Winter has well and truly landed. This Christmas half of my family succumbed to the dreaded norovirus – which put me off my mince pies to say the least. Fortunately I managed to somehow escape the sickness and fever than ran rampant around the Burrows household. What I haven’t managed to escape however is the common winter cold. Having managed to dodge a cold for over a year, I put this down to a few late nights (and possibly the involvement of some alcohol), but luckily dosing up on vitamin C and good food meant that the symptoms subsided pretty quickly. I’m really not a big believer in over-the-counter medicines – it’s expensive and the majority of bold claims usually fail to deliver. The power of food can be easily underestimated, even though there are now countless studies that show its efficacy. So here are some natural yet effective ways to keep those pesky bugs at bay, and also lessen the impact if you do happen to catch a case of the sniffles.
Balance Your Immune System
The most powerful tool in your body’s arsenal to protect you from any illness is your immune system, and the 4 key factors to keep this in tip-top shape is good nutrition, getting enough sleep, exercise and minimizing stress. A weakness in any of these areas can leave you at more risk of viruses overwhelming your immune system, and prolonging the illness once one has taken hold. Cold symptoms such as a blocked nose are in fact just an inflammatory response to the invading pathogens, so stocking up on your anti-inflammatory foods is a sure fire way to reduce the severity and duration of these symptoms once they have taken hold.
1. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is one of the most important nutrients for our daily well-being, and even more importantly during winter when viruses are at their most rampant. Vitamin D is generated in the skin through exposure to sunlight, and in winter months when the days are shorter and the skies are grey, this can become a chronic deficiency in most people. Over time this can severely compromise health, so it is vital to get enough vitamin D into our diets. Although not as bioavailable as generating it from the sun, it is possible to gain vitamin D through the diet.
There are two forms of Vitamin D in the diet:
Vitamin D2 – which is produced by plant life such as mushrooms
Vitamin D3 – which is a much more easily absorbed form of vitamin D commonly found in beef liver, oily fish, cod liver oil, cheese and egg yolks. In other words the sunlight that has been absorbed by animals is then made available to us when we consume them.
Vitamin D3 can also be taken in supplement form, with the Vitamin D Council, recommending at least 5,000 IU per day for healthy adults. Toxicity is only likely in very large doses of more than 10,000 IU, when taken every day for months at a time.
2. Vitamin C
Daily intake of vitamin C is vital for good health and a strong immune system, and can also reduce the severity and duration of a cold once caught. The best sources of vitamin C include:
- Bell peppers
- Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons)
- Leafy green vegetables (kale),
- Brassica vegetables (broccoli, brussel sprouts – lightly cook to retain as many nutrients as possible)
- Berries (strawberries, blueberries)
Ginger is a very powerful anti-viral, anti-septic and anti-inflammatory food, meaning that it will strengthen the immune system and ease symptoms such as congestion, fever and aches and pains. The best ways to use ginger are in soups, marinades, smoothies, stir fries and this simple ginger, lemon, honey and cinnamon tea recipe.
Flu-fighting tea remedy
- 1″ knob of ginger, grated
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
Let ingredients steep in boiling water for 2/3 minutes, stirring well and straining before drinking. If you’re brave you can also add in raw crushed garlic for an extra antiviral boost.
Tumeric is one of nature’s most powerful herbs, and has been in use by Ayurvedic practitioners in India for th0usands of years. It is only recently that science has started to take notice, and Tumeric – or more specifially the compound curcumin in tumeric – has now been researched in over 6000 peer-reviewed studies that prove the benefits of this miracle herb. It packs an almighty anti-oxidant punch that protects the body against free radicals, and also has an extremely potent anti-inflammatory effect. In many studies its benefits have matched – and on occasion even beat that of prescription drugs, which includes anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-depressants, diabetes drugs and steroids. All without the side effects. Researchers are even studying the effects of Tumeric on cancer formation and growth, so the measly flu should stand no chance against this powerhouse of a herb.
Unfortunately tumeric is not very readily absorbed by the body, but there are a few ways to enhance its absorption.
- Add Fat – Because it is fat soluble, it is much better absorbed when taken with fat such as butter, coconut oil or coconut milk
- Add Black Pepper – Piperine, the pungent substance in pepper has been proven to enhance absorption of tumeric in the body
- Apply heat – Heating tumeric is said to increase its solubility by up to 12 times – likely making it more bioavailable in the body
A great way to incorporate tumeric is in a hot Indian curry, which includes all the coconut milk, pepper and heat you need to aid absorption. Here is a great tumeric nut milk drink recipe that is super tasty and a great way to ward off any encroaching flu germs.
1 cup dairy-free milk (almond/oat etc)
1 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cinammon
1/4 tsp ginger
1 tsp honey
1 tbsp ghee/grass-fed butter/coconut oil
pinch of black pepper
5. Bone Broth
Bone broth – this so-called liquid gold is made by simmering animal bones and connective tissue, and is one of the most nutrient dense, and healing foods you can consume.
Bone broth is rich in easily-absorbable minerals such as Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Silicon, Phosphorus, Sulphur, as well as all the other extra juicy marrow and cartilage bits providing useful anti-inflammatory amino acids (Glycine, Proline, Glutamine), Collagen (which can soothe the gut and encourage probiotic balance and growth) and the compounds Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate – which are sold as expensive supplements for treatment of arthritis and joint pain. Now I know you’re probably wrinkling your nose up at the thought of drinking gelatin and bone marrow, but our ancestors have been drinking this stuff for centuries, and for many cultures around the world, this was and still is a daily healing food ritual, for near zero the cost of expensive supplements.
Studies done on the age old traditional remedy of eating chicken soup to heal a cold, now show that it really does have medicinal value. With a compound found in chicken soup (and in bone broths) – carnosine – actually helping to boost the immune system to fight off the early stages of flu. It is also thought to be an effective decongestant, and helps reduce upper respiratory cold symptoms.
Drinking a cup of bone broth is not always that appealing for some. To me it’s a bit like drinking a warm mug of gravy (and I love gravy), but it might not pair so well with those pancakes or green smoothie you’re having for breakfast. Some easy ways to incorporate it into your everyday foods, are as a hearty base for soup, gravy, sauces, stews and even savory porridge! The most commonly used bones include chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, pig, wild game and fish, as well as those slightly unsavory extras such as feet, beaks, gizzards, knuckes, spines, legs and whole carcasses, that give an extra boost of marrow and connective tissue. All of these can be picked up from your local butcher at the very reasonable price of FREE! It’s advisable to get your supplies from grass-fed, organic reared stock to get the most goodness from your bones. Stay tuned to the blog for some great recipes on how to make and use your own broth.
6. Fermented Foods / B12
Fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso among many others, have become pretty trendy as of late, and with good reason. They are packed full of health-promoting good bacteria (probiotics) that research has shown strengthens the immune system and reduces the risk of getting a cold, as well as the severity and duration if one has taken hold. Much like bone broth, people have been fermenting and preserving foods for centuries, and across many different cultures. It has been shown in studies to help promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut, kill pathogenic bacteria with the production of lactic acid, aid digestion with the supply of digestive enzymes, and also provide the useful vitamin B12. It is very important to have a healthy balanced gut flora, as it is one of the first lines of defense at stopping antigens and pathogens from running rampant in the body. Because bad bacteria feeds off sugar, eating a healthy diet and avoiding sugary foods allows the good bacteria to flourish.
Fermented foods can be bought ready-made in stores, but unfortunately most of these have been pasteurized to extend the shelf-life, which means that all of the good bacteria has been destroyed. Fortunately it is very cheap and easy to start fermenting your own foods at home, one of the easiest being sauerkraut, which just needs 3 simple ingredients – cabbage, water and salt. Easy!
A very common deficiency in modern diets is a lack of Zinc. Because of years of industrial farming processes, our soils have slowly become depleted of natural minerals like zinc. Without proper preparation, foods high in phytic acid such as grains, nuts, seeds and legumes can also impair absorption of vitamins and minerals, meaning that vegetarian and vegan diets can often lead to a deficiency of this important mineral.
Zinc is integral in providing strong immunity by increasing production of white blood cells and antibodies, modulating cellular functions and increasing natural killer cells that wipe out pathogens. Although more conclusive research is needed, it has been found that zinc reduced both the duration and severity of cold symptoms and was also an effective preventative measure.
Zinc is not stored in the body, so the body needs a consistent daily supply that is neither too low or too high. As always it’s best to get these important nutrients from whole foods rather than supplements, as the body does not easily absorb zinc on its own unless it is attached to another substance (like food). To improve absorption in supplement form, a process called chelation is used to attach the zinc to an organic molecule. Not all chelated zinc is created equal though, and currently Zinc Orotate is recommended as the most bioavailable form.
Recommended daily intake ranges from 2mg for infants up to 11mg for adult males, and 8mg for females. In whole food form the best sources come mainly from animal foods, with oysters topping the list with a whopping 78mg per 100g serving. Other good sources include beef, lamb, chicken, pork, crab, cheese, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, oats, nuts, beans, lentils, spinach, tahini and mushrooms. However just keep in mind that all nuts, seeds and legumes should ideally be soaked (sprouted) before consumption to reduce phytic acid content. I’ll be writing a whole article on this topic soon.
Raw garlic is a really powerful food for combating illness. The compound allicin in garlic has been shown to have antiviral and immune-boosting effects, with one study concluding that a daily dose of garlic reduced the number of colds by 63%, and the average length of cold symptoms by 70%. Although consuming raw crushed up garlic is best to ensure it produces and retains all of its useful enzymes, it’s not exactly the most appealing prospect for most people. To make it a bit more palatable you can swallow a crushed or chopped up clove with a blob of raw honey, butter, cheese or just chase it down with a strongly flavoured drink like a green smoothie or kefir.
So there you have it. Although no food will ever make you 100% invincible, it will hopefully stand you in good stead to be the healthy smug one in the office, whilst everyone else around you is falling like flies to the dreaded flu. Good luck!