It’s two days before Christmas. You’re navigating the shops for last-minute gifts with hyperactive children in tow. The in-laws are arriving at any moment. Then, your youngest announces that they feel sick. Within hours you all have a horrible bug and the festive season is a disaster.
We’ve all been there.
Winter bugs take advantage of us gathering together inside warm homes. And as you’ve more than likely experienced, they spread quicker than you can say “Achoo!”. Coughs, colds, flu and the dreaded winter vomiting bug appear every year. But whilst we can’t always stop ourselves falling ill, we can give our immune systems a fighting chance.
Beyond the obvious of washing hands regularly in hot soapy water, what can we do to help protect ourselves?
Start with the Gut
A large part of our immune system lives in our digestive tract, in the form of friendly bacteria. These are otherwise known as probiotics. These ‘good’ bugs regulate our immune response and help defend us against infection. But they can also be affected by stress, antibiotics and certain foods.
Enter, fermented foods! These foods support these bacteria and help create the ideal gut environment for them to thrive.
“These foods naturally contain probiotic bacteria,” explains fermented foods expert Rachel Dickson. “Kombucha (a naturally fermented drink) is simple to use, and children can take 50ml a day. Adults can double this dosage.”
Other fermented foods to try include kimchee, sauerkraut, natural yoghurt, and tempeh. Eating them can help to keep all those friendly bacteria happy, which in turn, keeps our immune systems healthy.
If all your family have had an infection or needed antibiotics, diet alone might not be enough. A stronger probiotic supplement may be necessary. Health food shops carry a wide range, including ones suitable for babies and children.
Vitamin D, the Sunshine Vitamin!
Vitamin D is manufactured in the skin during exposure to the UV rays from the sun. Levels are low in the UK, especially between October and April. During these months, the sun’s rays are often not strong enough to produce vitamin D in the skin. So, whilst it’s still great to get outside on a sunny winter day, most people are advised to take a vitamin D supplement too.
Eggs, oily fish, butter, mushrooms and fortified cereals are the best food sources, but it’s difficult to get enough from foods alone.
The latest government health advice is for children aged one to four, to take 10 mcg a day of vitamin D all year round. Adults and older children are advised to supplement throughout winter. Many adults need 25 mcg or more to top up low levels of the nutrient.
The vitamin plays an important role in the body and is a great way to boost your immunity.
Herbal Medicine Kit
Perhaps one of the best known immunity herbs is echinacea. It has a long history of use for dealing with colds and flu. While some studies have claimed it has a positive effect on reducing episodes of colds and their duration, it’s not been proved unequivocally. However if you’re suffering, it’s maybe worth a try!
The echinacea plant contains its active ingredients in its roots, leaves and flowers. Look for ‘whole herb’ tinctures and preparations that use the whole plant for the greatest benefit.
Elderberry is another favourite, with some claiming that it can help slow down the spread of cold and flu viruses. It’s often found added to echinacea teas and drops.
Eat a Rainbow Diet to Boost Immunity
Vitamin-wise, vitamins A and C are vital for immune health. They’re both antioxidants that help to keep our defences strong and aid recovery.
Red, orange, and yellow vegetables are full of beta-carotene, another antioxidant. Think red and yellow peppers, sweet potatoes, carrots, berries, and oranges.
Green veggies and citrus fruits are naturally high in vitamin C. Fill up on broccoli, peas, watercress, kiwis, lemons and spinach to make sure you’re getting enough.
Blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries are also packed with powerful antioxidant compounds. Eating these regularly will help the body fight off infections and reduce inflammation.
The busy holiday can take its toll. Now’s the time to boost your immunity with these delicious foods and essential nutrients. Leaving you to (hopefully) relax and enjoy the festivities!