It's no wonder that we're all sniffle-free in summer. Infection is very common in crowded, inside areas and colder air is more likely to spread colds and viruses... hello fall flu season! No matter what level of germaphope you are, even if you use paper towels to turn off restroom faucets, it's nearly impossible to completely avoid contact with germs. Knowing this, we can brush up on immunity basics and some foods to add to your stay-healthy shopping list.
Inevitably, over the next few months certain wonder foods are going to hit the headlines and be touted as the next big flu-buster. While there are foods, some I'll tell you about shortly, that can improve immunity we don't want to lose sight of the basics.
The following are my "do not pass go" tips. Work on these first as they are the cornerstone habits for health and immunity.
1. Wash Your Hands
I can sense eyes glazing over as I read this. Most of us (I hope) wash our hands after using the bathroom and many people do so when they come home from work. I'm not willing to place serious bets that we all wash our hands before every meal. Our hands are in close contact with our mouth and nose during meals. Whether at work or a restaurant take the time to wash up before meals. When possible use soap and water versus hand sanitizing sprays.
Lack of sleep can affect athletic performance, mood and certainly immunity. No amount of Vitamin C will substitute for 7-8 hours of sleep for adults (10 or more for children). Lying in bed has been shown to be almost as good so if you're not falling asleep, stay put.
Fluid flushes toxins from the body and dehydration stresses it. When it's colder, we tend to feel less thirsty but still need to drink. Room temperature water with orange slices, tea and greens juices are good options. Despite my hypothesis that alcohol could act as an internal disinfectant, it is dehydrating and thus not your best bet for immunity.
Exercise builds your body's defense against viruses, aim for 150 minutes a week or 30 minutes 5 days a week.
5. Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Half a grapefruit isn't going to cut it. Most of us tend to eat less produce in winter. At the bare minimum, consume 2 fruits and 2 vegetables daily (local or organic whenever possible). Definitely opt for food versus supplements (as said in my post on multivitamin foods). Our fall favorites include Swiss chard, Brussels sprouts, squash, pears, apples and cranberries.
6. Cut Back on Sugar
As few as a couple of tablespoons of sugar daily can decrease immune function by 40 percent by slowing the activity of white blood cells.
The specific immune boosters get more air time and can definitely help once you've completed your prerequisites. This is definitely a case of the more the merrier.
1. White Tea
Everyone knows about black tea and more recently green tea but when you're interested in immunity white tea is your beverage. White tea is much less processed than green tea and this results in a higher antioxidant content; white tea is a better bacteria- and virus-fighter than other teas. It's also lower in caffeine and less bitter than green tea. Do not add milk to your tea though; casein, a protein in milk, binds to some of the phytochemicals and makes the tea less effective. Try for 2-4 cups a day. I love the Republic of Tea brand tea bags.
2. Red Bell Peppers
Chances are when you think of foods high in Vitamin C you think citrus fruits. Red peppers actually have more than double the Vitamin C of a large orange. Vitamin C is important because it increases levels of interferon. Interferon is an antibody that coats cell surfaces (think of it like cell armor) preventing the entry of viruses. Vitamin C is also found in broccoli, parsley, kiwi and melon.
3. Pumpkin Seeds
When you buy your pumpkin, do not toss the seeds. Pumpkin seeds are loaded with zinc. Zinc is needed to make the immune system's t cells and zinc increases our number of white blood cells. Zinc is actually not common in many fruits and vegetables so you can eat a healthy diet and easily not get enough zinc. Zinc is abundant in many animal foods so vegetarians, in particular, need to seek out sources of zinc. Oysters (unlike other shellfish farmed oysters also fine), crab and legumes are other non-meat zinc sources. If you are pumpkin-less you can purchase pumpkin seeds, I really like a brand called Gerbs.
4. Yogurt and Kefir
Yogurt and Kefir contain probiotics. Probiotics are good bacteria that live in our intestines and support our immune systems. Our digestive tract is actually our largest immune organ and what goes on in there is a good indication of what is going on with your immunity in general. Probiotics occur in other naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, natural pickles and miso. Look for yogurts with lactobacillus or bifidobacteria on the ingredient panel, there's also a great kid's product called Pro Bugs.
So after reading this go watch your hand (computers are very germy), plan your next workout and stop at the market on your way home for some immune-boosting foods!
Lauren Slayton, a registered dietitian, is the founder of Food Trainers, a New York City-based holistic health and nutrition counseling service. She has developed several programs, including Mindful Menus and Market Foodtraining, to give individuals, families, corporations and athletes attainable strategies for managing a healthy lifestyle.
Also by Lauren Slayton
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> Multivitamin Foods: Avoid Supplements with These Nutrient-Dense Foods
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