for your body to benefit. In fact, just raising your heart rate for around 30 minutes a day, four to five times per week is enough to gain the beneficial effects.

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On the flip side over-exercising can actually suppress immunity; this happens soon after an intensive training session and can last for quite a few hours.  You may have noticed friends or family training for an endurance event, such as a marathon, only to end up picking up an infection or multiple infections?  Moderation is the key, and the benefits of regular exercise to your immune system are far-reaching and build over time.

So be well prepared for the cold and flu season before it gets into top gear! Taking a few simple steps can make all the difference to the health of your immune system and your body’s ability to ward off any unwanted germs.

 

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