Do you need to boost your immunity? Feeling sluggish at the end of winter? For an active Canberran, there’s only one thing that bugs me (excuse the pun) more than being unable to exercise due to an injury. And that is being unable to train due to illness.
Heavy exercise has been shown to reduce immunity and increase the risk of upper respiratory infections. So here are my five foodie tips to help winter warriors keep fit and healthy as they step into Spring.
Get colourful and boost your immunity
Vitamin and mineral supplements are the most popular supplement on the market. Yet less than 10% of Aussies get the recommended amount of fruit (two serves) and vegetables (five serves) each day. When it comes to vitamins and immunity, the main players seem to be vitamin C, zinc and selenium. But unless you have a diagnosed deficiency, it’s best (and safest) to try boosting your vitamin levels by upping your daily fruit and veg first. You get the bonus of lots of powerful phytochemicals too! Here are some whole food sources of some important vitamins:
- Selenium Food sources: Brazil nuts, seafood, chicken and eggs
- Zinc Food sources: Meat, fish, chicken, cereals and dairy
- Vitamin C Food sources: citrus fruits, broccoli and capsicum.
Research has even found that vitamin C may reduce the incidence of a cold in heavy training athletes by up to 50%. For the general population, having enough vitamin C and zinc may reduce the length of your cold.
Don’t forget your carbs
Research shows that if we don’t get enough carbohydrate to fuel our exercise and recovery, we can be compromising our immune system through a complex chain of events that ultimately affects the functioning of our immune cells. Athletes most at risk are those who restrict their food intake. Make sure you practise good preparation and recovery strategies in heavy training or racing periods to help keep your immunity at its best. Don’t forget to include plenty of good-quality carbohydrates like:
- Grainy breads (eg. wholegrain, soy and linseed varieties)
- Pasta (either wholemeal or regular)
- Milk (low-fat milk if you’re watching your waistline)
- Fruit (aim for different colours)
- Wholegrain cereal, such as oats (another reason for your winter morning porridge)
- Yoghurt (Chobani is a favourite)
- Sweet potato (for a low GI vegetable option)
Probiotics have been touted as the next big thing taking the food and health space by storm this year. And with good reason. Probiotics promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut. This good bacteria has been shown to have a variety of health benefits from reducing upper respiratory infections to improving bowel conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease. There are a range of probiotic strains available. Each strain is thought to give different health benefits.
To be honest, we don’t really know much about them but we are learning more each day. What we do know, is there is some evidence that certain strains of probiotics reduce the duration of upper respiratory infections. If you choose to take a probiotic – make sure you do your research or speak to a dietitian as the strain and the CFU (colony forming unit) is what matters most. It’s also important to note that people with compromised immune systems should speak to their healthcare specialist (eg. GP), before taking probiotics.
Here are some healthy food and drinks that pack a probiotic punch:
- Kefir – a sour milk drink that you can now buy in the milk section of your local supermarket.
- Kimchi – a traditional Korean side dish made from fermented vegetables. Just search kimchi online for a variety of recipe ideas.
- Miso – a Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans. You can find it at your local Japanese restaurant or supermarket.
- Yoghurt – store-bought yoghurt can be a great everyday source of good bacteria.
- Kombucha – a popular carbonated drink that has hit the market. Lower in added sugar than regular soft drink with the added bonus of live bacteria.
Get some R&R for an easy immunity boost
Our immune system is extremely complex. And there are lots of reasons why our immune system may weaken.
- Being in large crowds where there is a higher risk of bacteria and viruses around
- Repeated bouts of intense training (such as heavy training leading up to competition)
- Poor sleep (Nick has written a great article here for tips on sleeping)
- Too little food intake (another reason to avoid strict dieting)
- Nutritional deficiencies (variety is the spice of life).
So to help keep your immune system functioning at its best, it’s important to take a holistic approach to your health. This includes getting enough rest and relaxation, getting moving in ways you enjoy and eating plenty of nutritious foods (along with the occasional chips, chocolate or wine, of course).
I hope you all stay happy and healthy as we say goodbye to another Canberra winter.