Under the weather, worse for wear or just a bit sniffly? The impact of winter on our health is always a hot topic as the mercury drops, but eating the right food might just help stave off unwelcome illness.
The drop in temperature weakens the immune system and so we are more vulnerable to catching something. Flu especially thrives and spreads more easily in dry and cold environments. Our bodies have increased inflammation because of the cold, making us less likely to get serious illnesses or infections but much more likely to suffer from illnesses like flu, colds and worsening of existing conditions like asthma and allergies. Most people are also deficient in Vitamin D at this time of the year, making us less able to defend against illness than in the summer.
Here’s our 3 steps to battling flu: how to prevent it, how to cure it and how to recover as quickly as possible.
So, how can we prevent having to endure the flu this winter?
Most people in cold countries like the UK get insufficient amounts of vitamin D all year, not just in the winter. Our main source of Vitamin D is sunlight. However, oily fish (salmon, tuna etc), egg yolks and red meat are also good sources; though it is not always possible to get all the Vitamin D that we need from food. Most doctors recommend a vitamin D supplement, particularly in the long stretch of winter when the sun isn’t seen for months.
How much do I take?
A daily supplement of 10mg of Vitamin D during the Autumn and Winter. The NHS says that most of us can get enough of what we need between March and the end of September with a nutritionally-balanced diet and adequate exposure to sunlight, and so it may not be necessary to take a supplement around that time.
Available in a supplement, yoghurt or found in fermented food like sauerkraut, kimchi or kambucha, probiotics are a source of good bacteria. They help restore the gut when the flora in the digestive system is out of balance. Probiotics help with gastrointestinal issues and can also be helpful in restoring the gut after you’ve been unwell.
Having a proper amount of probiotic bacteria in your gut makes it harder for bad bacteria to flourish and survive. If your ratio of good bacteria to bad bacteria is off, then you are much more likely to have a gut where cold and flu are able to survive. This is a crucial step in preventing flu. Otherwise, you could be cultivating the perfect place where pathogens (harmful bacteria) can grow and make you sick.
Eating probiotic foods as part of your winter diet, drinking probiotic yoghurt or taking a supplement will reduce your risk of flu, fever and sickness taking hold of you this winter.
Your immune is system is affected by your emotions and your mental wellbeing. Particularly in winter, chronic stress affects our ability to protect against illness. Meditation, mindfulness and breathing exercises can reduce stress levels if practiced consistently. Studies have shown that meditation reduces inflammation levels, which are increased by cold weather conditions (as mentioned above). Meditating actually strengthens the flu vaccination and protects you further from catching the virus.
You are three times more likely to get a cold if you get fewer than seven hours sleep per night. Essentially, just being slightly sleep deprived can make you much more likely to catch cold and flu viruses. Your immune system interprets sleep deprivation as stress, which is apt considering we sleep less when we are overworked and overwhelmed. In the winter, people that work long shifts are much more likely to get the flu. Not getting enough sleep makes your immune system work too hard, leaving it tired – just like you.
Green tea has long been trusted in Asia as a source of antioxidants and as a way to fortify the immune system. Green tea reduces the risk of catching influenza, stopping its ability to survive and spread. In an experiment in an elderly home in Japan, the regular drinking of green was proven to stop the residents catching the flu. Green tea is delicious, cheap and easy to get hold of. So why not try to switch from regular or coffee to green tea this winter?
It takes two or three days for the flu to really kick in. Symptoms include a sore throat, runny nose, a fever, chills, muscle aches, diarrhoea and vomiting. We don’t need to tell you, if you’ve got the flu – you’ll know.
Symptoms vary in severity and people experience the flu differently. If you are otherwise healthy, an adult younger than 65 and not pregnant, then you probably don’t need to see doctor.
Everyone knows that good sleep and lots of rest are required to let the body heal and effectively flush the virus out of your system. It’s also important to get good rest after you’ve recovered from the flu so that your immune system can get back up to optimum level, but more on that later.
Here’s some things you can do if you’re already sick…
First of all…what is bone broth? A broth is a liquid made by boiling animal bones (usually chicken, beef or lamb), vegetables, herbs and spices. It has powerful health benefits, and has endorsement from a lot of medical professionals. The broth can be used to make soup, and is the main ingredient of chicken soup which has been praised with supernatural healing qualities by several cultures.
Bone broth’s medicinal qualities date back to Ancient Greece. It can do so much good for you, like cleaning the gut, getting vital nutrients and reducing mucus. It’s perfect to drink when you have the flu because it is easy for your body to absorb, tasty and gentle on the stomach. When your body is hard at work fighting illness, eating heavy food that forces your digestive system to pick up the slack won’t do anything for a speedy recovery. Bone broth is wonderful because it supports your body’s war with the flu, giving you loads of great vitamins and minerals, like amino acids, which reduces mucus production.
Bone broth is created by boiling the bones of a chicken on a low heat for hours. It’s full of protein and pretty much every other nutrient your body needs.
Bone broth has wonderful long term benefits like encouraging healthy skin/hair growth and establishing a healthy gut. To get the full benefits, bone broth should be made at home. Here’s an easier way to make bone broth so that you can battle the flu and get back to being fighting fit.
The following recipe takes 10 minutes to prepare but the boiling ingredients need to be left for 8 hours. Save the leftover bones from your next roast dinner, or head to your local butcher and fetch some some poultry, beef or lamb bones; the fresher the better.
Sometimes it’s difficult to eat when you have the flu, so smoothies are a great way to get all the nutrients you need. They can also have the added effects of improving your feeling of wellbeing and allowing you to rest and sleep easier.
Blueberries are a Feedr favourite; they are super low in sugar and high in antioxidants. They are also a major source of the all-important vitamin C, which is proven to reduce flu symptoms significantly.
You can use either frozen or fresh blueberries to make your smoothie, surprisingly they have the same nutritional content! Blueberries also contain Vitamin E, fiber, magnesium, zinc, vitamin K and omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to stop flu cells replicating, helping you to recover faster.
For a quick, delicious and immune-boosting smoothie, put blueberries, flax seeds, along with soy milk and dates into a blender. It’s gentle on the stomach and a delicious way to get yourself on the road to recovery.
This citrus smoothie is soothing for the throat and chest, and is packed full of lovely stuff that will get you out of bed in no time. The surprise in the citrus surprise is a bit of cayenne pepper, which will do wonders for clearing your airways, allowing you to breathe more easily.
So, the flu has finally subsided. How do we make sure that we can get back to ourselves as quickly as possible? Sometimes after being unwell we can feel groggy, drained and it can take a while for you to feel like yourself again. Here’s a few ways to make your exit from the flu as quick as possible.
Many people don’t eat at all during the flu itself, and only start eating once the nasty symptoms have worn off. In the first 24 hours it is important to drink plenty of water, and your leftover bone broth (recipe above) is also great for getting a mix of different nutrients. You can also drink fruit or vegetable juices if you prefer.
After 24 hours, if you feel up to eating again, a great protocol to follow is the BRAT diet. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. These foods are bland to reduce nausea and are gentle on the stomach. Here’s a short list of other foods (besides the ones above) that you should include in your post-flu BRAT diet, and some that you should avoid…
Foods to eat:
Foods to avoid:
Flu is normally accompanied by a feeling of not wanting to eat very much, and this feeling often lingers long after the flu has gone. Depending on the kind of flu you have, you may have experienced digestive problems as well. The first thing to keep in mind is to have small, frequent meals, in order to get nutrients in a small and manageable amount. This is especially important if you’ve been vomiting during your illness.
Another helpful thing to do is quit sugar. We know it’s difficult, especially in the winter when all you want is snuggle up on the sofa with some chocolate. However, sugar really decreases immune function and won’t allow your body to properly heal. Also, sugar is disruptive to your digestive health so will do nothing to help your upset stomach or feelings of nauseousness.
It’s horrible getting the winter flu, so take these actionable steps to prevent, cure and recover from the dreaded illness. It is also a great idea to add things we’ve mentioned like Vitamin D, meditation and drinking bone broth into your regular wellness routine. This will strengthen your immune system all year round, making you feel better and making you less susceptible to illnesses of all kinds.