10 ways to beat colds and flu

When the temperature drops, the chance of you coming down with a cold or the flu increases significantly. It’s widely accepted you’ll get sick more often in the winter. That’s because you’re likely to be inside more and the common cold thrives better in dry air than where there’s humidity. And, when you spend more time indoors, you’re exposed to more germs.

Here’s something interesting about the common cold: when your core internal temperature falls after exposure to cold, the immune system’s ability to battle the rhinovirus (the virus that causes it) is also reduced. The immune system literally slows down. Cold feet may also play a part. In a recent study, researchers made students sit with their feet in cold water for 20 minutes. These students were found to be statistically much more likely to catch a cold in the next five days than the control group (those who didn’t have to sit with their feet in cold water).

The flu virus is also transmitted much faster when it’s cold out because the lipid (fatty) coating of the virus becomes more resilient the colder it gets.

Your immune system is the most powerful weapon you have against disease. Strong immunity means that the body is better able to fight off viruses and germs.

Fewer colds and sick days this winter would be good, right? There are many diet and lifestyle tweaks you can make to reduce your risk of catching a cold and flu this season (and ensuring it’s shorter and less serious if you do get the lurgi). Here are my top ten tips to keep you fighting fit this month – and beyond.

I print out this list and stick it on the fridge as a reminder to me (and my family) that prevention is better than cure.

  1. EAT REAL FOOD

Your body needs real, unprocessed food to stay healthy and not the processed foods we kid ourselves are OK for us to eat.

Focus on eating natural, unprocessed food as often as possible. Follow the 80/20 rule (for the avoidance of doubt, this means eating healthily 80 of the time – think fresh apples rather than apple juice, or wholegrain bread instead of a white bread butty).

Meat and fish, fruit, vegetables and wholegrains all contribute to a stronger immune system and offset the occasional indulgence.

Following the low GL diet is key to sustainable, glowing health, as it provides your body with a steady supply of energy throughout the day, rather than a high-octane rollercoaster of energy spikes and troughs.

 

  1. ENJOY ‘HAPPY TUMMY’ FOODS

Did you know that up to 80% of our immunity to germs and disease is in the gut? The mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) in the gut is part of the first line of immune defense, so getting the right balance between beneficial, or ‘good’ gut bacteria, and the ‘bad’, or potentially pathogenic bacteria, is key.

How to do this:

The gut environment takes a beating year after year, owing to poor diets, too much sugar, stress, antibiotics and other factors. Even if you have no obvious tummy troubles, digestive health is vital, so it’s worth the extra effort to take care of it.

Add probiotic and prebiotic foods to your diet, as these re-populate the gut with good bacteria and feed them well enough to crowd out bad bacteria.

Here are some gut-friendly choices to get you started:

  • Organic, probiotic, natural yoghurt (such as Yeo Valley or Rachel’s)
  • Always buy full-fat, as the 0% or no-fat options have increased levels of milk sugars – and fat isn’t the enemy, either in life or in weight loss
  • Miso soup or miso bouillon paste (add these to soups and stews)
  • Oats (soak first, as you would to make overnight oats, in order to release the goodness)
  • Onions, garlic and Jerusalem artichokes
  • Bananas
  • Beans
  • Cooked, then cooled potatoes

 

  1. SERVE CHICKEN SOUP

Did you hear that chicken soup is great when you’re unwell? If you thought it was just an old wives’ tale, you’d be wrong. Research suggests that a bowl of chicken and vegetable soup can slow the speed at which neutrophils move around your body. Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell and part of the immune system, protecting your body from infection. When the neutrophils move slowly, there’s a greater chance of them becoming more concentrated in the areas of your body that need the most healing. Studies have shown chicken soup to be particularly helpful in reducing symptoms in upper respiratory system infections like the common cold.

 

  1. TAKE SOME SUPPLEMENTS

Top of the list for immunity are a good probiotic, a multivitamin and extra vitamin C and zinc.

For most people, a daily probiotic will help maintain the right balance of bacteria in the gut. If you have ongoing tummy troubles like IBS or constipation, we should talk – you will need something for your specific symptoms.

A multivitamin bridges the gap between what you are eating and what you should be eating, and takes care of any major deficiencies.

Women need a product high in B vitamins (for hormone balance), but apart from that, everybody has his or her favourite. Just be sure to take it!

Go large when it comes to vitamin C, both in food and supplement form. Broccoli and red peppers contain more C than oranges (contrary to popular belief) and there are loads of other foodie options, too: kale, cauliflower, parsley, spinach, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, blackcurrants, kiwi fruit, pineapple, mango, papaya and citrus fruits.

Top up zinc levels by eating more palm-sized pieces of lean meat (especially lamb, beef, venison and turkey), pumpkin seeds, ginger root, green veggies, oats, nuts, sesame seeds, yoghurt and scallops.

 

  1. COOK WITH HERBS AND SPICES

Adding flavour to food is a smart way to include delicious immune boosters on your plate.

Garlic is a potent superfood. It is antimicrobial, thanks to the active ingredient allicin, which helps fight viruses, and has been used for thousands of years to boost the immune system and prevent sickness.

Most culinary herbs contain anti-inflammatory properties due to their phytonutrients, but oregano and thyme are particularly rich. Spice up your cooking with turmeric and ginger, too, as these are well-documented immune boosters.

 

  1. SAY NO TO SUGAR

Even if you don’t consider yourself a sugar addict, it’s worth taking a look at how much you do consume – and trying to swap sugary treats for something more wholesome.

Sugar fans the flames of inflammation and affects the ability of white blood cells to fend off viruses and bacteria. In fact, the immune system stays depressed for hours after consuming sugar, according to recent studies.

Enjoy raw cocoa or cacao hot chocolate on chilly evenings, adding your favourite milk or milk substitutes (with a little xylitol or stevia to sweeten, if you like). A few squares of pure, dark chocolate will also satisfy – Green & Blacks, or any good chocolate with a higher cocoa content (at least 75%), is ideal.

 

  1. DRINK MORE WATER

Water is a miracle worker. It flushes germs from your system, helps your blood to carry plenty of oxygen to your body’s cells and allows those cells to absorb important nutrients.

Invest in a filter jug or bottle to avoid quaffing high levels of chlorine and fluorine along with your tap water.

Green tea and chamomile tea are also immune system strengtheners, as they contain antioxidants that help battle free radicals.

 

  1. SOOTHE SORE THROATS

There are a variety of different natural ingredients that are backed by research pointing to their usefulness.

Fresh ginger added to boiling water may help sooth a sore throat or cough. Honey (look for raw honey or Manuka rather than the common-or-garden variety) is often teamed with lemon for a soothing drink for sore throats and may also act as cough suppressant. Raw honey should not be given to children younger than one as it may contain botulinum spores.

Sore throats may additionally benefit from gargling with salt water, while saline (salt water) nose drops help clear mucous from blocked nasal passages and soothes tender skin inside the nostrils.

 

  1. HELLO SUNSHINE!

As difficult as this is to achieve in winter, spending sufficient time in sunlight is a vital immune booster.

Vitamin D is made by your skin absorbing sunlight, so planning an hour or two outside during daylight hours is a good reason to leave work early, or take your children to the park when you’d rather sleep late.

Expose as much of your bare skin to the sun as possible and don’t wear sunscreen during that time either, as it inhibits the process.

Supplement your vitamin D levels by eating more of the following foods: oily fish (salmon, mackerel and fresh tuna), beef liver, mushrooms, cheese, egg yolks and vitamin D-fortified foods, such as dairy products and orange juice.

 

  1. GET BACK TO BASICS

An age-old way to boost immunity is by following childhood rules – wash hands, go to bed early and take some exercise.

These simple measures may seem boring (and more difficult to achieve than popping a pill), but science proves that they work.

And your immune system will thank you for it.

If you’re ill more often than not, your immune system could use some support.  There may be an underlying issue, especially if you also have asthma, eczema or allergies.  Does this sound like you?  If you’d like to get in touch to see if we could work together on your path to wellness, drop me an email here and I look forward to hearing from you.

Zzzzz…..

Today’s Tip… A good night’s rest.

Most people know that sleep is really important, literally affecting every aspect of life and health. Despite this knowledge, many don’t prioritise sleep and take the steps they need to ensure that they’re getting enough quality sleep. Sleep hygiene is a hot topic these days, so I thought I’d share some top tips for getting a good night’s rest.

Time in bed. Make sure you are setting yourself up for success by being in bed for 7 to 9 hours per night. In other words, you can’t sleep for 8 hours if you’re only in bed for 6.

Routine. Work on going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. This includes weekends, which is when many people stay up and sleep later. This actually leads to something called “social jetlag”, which can throw off your circadian rhythms. No wonder Mondays really stink for some people.

Be active. Being physically and mentally active during the day can help you sleep better at night. In general, regular exercise improves sleep quality; however, some may find that intense exercise close to bedtime may have a negative effect on sleep, which can be the result of increased core temperature and/or nervous system activity.

Block blue light in the evening. Arguably one of the biggest factors disrupting circadian rhythms in today’s society is our exposure to blue light, which is ubiquitous in the forms of fluorescent lightbulbs, cell phones, tablets, computer monitors, TV screens, and more. Blue light suppresses melatonin production, delaying feelings of sleepiness and the onset of our nighttime cycle, disrupting circadian rhythms and sleep. Try the following strategies 2 to 3 hours before bed:

  • Avoid TV and computer screens
  • Use the app f.lux if you must use your computer
  • Use a similar app if you must use your smartphone (i.e., Night Shift for iPhones)
  • Dim your lights
  • Use amber-tinted light bulbs
  • Wear amber-tinted glasses

Bright outdoor light in the morning. On the other side of the coin, getting sunlight exposure first thing in the morning can have a substantial effect on setting your circadian clock and help you feel more awake during the day. In fact, a lack of sunlight exposure may be even more to blame for circadian disturbances than excess artificial blue light exposure at night.

Blackout your room. At night, make your room as dark as possible, using dark curtains and removing all sources of artificial light.

Chill out. The ideal bedroom temperature range, between 60 and 67 degrees, can help your body naturally cool, which helps facilitate sleep.

Watch what you drink. Research shows that drinking caffeine-containing beverages even 6 hours before bedtime can have important disruptive effects on sleep. Thus, it’s best to cut off caffeine more than 6 hours before bedtime. And while alcohol may help you fall asleep, it disrupts sleep quality and reduces REM sleep in a dose-dependent manner.  In other words, the more you drink, the worse you sleep.

Watch what you eat. Obviously, you don’t want to go to bed too hungry or too full. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid large mixed meals within a couple hours of bedtime. If you need to eat something after that, a small, healthy snack (~150 calories), such as a protein shake, a piece of fruit, or a handful of nuts, can be beneficial for weight management, appetite control, and body composition.

Take a dump. A “brain dump” that is. If you’re the type of person whose wheels start turning uncontrollable as soon as your head hits the pillow, have a notepad handy on your nightstand. Write down ideas, important thoughts, etc. This can help quiet your mind, and you can also take an honest look to see if there’s anything that you HAVE to do at that very moment.

Sweet dreams…

 

Banana Santas

Healthy and quick and fun for the kids too!

BANANA SANTAS

Prep time: 30 mins Makes 8

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 bananas
  • Punnet of strawberries
  • Marshmallows (normal size and mini)
  • Chocolate sugar strand sprinkles
  • Smarties
  • Honey (for sticking the eyes and nose on)
  • Wooden kebab sticks

METHOD:

Chop the bananas in half and put a kebab stick through the centre of the banana, leaving some space on the stick to add the strawberry and marshmallows. Lay flat on a plate.Put a marshmallow on the kebab stick at the top of the banana. Then put a marshmallow on the kebab stick at the top of the banana. Then put one on the top of the marshmallow like a Christmas hat.  Add a smaller marshmallow on top of the strawberry. Use the honey to stick two chocolate strands on the banana for eyes, and a Smartie for a nose.

Beat the stress at Christmas

It’s meant to be ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ but the pressure of the holidays can often mean a stress overload. Trying to get everything ready in time can be incredibly stressful, and throw in some money worries, inevitable family tensions, the pressure to socialise, and over-excited children on a sugar high, you’re hardly looking at a recipe for success.  Fear not!  For it’s not just Santa who has a helper… now you do too. Here are a few tried-and-tested ways to beat the stress as the festive season approaches.  Harness these new habits now, and you’ll breeze through to see in the New Year calm and collected.

Managing stress levels is important for your health in the long term because stress is implicated in so many different chronic diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal problems and asthma.  If you’re thinking you don’t fall into the ‘I’m stressed enough to be making myself ill’ category, don’t be fooled. The drip-drip-drip of everyday stress can be as damaging as major life incident-related stress (such as death and divorce), so don’t wait to take action.  Instead,  TIP 1, the 10-MINUTE MIND TRICK: Set aside 10 minutes a day for meditation. Simply sit down in a quiet room with your back supported and eyes closed. Try to clear your mind of all worries. Don’t worry if thoughts bubble to the surface, as this is completely normal! The more you resist the more it will persist. Simply bring your attention back to your breath and continue until the time is up. If you’re new to meditation or need more support, find a guided meditation app or CD to lead you through the process.

If you struggle to stay at your happy weight throughout the year, or often turn to food as a way of coping or rewarding yourself, being surrounded by treats and snacks over the holidays rarely has a happy ending.   Whereas eating your body weight in honey roasted cashew nuts might seems like a good idea at the time, it’s worth considering that stress makes it very hard to lose weight, and you’re much more likely to store it around the middle. Yikes!  This is because the human body hasn’t evolved much since caveman times, when the extra energy was stored where it was most easily accessed, so it could be used to run away from, say, a sabre-toothed tiger. Or in the case of the forthcoming holidays, an unbearable relative. This brings me to TIP 2…. EAT REGULARLY: Erratic eating times and skipping meals can lead to a dip in blood sugar levels, which leads to the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It’s difficult when routines go out the window, but try to stick to three meals (with two optional healthy snacks) a day and your digestion will thank you for it. Base all your meals and snacks on protein (meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, beans and seeds), fruit and vegetables and smaller amounts of complex carbs (brown rice, wholemeal bread or pasta).

TIP 3… Cut back on alcohol and caffeine.  WHAAAAAAT??! I know it’s hard, especially over the holidays when most days revolve around drinking, but try at least to reduce your alcohol and caffeine intake. Why? Well caffeine causes a release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands – the last thing you want if you are already stressed!  And whereas at first, alcohol might help to relax you when you’re stressed out (by promoting the release of GABA, the calming neurotransmitter), it’s quickly metabolised to sugar that can lead to a restless sleep, which leads me onto my next tip…

TIP 4… Prioritise sleep: Yay!  Get into a sleep routine that includes relaxing practices such as taking a warm bath with Epsom salts, light reading or stretching. Introduce a digital detox at least an hour before bed (that means no phones, TV, laptop or tablet), so as not to disrupt melatonin production (the sleepy hormone). A light snack such as an oatcake with almond butter or a banana may help to support undisturbed sleep.

TIP 5… Eat magnesium-rich meals: Magnesium relaxes the nervous system and muscles so eating foods rich in this mineral, such as leafy greens, avocados, sesame seeds and spinach can help reduce stress.  Magic!

TIP 6… Get to the cause: Look at the root cause to any stress in your life, and think about how you respond to it. If the effect of stress or just general busyness gets in the way of your efforts to stay healthy and you’d like to do something about it, I warmly invite you to book a free 20-minute consultation here

Kitchen gadget Christmas wish list

Are your cupboards full of cooking gadgets you never use?  Hands up if you have a pasta maker getting dusty in the back of the shed?  Clients in clinic often ask me what they really need to make healthy eating a breeze, so here are my favourite must-have kitchen gadgets that you’ll actually use!  And just in time to ask Santa…

THE STICK BLENDER

Makes light work of chopping, pureeing, blitzing and whisking.  These usually come with a range of versatile accessories, like mini chopping bowls and whisks. Just the job for blending soup or chopping up nuts.  My favourite is the Braun MultiQuick 3 Hand blender.  It features an anti-splash design to ensure a spotless kitchen and an extra milling blade which blends whole foods in seconds, meaning you save time pre-cutting.   

SLOW JUICER

If you are a fan of juicing (a great way to get your 7-a-day in one hit!) you really need a slow juicer – sometimes called a masticating juicer – because it creates less friction/ heat as it deals with the fruit and veg, therefore retaining more of the nutrients. Prices for this type of juicer vary enormously, but many come out of the same factory in Korea, so you’ll still get something that more than adequately does the job for a fraction of the price of the top dollar ones. This one from Aicok is currently on sale, has a quiet motor, and comes with a juice jug and cleaning brush.

NUTRIBULLET

There are a number of these compact, counter-top appliances that will whizz you up a decent smoothie and, if you’re the kind of person who struggles to get the recommended 7-10 portions in each day, you should definitely consider one.  Regardless of which one you choose, you want to pick one with a 600+Watt motor to ensure that nuts and seeds are efficiently blended. This one is still my favourite and best of all, it’s really easy to use and to keep clean.

 

SPIRALIZER

This thing will enable you to make courgetti (courgette spaghetti) and boodles (butternut squash noodles) effortlessly.  This is good news as if you’re trying to keep the weight off, these foods will make it easy to cut out the starchy carb content in your meals which turn to sugars all too easily. This one has 5 blades so it can turn its hand to pretty much any cutting task.

 

SLOW COOKER

Slow cooks meats, makes one pot wonders, curries and winter-warming stews. It makes meals quick, easy and healthy.  This one is great value and for you meat eaters out there, it comes with a separate inner pot that comes out so you can sear the meat in to start you off, then pop into the slow cooker to do the rest. The cooking pot is also dishwasher safe.

 

SPROUTER

Sprouts are the real stars of the vegetable world. Sprouted beans and seeds contain many more nutrients and enzymes than non-sprouted varieties. The vitamin content of some seeds, grains, beans or nuts increases by up to 20 times the original value within only a few days of sprouting! Research shows that during sprouting, beansprouts increase in vitamin B1 by up to 285%, vitamin B2 by 515% and niacin (for heart, brain and skin health) by up to 256%.  This one is a great introductory product if you’re new to sprouting….

….or for the more accomplished sprouter, you can’t go wrong with the 3-tier Germinator…

 

COFFEE GRINDER

There are many health benefits to drinking coffee but that’s not the only reason to get yourself a coffee grinder – it’s perfect for grinding seeds and spices for sprinkling on salads, porridge, soups, yoghurt, and so on.  This one from Chef’s Inspirations is a good value electrical grinder that will whizz up your nuts, seeds and spices in a flash plus it’s easy to clean.

 

 

 

If you’d like any further advice on how any of these gadgets can help with your wellbeing, please get in touch via the contact page, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

 

It’s Vitamin D Day!

Vitamin D deficiency is a worldwide problem.  Given that our greatest source is our exposure to sunlight, as a population we are now, more than ever, living an indoor lifestyle, avoiding the sun daily. As we head into winter, it becomes even more important to keep your levels in check.

Since we’ve lost the daylight saving hour, leaving home in the dark to go to work, only to return home later, also in the dark, shows to highlight how little sunshine we let ourselves soak up during this time of year.

So what can we do during the long winter months to correct this imbalance?  Well food sources of Vitamin D are few and far between.  At the top of the list are oily fish, in particular sardines, salmon and tuna (preferably the wild varieties).  What’s more, food sources of vitamin D need to be absorbed with the help of healthy fats, so make sure you include nuts, seeds, and avocados on your shopping list.  In addition, reach for a good quality supplemental dose of the D3 variety.

If you think your Vitamin D levels may be low, go to your GP for a simple test, and in the meantime, get out there and absorb as much sunshine as the cold will allow!