The season of snot is upon us and as the nights get darker and the weather is getting colder, many of us have already experienced that familiar tickle in throat, headache or runny nose that signals a cold is threatening. Before you reach for any high street cold and flu remedies or paracetamol try boosting up your own natural defence systems with these superfoods that will help keep the colds at bay all winter.
Prevention Is The Best Medicine
Many conventional cold and flu medications are suppressing the symptoms rather than helping your immune system fight the virus or infection. Whilst they may offer short term symptom relief many have side effects, contraindications with other medications and can worsen other health conditions like high blood pressure. Ultimately you want to build up your own immune system to protect yourself against future infections. Poor nutrition is one of the top factors that makes us susceptible to any illness, poor sleep hygiene and stress exposure also play an important role in immune health. So alongside getting 8 hours of sleep each night and working on chilling out daily, you can dose up on the following foods to help build up your natural immune defences and not let any winter bugs stop you in your tracks.
Traditionally fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir improve the diversity and activity of our protective gut bacteria. 80% of the immune system is located in the gut and building up your bacterial balance essentially enlists a strong army to protect the intestinal wall against any pathogens that enter the body via the digestive tract.
These have been used across the world for centuries to help modulate the immune system, it’s suggested medicinal mushrooms could have an active role in cancer prevention and treatment. Mushrooms increase the activity of our protective white blood cells. Shiitake, maitake and reishi pack the biggest punch.
Fish and Shellfish
Zinc and selenium support white blood cell function and help to clear flu viruses from the body. Fish and shellfish are a rich source. The omega 3 fatty acids in salmon, mackerel, anchovies and herrings also help reduce inflammation, improve respiratory function and protect the lungs from colds and other infections.
I’m northern so fully aware of the benefits a builders brew has to offer and whenever I feel rough I actually crave the taste of tea as popping the kettle on was my parents’ answer to any ailment. Both green and black tea offer the same immune boosting benefits with their disease-fighting polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants seek out free radicals that damage our cells and destroy them. Both caffeinated and decaffeinated are effective. Loose leaf will have higher amounts of antioxidants and it’s always best not to pour boiling water straight onto the teabag, let the water cool a little first to protect it’s antioxidant capacity.
White or Sweet Potatoes
Both are a great carb of choice offering glucose which is vital for healthy white blood cell function, vitamin C and fibre. Sweet potatoes and other orange vegetables also provide beta-carotene a precursor for vitamin A which is integral for skin and gut health, both defence lines for our immune system. White potatoes eaten cold also contain a fibre known as resistant starch which helps feed the bacteria in our gut improving bacterial balance.
Sage has powerful antiseptic properties and has been used for years to treat sore throats, sinus congestion and coughs in particular (it’s not to be used during pregnancy or breast feeding). You can easily make sage tea by doing the following:
- Boil 250ml water, allow to cool a little and add 10 fresh sage leaves or a heaped teaspoon of dried sage. Allow to steep for 3-5 minutes.
- Strain into a cup, add lemon and raw honey or xylitol if needed (it’s bitter!) and sip slowly throughout the day.
Has a double action of being both antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, it helps eliminate infections and also calms the immune system. I’m adding a big chunk to my morning smoothie three times a week, I like the taste so it’s enjoyable but you can mix in some cocoa and berries to make it a little more palatable if needed. Ginger is also excellent for nausea and vomiting. An easy way to consume it is sip on fresh ginger tea across the day or add to soups and stir frys.
A superfood for the immune system with it’s anti-viral, antibiotic and antiseptic properties. An important tip with garlic is to chop it up just before cooking and leave it for ten minutes. This allows the enzymes in the garlic to get to work and release the active compound known as allicin. So whenever you’re making soup, stews or burgers chop the garlic first and set aside to let it work it’s magic.
Raw honey, ideally purchased from a local farmer’s market or health food shop, has powerful antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic properties, it has a long history of being used for it’s antibiotic effect and applied to wounds to aid the healing process. Making some raw chocolate (for even more antioxidants) is a great to get your dose. Do not give honey to children under 1 year old.
Due to their high vitamin C content, lemons are renowned for helping to reduce infections, the length of associated symptoms and phlegm production. Optimal vitamin C levels are vital for helping the immune system to stay strong as the winter bugs set in. Supplementing with a 1000mg can also help, especially if you work in a crowded office or travel on busy commuter trains and are constantly exposed to bugs and bacteria. Now winter is almost here I’ve been adding a capsule to my smoothie each morning before blending and also adding some freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice. NOTE: once you chop a lemon or any fruit the vitamin C degrades quickly so only chop it just before eating.
Cayenne has the power to not only prevent cold and flu infections but also shorten the duration of the illness. It’s heating properties can help dispel coldness and it’s anti-microbial effect can help kill of the bad bugs.
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