Diet, lifestyle and key nutrients to prevent illness
We are still in the midst of cold and flu season and there are plenty of simple and effective dietary and nutritional strategies we can employ to stay healthy.
In the previous post I talked about the importance of sleep and stress in optimizing immunity. While these are top priority, diet and nutrition are also integral to immune function.
The first thing we can do is eliminate any dietary components that might impede optimal immune function and add stress to our systems.
Avoid refined and processed foods:
Packaged and processed foods are stripped of many of their nutrients or have nutrients added to them in bizarre ratios and forms that are not usually present in nature. Not only are many of these foods void of nutrients but some can actually be an added stress leading to increased inflammation.
AVOID: processed and unprepared grains, sugary foods, and industrial seed oils.
SOLUTION: Stick to foods that are close to or how they exist in nature.
· Fruits and vegetables
· Unprocessed naturally sourced and raised animal products
· Properly prepared grains and legumes (soaked, sprouted, fermented)- this makes the nutrients in these foods more absorbable and available
· Soups and stews – Warming, nutrient dense with added liquid to help keep you hydrated (especially with health promoting bone broth or stock)
· Bone broth or stock – Bone broth is warming and a great source of easily absorbed minerals. Check out this article for more info and instructions: http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/broth-is-beautiful
· Vegetable broth – If you are not a meat eater than vegetable broth is also an option, while not as nutrient dense as traditional bone broth, it can still be a warming and comforting source of some minerals and vitamins just use a variety of vegetables. You can leave in some of the vegetables for texture and added nutrition and an easily digestible snack or soup base. http://www.choosingraw.com/nourishing-vegetable-broth/
· Whether using bone or vegetable broth adding antimicrobial herbs like sage and rosemary, thyme, garlic and ginger help to soothe digestion and can decrease nausea adding some cayenne pepper can help break up mucous and promote circulation.
· Increase Fermented foods – fermented foods contain Probiotics which help promote good gut flora that helps protect us from pathogenic bacteria and viruses.
· Fish and fish oils which all contain the anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.
If you are concerned about the safety of fish consumption here is a link to a great article about the safety of consuming fish vs. not consuming by Chris Kresser.
Other Nutrients that support immunity
Both vitamin C and Zinc play both protective and supportive roles in immunity making them vital components of cold and flu prevention and treatment.
Foods highest in vitamin C
Foods highest in zinc
Oysters (richest source), red meats, poultry, cheese (ricotta, Swiss, gouda), shrimp, crab, and other shellfish. Other good, though less easily absorbed, sources of zinc include legumes (especially lima beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, soybeans, peanuts), whole grains, miso, tofu, brewer's yeast, cooked greens, mushrooms, green beans, tahini, and pumpkin, and sunflower seeds.
Moderate exercise (30-40 minutes of moderate intensity 3-7 times per week) has been shown to decrease the decline in immunity associated with aging and to reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract illness (cold and flu). There is an exercise-induced surge in protective immune cells that last up to three hours afterwards. This is a transient surge but it has been shown to improve our defenses against illness.
Moderation is key here as intense exercise or training can be a strain on the system acting as a stress that can suppress immunity.
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Nieman, David C, Moderate Exercise Improves Immunity and Reduces Illness Rates, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, July/Aug 2011 vol 5 no 4, 338-345
Pizzorono, Joseph E and Katzinger, Joseph, Clinical Pathophysiology A Functional Perspective, Mind Publishing Inc., Coquitlam, BC 2012
Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Immune-enhancing role of vitamin C and zinc and effect on clinical conditions. Ann Nutr Metab. 2006;50(2):85-94. Epub 2005 Dec 21
I am a naturopathic doctor practicing in Toronto, Ontario. I practice evidence-based natural medicine with a focus on ancestral nutrition. I have a special interest in digestive, endocrine and mental health.