This blog post was supposed to be all about "upping my exercise after the new year." But seeing how I've been knocked out 3 consecutive times with 2 ugly head colds and an even uglier stomach flu, I thought I'd hold off on my muscles and focus on the immune system (Gotta love working in a hospital... being sneezed on by toddlers is just one of the many perks).
Those of us working in health care are clearly at higher risk for catching these things, but this year's flu season has shown to be pretty widespread, no matter where you are!
The CDC (Center of Disease Control) reports the entire continental US to be in the "red" this year on the Influenza tracking graph, meaning the virus is everywhere, causing a lot of people to get sick. There are actually different strains of the Flu that circulate each year. And as you've probably heard, this year's most prevalent strain of the flu is more dangerous than usual. Unfortunately, the flu vaccine is only about 25% effective at protecting us from it.
In effort to lessen my own time on the couch, and hopefully help prevent me from catching anything another sickness this season, I thought I'd share some of my immune-boosting remedies and preventative tips I have read up on along the way.
First, try and prevent the sickness from even coming your way by protecting your body from the germs, and taking good care of your immune system. And second, if you do come down with something, kick these recommendations up a few notches to get yourself back on your feet again ASAP!
Before we get to the nutrition part... let's remember the biggest prevention of all:
WASH. YA. HANDS. sounds like a no brainer, I always wash my hands before eating. But I don't think about the other things I might touch before coming in contact with my face and mouth-AKA my PHONE. I use it in clinic as a calculator, and even to show my patients helpful Apps. It collects all the germs I come across over the course of the day. And then I take it home with me! Think: on the couch making a few calls or drafting emails, in the kitchen looking up recipes... The idea makes me cringe. Lesson learned: find a new calculator, sanitize the iPhone before leaving work, and think twice before popping a piece of gum into my mouth (especially during flu season!)
Now For the Good Stuff:
GET COLORFUL. Tomatoes, sweet potato, oranges, bell peppers, kiwi, blueberries, blackberries, beets (made the whole rainbow there ;) ) are just a few examples of how you can get a variety of colors onto your plate--which doesn't just make your meal look pretty--it actually ensures that you'll get a variety nutrients to keep your body strong! The different pigments in fruits & veggies act as anti-oxidants, and offer a multitude of anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-cancer benefits. For example, the deep red or purple color in blackberries and cherries contain a type of phytochemical (plant compound) Anthocyanins which is not only a powerful anti-oxidant, but is studied for its role in protecting against heart disease. And the bright orange in sweet potatoes and carrots is from Carotenoids, the phytochemicals that boost the immune system... cue the orange, people!
PROTECT YOUR GUT. The bacteria naturally living in our gut run the show when it comes to our health. One of their many roles is involved in regulating the immune system. You've probably heard of Probiotics, the bacteria that we know are good for our health, found in "healthy guts" (to put it simply). Probiotics are added to foods like yogurt and kombucha. Unfortunately, the science is not quite there yet for us to understand how bacteria thrives perfectly in the gut with everyone else. It's just a biiiiit more complicated than that. It's a complex ecosystem in there. But there is cool science emerging that leads us to believe regular probiotic consumption can help balance the commensal bacteria in our gut... therefore I am a strong believer in getting a daily yogurt fix!
We can help support the protective bacteria already in our gut by eating foods that keep them living and working well. AKA: Prebiotics! These are found in foods like those colorful fruits and vegetables (apples, bananas, blueberries, garlic), and also foods like oats and cocoa! Kate has a great post on Pre and Probiotics if you want to read more :)
FIND YOUR ROOTS. I'm talking ginger and turmeric. These plants are actually in the same family and have been studied for their anti-inflammatory properties. They are pretty high in anti-oxidants, too! Many people may sip on ginger ale when their stomach is upset. Unfortunately there is no ginger ingredient listed in most commercial ginger ale. But there is truth to the intention! Ginger root has properties that help break up and expel intestinal gas, which can reduce the symptoms of nausea. Ginger tea and ginger lozenges are a go-to for me after the stomach flu!
GET IN ON THE ELDERBERRY. Of all the natural cold remedies I've seen (Zinc, vitamin C, etc.) studies on elderberry seem to be the most promising! Elderberry is a (anthocyanin containing) plant, shown to reduce cold and flu symptoms, and in some studies argued to protect against colds, sinus infections, and the flu! I'm not saying it's the magical antidote, but I'm certainly still down to sip on elderberry tea when everyone around me is sneezing up a storm!
Some of my go-to sick-day eats
- Berry smoothie: packing the antioxidants, prebiotics, and probiotics with this baby!
- Roasted sweet potato soup: Upping the carotenoids with sweet potato and carrot, and the anti-inflammatory herbs with some turmeric and ginger root! Clearing my sinuses with every steamy spoonful.
- Stuffed bell pepper: Did you know bell peppers have over 100% of your daily vitamin C needs? (Say what?!) Add that to some lentils for a prebiotic benefit. Even better, top it with some avocado for a colorful, anti-inflammatory fat source.
- Cozy up with some Elderberry tea!
- Lastly, if you've been feeling anything like me... be sure to get some sleep tonight!