Laura Hardy is a York-based nutritionist who can help you and your family to stay fighting fit. Read on for five top tips for boosting our immune systems (meanwhile, we’re off to stew some apples….).
“This past year has for many of us highlighted the importance of staying healthy and looking after our immune systems, more than ever before. As parents, it can be an ongoing challenge to try to know how best to look after our family in order to avoid getting sick. After spending the best part of a year at home, with minimal contact with the outside world, it may be common to see coughs and colds emerge now that we are starting to integrate again. Rest assured that this is the immune system doing what it does best! It is being activated and responding to exposure to bacteria and viruses, which it hasn’t seen for a long time. But how can we best prepare ourselves and our immune systems for the outside world?
1. Vitamin D
The most important vitamin when it comes to immune support, also known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’. Okay, so York may not have had much sunshine lately but when the rain clouds part, it’s crucial to get outdoors and spend time in the sun. Exposing ourselves to the sun for 10/20 minutes or so before applying sunscreen is the optimal way to absorb vitamin D. There’s a big chance many of us will have lowered vitamin D status due to the winter months and spending so long indoors, so now’s the time to boost our levels. Oily fish and eggs contain vitamin D, and look out for fortified foods too, such as mushrooms.
2. Stewed apples
Good health starts with the gut, and most of our immune system resides here. If our gut lining has been compromised in any way, due to stress, antibiotic use, certain medications or food intolerances, our immune health can suffer as a result. A really simple way to nourish the gut lining is by eating stewed apples. Simply peel and chop up 5 cooking apples with a small amount of water, and gently cook in a pan until soft. (You can add cinnamon or raisins for sweetness). I like to freeze in large ice cube trays and add to porridge for breakfast.
3. Eat the rainbow!
Antioxidants are extremely important for overall good health as well as strengthening the immune system. Different plants contain different antioxidants with varying benefits. Some yellow/orange plants contain carotenes which the body converts into vitamin A – important for immune health (butternut squash, carrots, sweet potatoes). I always tell my clients that one of the best things they can do for overall health is to eat a rainbow of vegetables and fruit and count them throughout the day. Maybe the kids can create a chart to log what number they can reach in a week. Also – be brave and try a new vegetable or fruit next time you shop – what about kolrabi, dragon fruit, artichoke? Diversity of fruits and vegetables is crucial for our gut health. Asian supermarkets can be great for finding new produce.
A perhaps lesser-known immune powerhouse is the beta-glucan. Beta-glucans are thought to stimulate the immune system to protect against infection. They can be found in oats, barley & mushrooms. In particular, reishi and shiitake mushrooms, which can now be found in the fresh produce section of some supermarkets, so next time you do the shopping, see if you can find some of these as they really do deserve their ‘superfood’ status.
5. Enjoyment & relaxation
Lastly, but arguably most importantly, I have added enjoyment and relaxation as my 5th hack! When we are stressed with little enjoyment in our lives, our immune system knows about it. Our stress hormones can actually suppress our immune system in this case, which is why often when we’re run down we can easily catch never-ending bugs and viruses. And boy has this last year been a stressful one, particularly for parents. Never before have families experienced the amount of pressures that we have during the pandemic. Which is why it is important to give ourselves some time to recover.
Make the most of attractions opening up to enjoy as a family, but also as a parent, are you getting some me-time? Allocate time for yourself in your day. Can you get out for a walk in the fresh air? Sit outside a café with a book for half an hour? Attend a yoga class? Or even have a date night at one of York’s fabulous restaurants – it’s been a while right?! If none of these are available to you then perhaps you could simply learn to meditate before bed. The ‘Calm’ app is an easy place to start. The effects of relaxation, enjoyment & meditation have been proven to be hugely beneficial for lowering stress hormone levels, and this in turn can help to keep your immune system fighting fit!
I am a registered nutritionist based in York, seeing clients in-person at Neal’s Yard Remedies York or online via Zoom. I am currently offering 10% off an initial consultation for anybody with a Little Vikings Family Card (Zoom consultations only). If you’re interested in nutrition and you’d like to know more about how I can support you on your journey back to healthy, contact me to arrange a free discovery call to discuss what I offer. Healthy starts here!“