Since the age of five, I’ve been fascinated by food. As I grew older, I became appalled by highly restrictive, faddy diets and misinformation about how and what to eat. Ten years ago, I discovered the College of Naturopathic Medicine, and was finally able to formally learn about the power of food and how it can literally change lives for the better. I qualified as a nutritional therapist six years ago, and am on a mission to bust health myths and make healthy eating more accessible for all. It really isn’t all about tofu and lentils!
Positively impacting your body at a cellular level is an enormous subject, so I’ll be providing bite-sized nutritional tips, each week focusing on one body system, food group, vitamin or health fact, so watch this space!
There has never been a more important time to fire up your body’s natural defences, so I’ve put together some really accessible ways to give your immune system the best chance possible to get and stay fighting fit.
Every step helps: it’s great that you’re thinking about taking good care of your body, so stay positive, and do what you can. Making even one small change is a step in the right direction!
Make a sugar switch: refined sugar pushes vitamin C out of your cells. Since C is one of the superheroes of the vitamin world, this is obviously not what you want to be doing. We’re not talking about whole fruit or freshly pressed juice - those are fine - but super sweet things like biscuits and fizzy drinks are to be enjoyed in moderation. Baking is the trend of the moment and an excellent way to be able to enjoy a sweet but healthy treat. Ripe banana is one of the best natural sweeteners, however honey and maple syrup are also fantastic sugar replacements and have a much gentler impact on your insulin levels. For the extra mile, switch white starches such as bread/pasta for brown.
Avoid drinking coffee and tea with meals: ideally, you would reduce your caffeine intake, generally (or switch to decaf like Jen, even though I tell her this really does rather defeat the purpose in my book!) but certainly be aware of this at meal times. Not many people know, but caffeine’s absorption is prioritised by the body, competing with and depleting the vitamins in your food. To avoid missing out on vital vitamins, get your cuppa an hour before or after mealtime.
Drink wisely: I know, I said it. How about we just keep this section to… “keep moderation in mind”… While the odd tipple is totally acceptable way to unwind, just don’t overdo it. Perhaps it would help to bear in mind that alcohol bombards the body with toxins which it must then process. As all body systems feed into one another, giving them an extra job means less capacity for outstanding performance, i.e. your immune system will be compromised. On this note, you might also find it interesting to know that alcohol-based mouthwashes can damage the antibodies in your saliva, which is the first layer of defence! Why not take the first step by giving that up?
Get cooking: this is the perfect time to get handy in the kitchen. Convenient though it is, processed food (basically, anything you haven’t made yourself) has little or no nutritional value, and contain fats and additives which damage cells and, therefore, deplete the immune system. Fortunately, with our commute presently reduced from dining table to couch, most of us have a little more time - why not find your inner chef? You don’t have to chase a spot in the Michelin Guide, just a few basic skills will allow you top whip up a healthy meal. Get started with a DIY roux - the possibilities after that are endless. Or get onto Insta and follow: abelandcole, thedetoxkitchen and madeleine _shaw. For baking ideas check out https://amyshealthybaking.com/
Eat organic when you can: the jury is always out when it comes to the nutritional value of organic v non organic foods, but the most important reason is simply the toxic load. Chemicals and pesticide levels are far lower in organic foods, which reduces the work your body has to do to eliminate them, freeing it up to fight the bigger bugs. Check out “the dirty dozen” https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty-dozen.php which is a great guide to the levels of pesticides in individual items. It’s a great way to stick to a budget, as you can prioritise which fruit and veg to buy organically and which just need a good wash.
Get familiar with powerful immune-boosting vitamins and minerals: Vitamin C, zinc, and selenium. For C, look beyond the humble orange as broccoli, kiwi and red peppers have an exceptional amount. For zinc, pumpkin seeds and pulses have particularly high levels. Two brazil nuts contain your daily dose of selenium. The simplest way to meet your daily nutrient needs, is simply to east a diverse range of vegetables. Whole fruit is also great, but best kept to two pieces a day.
Go the extra mile for your digestive system: this is where a remarkable 70% of your natural immunity lies. This is a topic within itself, but an initial simple step is to ensure your water and fibre intake is at a good level, and that you are including a mix of prebiotic foods (e.g. garlic, onions, leeks, oats, chicory, asparagus) and probiotic foods (e.g. organic natural yogurt or Kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, kombucha).
Get out into the sunshine: you can respect the rules and still get your goods - just 20mins of exposure will keep your vitamin D stores at the right level. On a cloudy day, oily fish and shitake mushrooms are excellent substitutes.
See dietary changes as opportunities, not deprivation. You’ll enjoy it far more if you see it as a challenge to self-improve, or a chance to replace a less healthy habit for one that will make you feel good.