Your immune system consists of a network of cells, tissues and organs that are designed to work together to protect your body against all the allergens, bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins and other harmful organisms that want to attack your body.
Nutrition plays an essential part in boosting your immune function. The food you eat will go a long way towards strengthening or weakening your immune system. Certain foods are full of nutrients that can support your immune system and make it stronger than a rock. Let’s take a look…
Here are 6 best foods for immune system support:
1) Good quality protein
Did you know that the antibodies that helps your body fight disease are made of protein? Good quality protein is one of the important foods for immune system. It is the main component of your immune system.
Protein is broken down into amino acid which is the building block needed for the production of white blood cells. If you are not eating enough good quality protein it will have an impact on your white blood cell production.
It is important for you to have protein with each meal. This will help with blood sugar and insulin balance which is also important for a strong immune system.
Here are good quality protein you can incorporate into your diet
Nuts and seeds (soak them preferably overnight and dry in the oven or dehydrator before eating)
Beans or legumes (soak beans overnight and cook thoroughly before eating)
Grass-fed clean lean meat, wild game (preferably organic)
2) Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices are one of the essential foods for immune system. They have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties which can support your immune function.
There are too many good ones. To highlight a few:
Garlic: contains allicin, an organosulphur compound which is an immune stimulating compound. A study carried out on the human blood found that garlic may indeed have immune enhancing properties and promote an anti-inflammatory environment helping to control inflammation (1).
Turmeric: traditionally known for its anti-inflammatory effects contains curcumin, an orange-yellow component. A study found that curcumin has the ability to strengthen the immune system (2).
Some other herbs and spices include cinnamon, oregano, rosemary, ginger, black pepper, cloves, licorice, thyme, cloves and basil.
Add herbs and spices to your meals; it will not only strengthen your immune system, it will improve your overall health.
Mushrooms are important foods for immune system. They contain a compound called beta-glucans which has powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antiviral, antifungal and antitumor properties.
Researchers found that mushrooms may support immune function by increasing the production of antiviral and other proteins that are released by cells looking to protect and restore tissue (3).
Mushrooms are also bursting with fibre, vitamin C, protein, B vitamins and other minerals which are all important for strengthening your immune system.
4) Colorful vegetables and fruits
Vegetables and fruits are important foods for the immune system. They are rich in vitamins A, C, antioxidants, phytonutrients and other nutrients which are all important for supporting your immune system.
There are too many good ones. To highlight a few:
Cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, watercress, cauliflower and brussels sprouts help to support your liver and improve your liver’s potential to flush out toxins helping to provide an excellent environment for the immune cells that reside there.
Blueberries are rich in phytochemicals such as anthocyanin, the pigment that gives blueberries their color. Anthocyanin helps to improve your immune function. Blueberries contain less sugar than many other fruits.
Studies have shown that vegetables have a larger protective effect than fruits (4) so your focus should be on consuming more vegetables and small amount of fruit.
Aim to eat five to seven portions of colorful vegetables and some fruit daily.
5) Fermented foods
Fermented foods such as Kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt (natural with no added sugar), pickles and olives are important foods for immune system. They are full of friendly beneficial bacteria which has a beneficial effect on your gut’s immune system, a major barrier against microorganisms that can cause disease.
Adding fermented foods to your diet will help to keep your gut and immune system healthy.
6) Good Quality Fats
Good quality fats are important foods for immune system. The type of fat you eat matters. Trans fats (found in margarine and many processed foods) are unhealthy fats that contribute to chronic inflammation which burdens your immune system and can result in damage to your cells and tissues.
Your immune system needs healthy natural fat to function properly.
To highlight a few:
Fatty fish including wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acid which is anti-inflammatory helping to support your immune system.
Coconut oil (extra virgin) contains lauric acid which converts to monolaurin in the human body; monolaurin has strong anti-viral properties.
Other healthy fats that you can incorporate into your diet include avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, grass-fed butter and free-range eggs (preferably organic).
It is also important for you to avoid sugar and processed foods, they are not healthy foods for immune system. This will also go a long way in making your immune system stronger than a rock.
1. Keiss HP, Dirsch VM, Hartung T, Haffner T, Trueman L, Auger J, Kahane R, Vollmar AM (2003) Garlic (Allium sativum L.) modulates cytokine expression in lipopolysaccharide-activated human blood thereby inhibiting NF-KappaB activity. The Journal of Nutrition, 133:2171-2175.
2. Jagetia GC, Aggarwal BB (2007) “Spicing up” of the immune system by curcumin. Journal of Clinical Immunology, 27: 19-35.
4. Oyebode O, Gordon-Dseagu V, Walker A, Mindell J S (2014) Fruit and vegetable consumption and all-cause, cancer and CVD mortality: analysis of Health Survey for England data. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, doi: 10.1136/jech-2013-203500. [Epub ahead of print].
Sleep matters big time. Without enough sleep, you create an uphill battle in so many different ways. Sleep – how much you have and the quality of it – matters even more than you probably realise, and not getting enough is sabotaging your health and any health goals you might have. Today I’d like to share exactly why it matters so much and what to do about it.
SLEEP AND WEIGHT
Sleep and weight are intimately related. If you are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, you are setting yourself up to be hungrier, eat more, weigh more, and have a harder time losing weight. It’s not all in your head.
Busy mums and working women alike, many of you are likely sleep deprived. Scientists now know that, if you are consistently surviving on too little sleep (that’s less than seven hours of good sleep per night), you’re not going to be functioning at your best, focusing properly or thinking creatively. The cherry on top is that you are also sabotaging any attempts to take control of healthy eating and your weight.
Sleep deprivation causes hormone imbalance, and I’m not talking about PMT, but the hormones that directly affect your feelings of hunger. Ghrelin (the hunger hormone that makes you feel more hungry) and leptin (the satiety hormone that tells you when you’ve had enough to eat) are majorly disrupted when you are not sleeping enough. So, after a night of lousy sleep, if you feel like you need to eat a banquet, it’s not all in your head but rather in your hormones. The feast you desire is going to be filled with high-carb, starchy foods and not the lovely healthy ones you might otherwise choose.
STRESS AND YOUR HORMONES
Lack of sleep also messes with stress hormones, and stress messes with your sleep. It’s a vicious circle and one particularly good reason why it is so important to take the time to unwind before hitting the sack. Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones. It should follow a specific pattern throughout the day, starting off low (after all, you will have just got up from a ‘restful sleep’), rising to a peak in the morning to get you out of bed and gradually tailing off towards evening time. Prolonged periods of stress can create an imbalance in this daily rhythm that may lead to cortisol levels being high come night-time. Typically, this would leave you feeling tired but wired – absolutely exhausted, but your head is buzzing when you hit the pillow. Not exactly the recipe for success.
The stress placed on the body by lack of sleep also upsets your body’s sensitivity to insulin (the fat-storage hormone), which contributes to weight gain and this, in turn, exacerbates hormonal symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats.
During the perimenopause (the transition to the menopause), those night sweats caused by falling levels of oestrogen are enough to keep anyone from restful slumber. But did you know that oestrogen also allows your body to better use the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, which is the precursor to the ‘sleep hormone’ melatonin? And, during menopause, when oestrogen levels fall steadily, progesterone falls off a cliff. This is a problem for women because progesterone helps you fall asleep faster and experience fewer disruptions to your sleep. (A similar scenario plays out during menstruation).
BALANCED BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS = BETTER SLEEP
The more starchy carbs you eat, the more glucose is in your blood and the higher the amount of insulin that your body needs to restore blood sugar balance. If your diet is high in starchy carbs like bread, rice, pasta and sugars, you make more insulin, which creates blood sugar fluctuations at night, and these cause sleep disturbances. A sugar ‘crash’ at night triggers a release of cortisol to wake you up at the wrong time, and this can shift you out of deep sleep into a lighter sleep phase. Moving to a way of eating that balances your blood sugar helps significantly improve the quality of your sleep.
TIPS FOR A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP
There are a number of things you can do (or not do) to improve your chances of sleeping well.
Try to go to bed at the same time every day. Your body thrives on routine.
Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable; not too hot, nor too cold.
Use your bed only for sleep and sex. This may help you completely switch off.
Keep the bedroom completely dark, so you’re not disturbed by light, which your brain detects even when your eyes are closed. Eye masks can be useful.
Spend time outdoors to soak up the sun.
Try to take some gentle exercise every day. There is evidence that regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes stretching and aerobic exercise. A brisk walk ticks both boxes.
Make an effort to relax for at least 5 minutes before going to bed – a warm bath, massage, meditation.
Keep your feet and hands warm. Wear warm socks and/or mittens or gloves to bed if you struggle with cold extremities.
Consider getting a traditional alarm clock so your smartphone can stay out of the bedroom (see below). Better still, work out how much sleep you need by going to bed 15 minutes earlier until you find that you wake up naturally before your alarm. That’s your personal sleep requirement.
Engage in stimulating activities – like playing a competitive game, watching an edge-of-the-seat film, or having an important conversation with a loved one. Even using smartphones and tablets can interfere with sleep, because they emit the same kind of light as the morning sun.
Eat a heavy meal within four hours of going to bed.
Drink caffeine in the afternoon – including coffee, ‘normal’ and green tea, and colas.
Use alcohol to help you sleep. Alcohol can make sleep more disturbed.
Try to avoid daytime naps.
Try not to get frustrated if you can’t sleep. Go to bed in a positive mood – “I will sleep tonight”.
You will almost certainly have read some of these tips before. Just knowing the information is not going to give you the restful night’s sleep you are looking for. The only thing that counts is action.
If you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that lack of sleep is at the root of not getting organised enough to plan your meals ahead of time (which may result in your feeling forced to grab a coffee and croissant on the way to work), has you craving sugary snacks you wouldn’t otherwise eat and feeling like a shadow of your normal self, I invite you to put getting more and/or better sleep at the top of your to-do list this week to see what a difference it can make. You might have a whole list of things on your list already this week but focusing on this ONE thing might be what you need to see a real shift in everything else.
Has your weight been creeping up on you over the years and is proving difficult to shift – despite your best efforts? Or maybe your energy levels are on the floor? It’s easy to push to the back of your mind. Surely things can’t have got that bad… You’re not one of ‘those’ people whose food and lifestyle choices result in blood sugar levels so wonky, they find themselves in the prediabetes or diabetes trap… It’s easily done, and I see a lot of people in clinic who have been surprised to find they’re occupying that space.
It really is worth getting your blood sugar levels checked out. Once you know your numbers, you can do something about it and make a huge shift in all aspects of your health, including your weight. Whatever the tests say, I want you to know that, by making some simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, it is possible to prevent, control and, in some cases, reverse this condition.
COULD IT BE ME?
One in six people over the age of 40 is likely to have diabetes, with many more lurking in the grey area leading up to a diabetes diagnosis – prediabetes. There’s no upside to having diabetes. This is what may lie in store for anyone receiving the diagnosis: risk of stroke, heart disease, visual disturbances and other eye problems like cataracts and glaucoma, higher risk of bacterial, fungal and yeast infections, high blood pressure, damaged nerves and blood vessels, and fatigue and lack of energy. The list doesn’t stop there, but I think you get my drift. Diabetes is not a good thing.
WHAT IS DIABETES?
Diabetes is a condition in which levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood are higher than normal.
There are two main kinds of diabetes (type 1 and 2). Both types involve insulin, a hormone responsible for controlling the level of glucose in the blood. Type 1 diabetic patients do not produce sufficient insulin and therefore need to inject it (this type of diabetes is the rarer kind, and often develops at a young age).
Type 2 diabetic patients, produce insulin, but the cells become insensitive to it and so it fails to do its job properly. Type 2 diabetes accounts for over 90% of all people with diabetes, and the condition usually develops later in life. This type of diabetes is far more strongly associated with diet and lifestyle factors.
DIAGNOSING TYPE 2 DIABETES
Diabetes is diagnosed by testing your blood sugar level. If your fasting plasma glucose level (FBG) is too high (above 7 mmol/l) or your oral glucose tolerance (OGTT) is above 11.1mmol/l, your HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar levels) is above 6.4%, this represents a diagnosis of diabetes.
For prediabetes, a condition where your blood sugar levels are higher than normal and that often leads to type 2 diabetes, your FBG might read between 5.5 and 7 mmol/l, your OGTT might be between 7.8 and 11.1 mmol/l, and your HbA1c might be between 6% to 6.4%.
It’s easy to dismiss the risk, but the shift into prediabetes can happen almost without your noticing it. You may experience niggling symptoms, like low energy or your weight creeping up on you, and your usual tricks to get it down no longer work as well as they once did.
Common risk factors for prediabetes are these:
You are overweight.
You have a close relative – parent or sibling – who has a diabetes diagnosis.
You have high blood pressure or low HDL (‘good’) cholesterol.
You’re over 40.
You’ve given birth to a baby over 9 pounds.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU THINK THIS APPLIES TO YOU
Your GP will be able to organise blood tests for you. You can also get tested privately. I offer a range of biochemical tests and can work with you to make manageable changes to your diet and lifestyle to get your health back on track.
From a nutrition professional, what I’m about to say may sound a little biased, but I have seen so many diabetic clients receive unhelpful and incorrect advice about what to eat from doctors. Unfortunately, doctors receive no training in nutrition and have no other option than to follow the Eatwell Guide (published by Public Health England) – which, sadly, is outdated and not evidence-based. You may have been told that you could fix this just by losing a little weight, but I’m afraid that the way you might have gone about this in the past simply is not going to work anymore. And just starving yourself into losing a handful of pounds is not going to fix the underlying problem. It won’t miraculously change the numbers that came up in your test results.
What does work is a whole diet and lifestyle approach. I work with my clients to guide them to make better food choices that help lower their blood sugar levels. The strategy we create is tailored to you and no one else. What you like to eat, avoiding what you don’t like to eat, making changes at a speed that feels right for you to achieve your goals. We also look at these results in a bigger context of other annoying symptoms you might be experiencing and try to mop those up as we go along, too. You would be surprised the impact you can make on your health and how you experience life.