Autumn wellness: is your body fit for winter?

Happy woman in autumn playing with autumn leaves

As our beautiful UK summer comes to an end, just as night follows day, winter will be upon us before we know it! Sad as it is to feel the cooler days (and nights), it’s also the perfect time to ensure your body is well equipped to prevent any nasty bugs or infections from getting a hold this season.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top tips for winter immunity.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

OVERHAUL YOUR DIET

Whilst it’s often hard to eat the ‘perfect’ diet every day, the more foods you can eat that help boost your immune system on a daily basis, the better. In fact, your diet is the first port of call when it comes to ‘prepping’ your body for winter.

Eating some protein such as fish, chicken, eggs, dairy produce, beans, lentils and wholegrains at every meal is key. The immune system needs these types of foods to produce immunoglobulins – blood proteins that act as disease-fighting antibodies. Plus, many other nutrients such as vitamin C (found in most fruits and vegetables), vitamin E (in wholegrains, nuts, seeds and avocadoes), vitamin A (high in liver, cheese, eggs and sweet potatoes) and zinc (especially rich in pumpkin seeds and lean red meat) are all key immune boosters. So try to keep your diet as varied and colourful as possible to ensure your body gets the spread of nutrients it needs.

Range of foods to show a balanced diet

It is also important to keep sugar to a minimum; try to reduce the amount of refined carbs, alcohol, and fizzy and caffeinated drinks on a daily basis. Sugar in all its forms has an adverse effect on the immune system.

INCREASE YOUR HERBS AND SPICES

There are a wealth of herbs and spices that have strong immune-boosting powers and even anti-viral and antibacterial properties. Plus, they all enhance the flavour of many popular dishes.

For example, garlic is probably one of the best known infection-fighters and works well with so many different foods; meat, fish, and vegetables – the list is endless. Additionally, ginger is equally beneficial to the immune system. Both herbs can be used in easy stir-fries, for example.

A range of fresh herbs in pots to add to cooking

The herb thyme is delicious added to casseroles or pasta dishes and is great made into an infusion with boiling water and gargled if you’re unlucky enough to get struck down. Thyme tea is recommended for all types of infections, including earache and sinusitis. All herbs and spices will have far-reaching health benefits, so add as many as possible to your dishes!

BOOST YOUR MOOD

A healthy mind is equally important for a strong immune system and can reduce your likelihood of getting struck down with a cold or flu. If you’re suffering from low mood, then you’re more likely to suffer from infections. Sharing problems with friends or family can often help. However, it may also be helpful to seek out some complementary therapies such as massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture to help lift a low mood.

Woman with legs crossed sitting on bed meditating

Equally, self-help strategies can be very powerful. Daily meditation, for example, is very effective for many reasons and may really help alleviate stress. It takes some practice (and obviously a little time, initially), but it is well worth persevering.

However, if low mood persists or there are emotional issues in your life, then it may be helpful to seek the services of a qualified counsellor. Often talking to someone who is properly trained to deal with problems can be very beneficial.

ACTIVITY AND EXERCISE

There are so many positive reasons to get moving! Not only will it support the immune system by boosting infection-fighting white blood cells, it will help relieve stress, release mood-enhancing endorphins and better nourish your body generally by enhancing oxygen to every part of your body.

Close up of two women enjoying a run outdoors together to show benefits of exercise

You may not want to spend hours in the gym, which is fine. However, any form of exercise carried out four or five times a week, for around 30 minutes, is going to be hugely beneficial to the immune system. And don’t forget that a brisk walk every day certainly counts as great exercise. If you haven’t got a dog to walk, maybe ‘borrow’ one from a friend to help with motivation!

SUPPORTIVE SUPPLEMENTATION

If your diet isn’t always as nutrient-dense as you’d like or you’re under a lot of stress, this is going to put a strain on the immune system. It makes sense, therefore, to take a good quality daily multivitamin to help plug any nutrient gaps and to ensure you’re definitely getting the sufficient vitamins and minerals associated with a strong immune system.

Echinacea flower and tea

There are certain herbs, licensed as herbal remedies, which are great to take as a preventative measure. Echinacea is a popular herb, which has been used for many years to help prevent and treat colds and flu. It’s worth starting it now for a few weeks, since it increases white blood cell production. Equally, the herb pelargonium is anti-viral and antibacterial and can be taken at the very first sign of a cold, if you’re unlucky enough to get caught! Both herbs should be a medicine cupboard staple for the winter months.

So with a few simple tweaks to your diet and lifestyle, you can have a bug-free autumn and winter!

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Summer immunity: top tips for staying well this season

Summer is not generally the time when we think about supporting the immune system. However, summer colds and infections are still prevalent at this time of year. Plus, for those unfortunate allergy sufferers, having a tip-top immune system can help control the unpleasant symptoms.

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top immune-boosting nutrients to keep you bug-free through the summer.

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

VITAMIN C

Warranting its ‘top spot’ on the list of immune-boosting nutrients, Vitamin C is anti-viral and anti-bacterial so can help to keep unwanted invaders at bay. It’s also a nutrient that plays a key part in the control of the body’s release of histamine, so it can also help to manage the symptoms of allergies.

Vitamin C is easily destroyed in foods through storage, preparation and cooking. Therefore, eating raw fruits and vegetables ensures higher amounts of vitamin C are obtained from food. If you are cooking, lightly steaming vegetables is a much better way of retaining vitamin C. Frozen fruits and vegetables also make a good choice; they’re generally frozen quite quickly after harvest, hence more of their nutrient content is retained.

Summer is a great time for finding foods high in vitamin C as there are so many readily available. For example, strawberries are at their very best right now, as are other vitamin C-rich fruits such as blackberries and cherries. Vegetables including red peppers and broccoli are also great sources.

VITAMIN D

Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, and there’s certainly plenty of that around at the moment, we still need to keep vitamin D levels topped up all year round. It’s an immune-essential but not that readily available in foods. However, oily fish, beef, mushrooms and milk contain some vitamin D2; the body prefers vitamin D3 which is produced on the skin when exposed to sunlight and is available in good-quality food supplements.

Vitamin D production on the skin is blocked by high factor sun cream. Therefore, it is advisable to try to expose arms or legs to the sun for around 15 minutes a day if possible, before applying sun cream.

A supplement containing a minimum of 10 micrograms of Vitamin D is recommended daily by Public Health England to ensure the body has sufficient levels and, most importantly, means you should be less susceptible to colds and infections during the summer months.

ECHINACEA

A well-known and loved herb, Echinacea helps to increase white blood cell production, which in turn can help support the immune system. If you’re susceptible to colds then it’s certainly worth taking Echinacea as a preventative remedy (as we know, prevention is always better than cure), particularly if you’re around people who are infected or if you are just starting to feel the first signs of a cold.

The herb is readily available in health food stores but always look for the THR symbol on pack; this stands for Traditional Herbal Remedy and means it’s a fully licensed herbal medicine, therefore the quality and efficacy of the herb can be guaranteed.

VITAMIN A

Vitamin A is another great supporter of the immune system. It is found in animal products but the body also produces it from beta-carotene as needed.

Foods such as meat, dairy and fish provide good sources of retinol-based vitamin A which is much easier for the body to utilise. However, the body can convert carotenoids such as beta-carotene (which is the best source of pro-vitamin A) from fruits, vegetables and nuts into Vitamin A. Sweet potatoes and carrots contain some of the highest amounts of beta-carotene and the body will convert it into Vitamin A when it is required.

ZINC

It’s the hardest working mineral within the immune system and indeed, it works pretty hard throughout the body. Zinc increases the production of immune cells, plus it helps produce natural killer cells which are needed to kill viruses and bacteria.

Zinc is found in animal and vegetable foods with spinach being the top plant-based source. Oysters, red meat, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and kidney beans are all great providers of zinc. It’s best to try to include at least one of these foods in the diet each day. Alternatively, take a supplement containing zinc throughout the year to keep the immune system in good shape and avoid those annoying summer colds.

So don’t miss a moment of summer due to a cold: with a few simple diet tweaks you can prepare your body to be fighting fit.

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Top tips for banishing the winter bugs this season

As winter gets into full swing, so too can winter bugs. Many of us have already suffered from colds this season and the trend will inevitably continue over the coming months.  However, catching a cold doesn’t have to be a given every winter: there are many ways of reducing your chances of catching a cold.

The good news is that Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, tell us just how we can do this with her five top tips!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

HAVE MORE VITAMIN C

Vitamin C is probably best-known as a cold remedy.  However, it can also prevent a cold happening in the first place. Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, wrote a revolutionary book called Vitamin C and the common cold which looked at using large doses of vitamin C.  Whilst the clinical evidence is still fairly mixed, we do know that vitamin C increases white blood cell production, which strengthens immunity, and therefore many people have found that taking good levels of vitamin C throughout the winter has kept them sniffle-free.

Vitamin C is very easily destroyed by cooking, storage and food preparation.  So, whilst it’s essential to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables containing vitamin C, such as strawberries, peppers, broccoli, mango, guavas, kiwi and oranges (all fruits and vegetables will contain some vitamin C), it’s just as important to take a daily supplement. Taking an additional 1000 mg of vitamin C daily can really help.

EAT SHITAKE MUSHROOMS

There’s a wealth of mushrooms now available in the supermarkets.  However, shitake mushrooms stand out as having some really beneficial effects on the immune system. They seem to improve gut immunity which is obviously beneficial to the whole body, but they also contain a wealth of vitamins and minerals, most notably vitamins D and B6, which both help to boost the immune system.

Not sure how to eat shitake mushrooms?  Prepare them by simply washing and slicing and then use them in a Singapore Noodle recipe. They work really well with chillies, turmeric, ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce and garlic with some chicken and noodles. Delicious!

TAKE SOME ECHINACEA

Perhaps the most widely used Western herb for enhancement of the immune system, and therefore a great defence against colds, is Echinacea.  It even strengthens the immune system in healthy people so it’s certainly worth using as a preventative measure.  Indeed, there have been many scientific investigations on the immune-enhancing effects of Echinacea.

Look for registered Traditional Herbal Remedies (THR’s) containing Echinacea purpurea root for best effects.

LIMIT SUGAR

Of all dietary changes that could be most beneficial in keeping you cold-free this winter, it’s ditching the sugar. Sugar in all its forms (glucose, sucrose, fructose, to name a few) can significantly reduce the ability of white blood cells to destroy viral invaders to the body. In fact the negative effects of having a sugar overload can start within 30 minutes and typically last for over five hours.  This can mean a 50% reduction in the ability of our white blood cells to deal with foreign invaders.

After a sugar-hit such as sweets, pastries, alcohol and fizzy drinks, blood sugar levels will rise.  This will cause elevated insulin levels, and vitamin C and insulin appear to have opposing effects on white blood cell production.  Even fruit juice can be a problem because it has a direct effect on blood sugar levels.

Try to make a conscious effort to really look at your sugar intake and reduce it as much as possible over the coming months.

BE HAPPY!

The mind has a profound effect on health and disease; our mood and attitude have a tremendous bearing on immunity.  When we’re happy and optimistic, our immune system functions much better.  Conversely, when we’re depressed, our immune system tends to be depressed.  If you want to have a healthy immune system, you need to laugh often, view life with a positive outlook and relax on a regular basis.

Easier said than done?

Positive thinking actually takes practice, particularly if you’re prone to being a ‘glass half-empty’ type of person.  However, take each day as it comes and actively try to banish negative thoughts.  It’s also a great idea to think of at least one thing every morning that you’re grateful for.  It could be something as simple as drinking a wonderful cup of coffee.  After a while, your mind set will switch to being more positive.  And the more positive you are, the stronger your immune system will become.

So with these top tips hopefully you can stay happy and healthy all winter long!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

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Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts