With several winter months still ahead of us, it’s critical that your diet and digestion are top notch and you are doing everything you can to keep from falling prey to colds, stomach bugs or the flu.
FASCINATING FACT: Did you know that what you put in your digestive tract (and what you keep out) can help determine if you stay healthy this winter?
That’s because more than 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut!
Don’t wait until you feel that stuffy head, sore throat or the chills to support your immune system. Start now so you can ward off illness before it sets in.
Below are some of our favorite tips to boost your digestive and immune systems and increase your chances of staying healthy this winter (and actually year-round):
- Scale Back on Sugar and Processed Foods
Most people don’t realize that sugar is a major immune system depressor. Those extra sweets you eat actually affect the ability of your white blood cells to kill foreign invaders. At the same time, don’t replace sugar with artificial sweeteners, as they bring on their own set of health concerns. To help satisfy your sweet tooth without raiding the cookie jar, look to get naturally sweet foods in your daily diet. Choose fruits and sweet veggies such as carrots, beets, sweet potatoes and winter squashes. Fun tip: saute your veggies in coconut oil which brings out a delicious sweet flavor to any veggie.
And don’t forget to try some of our healthy dessert and snack treats on ourrecipe page. When it comes to processed foods, most are not really “foods” at all, but stripped down versions of whole foods riddled with chemicals that have been added to improve the look, taste or shelf life of the product. These harmful ingredients include (but are not limited to): artificial coloring/flavoring, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, preservatives and more. So wean down on those frozen dinners, packaged snacks and cereal bars and opt for real food from fresh/frozen fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts/seeds and lean proteins. Our Don’t be Duped by Labels Program highlights all this and more.
- Get Your Greens and Mushrooms
Green veggies including kale, romaine lettuce, collards, broccoli (you get the drift) are packed with nutrients to fuel your body with vitamins and minerals that help strengthen your cells to ward off not only the common cold, but other chronic diseases as well. Great ideas on increasing your greens can be found HERE.
We are also huge fans of mushrooms, including the likes of shiitake and maitake. They are packed with essential vitamins and minerals, and naturally occurring chemical compounds that enhance immune functions. Shiitake has been used in traditional medicines for thousands of years as a health tonic, and is often prescribed to prevent tumor development and the growth of cancer cells. They are easily found in any supermarket.
- Fit in Fermented Foods/Probiotics
Fermented foods like raw sauerkraut and kimchee and fun drinks like Kevita or kombucha are loaded with beneficial probiotics, your fierce and formidable bacterial army that keeps your digestive and immune system humming and strong. If you don’t consume enough fermented foods or drinks, consider taking a daily probiotic capsule.
- Warm up to Warm Foods and Drinks
Ayurvedic philosophy holds that eating warming foods in the fall and winter is vital in order to keep the body healthy and balanced. It suggests that the metabolism works harder to keep us warm in the winter, and therefore the “digestive fire” must be adequately fueled with warmer foods and drinks.
Too many cold, damp foods like salads and smoothies can sap the body of energy and even leave it vulnerable to illness during the fall and winter. We favor veggie packed soups and stews along with plenty of herbal teas likeginger (also great for the immune system). Other great warming and immune-boosting drinks include chicken broth (homemade is ideal, but if not – look for organic), warm lemon water and other teas such as chamomile and peppermint.
- Hunker down with Honey
Raw honey has some anti bacterial properties and can be great to ward off illness.
Even better, a special kind of honey, known as Manuka honey, is produced in New Zealand by bees that pollinate the Manuka bush. It’s one of the most beneficial forms of honey in the world. Specifically the type known as Manuka UMF is known for stimulating the immune cells and research in 2011 has shown how Manuka stops the growth of sore throat-causing Strep bacteria.
Add a small amount of honey to your tea, warm cereal, or one of our favorite immune drinks (see below)!
- Ramp up the Vitamin C
Take 500mg of vitamin C morning and evening. Vitamin C ramps up your immune system and keeps natural killer cells performing at their best. Look for a brand that contains bioflavenoids in addition to the C for enhanced effectiveness. If you are already feeling sick, power up your dose and be sure to have some liposomal C on hand. We love this brand which has superior absorption.
- Drink your Elderberries
Take a teaspoon of elderberry juice/syrup daily. Not only does it taste yummy, it is a powerful anti-viral packed with serious antioxidants which support the immune system. In fact, two double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical studies found that black elderberry supports the body when challenged by foreign invaders, and rapidly restores health following immune challenges. Get a good organic brand like THIS one, which can be found in most health food stores. Feel a cold coming on? Up to 2 teaspoons per day.
- Cozy up to Essential Oils
Nothing has been more beneficial to warding off illness than our beloved essential oils. They are amazingly effective in combating colds and flu and bolstering the immune system. From peppermint, melaleuca (tea tree), oregano and our immune boosting blend and more, we have several formulas that we are now using with great success. Check out our suggested starter kit HERE and/or contact us if you want more info regarding these oils and how they are used (bonus, we also use them to help with sleep and stress – see below).
- Try our “secret ingredient” Homemade Flu shot
Apple Cider Vinegar (raw, unpasteurized) is another one of our go-to’s. It can help stimulate digestion for a healthier gut (remember, more than 70% of your immune system is in your gut) and also contains vital minerals, enzymes and malic acid (which has an antiviral effect). If you are just starting out with ACV, start with a small amount (1/2-1 tsp) in water first thing in the morning and gradually increase it to a tablespoon. Feel a sore throat coming on? Put a teaspoon of ACV in a glass of water along with a 1/2 teaspoon of honey (either raw or the Manuka above) gargle and swallow. Do this several times throughout the day and you will be amazed at how quickly it helps. Or try out our fun “flu shot” recipe to the right.
- Stomp out Stress and Get your zzzzz’s
Stress is a HUGE immune buster. If you find yourself struggling with lots of it, make it a priority to seek out some stress reducing activities such as meditation, journaling, warm baths, enjoyable exercise, or anything that acts as a stress reliever (once again, the essential oils are our go-to for this). A healthy immune system also requires rest. Commit to turning off the tv/computer/ipad/cellphone by 10pm (or earlier), so you can get a decent night’s sleep.
Got a “stay healthy” tip of your own? We’d love to hear it! Let us know in the comments below.