How a Nutritionist keeps colds at bay (and what to do when they hit)
The colder weather is drawing in, we’re spending more time indoors and the kids are back in school - which, alongside those cosy-cashmere feelings, also means cold and flu season is right around the corner. To find out how best to support your immunity throughout autumn and winter, we spoke to our in-house nutritionist to share her go-to immunity essentials and lifestyle hacks for keeping sniffles at bay and what to do when infection hits!
Food First Approach
All of the sensible wellness concepts of eating a balanced diet, moving your body, keeping stress at bay and getting a good night's sleep unsurprisingly have a huge impact on how our body deals with infections, coughs and colds. Sometimes we forget the power of these pillars of health though and our immune system may not be the first thing we think of when we’re aiming to live a healthy life. It’s absolutely worth reminding ourselves…
Nutrition wise, it’s all about what you can add to your diet. You want a nutrient-dense diet (as opposed to an energy-dense diet) full of colours, plants, good quality proteins, healthy fats, gut-friendly fibre and plenty of herbs and spices. Eating the rainbow is a great concept which will ensure you’re getting a wide range of antioxidants, which can reduce inflammation and your risk of getting ill. Keeping sugar, alcohol and other inflammatory compounds found in lots of ultra-processed foods low in your diet is also key. I often find the best approach to this is ‘crowding out’. When you eat a balanced, whole-food rich diet, it leaves little room for ultra-processed foods, as you’ll feel nourished and satiated for much of the time and crucially, your immune system will do it’s incredible job behind the scene, fighting off pathogens and keeping everything in check.
A key part of prevention when it comes to immunity is keeping your gut bugs happy, after all 80% of the immune system lives in the gut. This is best achieved by eating as wide a variety of whole-foods as possible - with plants taking centre stage, as the higher diversity of plant fibres you consume, the better you are actively nourishing your immunity. Think vegetables, fruits, spices, pulses, legumes and prebiotic fibres. Eating probiotic-rich, fermented foods on a daily basis like full-fat live yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso or organic apple cider vinegar can be so nourishing for the gut too.
Protein is also important for enabling the body to mount an appropriate immune response, as we need proteins to make antibodies and to repair the body’s tissues. When getting your protein you want good-quality animal protein that’s sustainably and organically raised where possible, as fertilisers and pesticides can be disruptive to the gut microbiome (pro tip: collagen also counts towards your protein intake and ours is extremely good quality!). Plant-based sources of protein like beans and pulses are wonderful too and should be included as they also come packaged with lots of gut-loving fibre. I love our vegan range for this as it comes with chickpea and pea proteins as well as a lovely dose of chicory root inulin, a great source of prebiotic fibre.
When a cold hits, which it inevitably will, I love to know I have a kitchen full of natural tools and remedies at my fingertips. You instinctively know to go for warming foods like soups and stews. Your body is very clever; the reason you crave these foods is because warm and cooked foods are much easier to digest, making it less taxing on the body.
Cooking with plenty of fresh herbs and spices can also help here, not just for their taste but also for their many medicinal properties. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, has been shown in countless studies to support the immune system. The same goes for ginger - which is why you’ll always find fresh ginger in my house.
When I’m feeling run down, I love to start my day with a warming bowl of porridge as oats are a source of beta glucans which contribute to the immune system's proper functioning. I zhuzh it up with some grated carrot (full of beta carotene - an immune friendly vitamin), fresh ginger, turmeric, black pepper and top with antibacterial-rich local honey, gut loving stewed apples and live yogurt. If you happen to have a juicer at home, you can’t beat a fresh turmeric, ginger and orange shot for a burst of vitamin C. I absolutely adore Inspired Collagen for the immune system too. It ticks so many boxes by using all of these spices, plus the added benefits from the fibres and nourishing peptides. And it’s so comforting - just what you need when you’re feeling a bit worse for wear.
Garlic is also a great ingredient to use and renowned for its antiviral and antibacterial properties. A great tip for garlic is to make sure you crush it and allow the garlic to stand for 10 minutes before cooking with it – this allows time for the active ingredient in garlic, allicin, to activate, providing you with even more benefits.
Mushrooms are in my immunity shopping basket too as they can be a good source of polyphenols, sterols, beta glucans, selenium and zinc, which all keep our immune system healthy and strong.
Never underestimate the healing effect of chicken soup, an age-old remedy which has now been studied and shown to speed recovery from coughs and colds. It’s like the swiss army knife of infection-fighting tools. Not only do the vitamin-packed vegetables give you a boost but the protein from the chicken contains those important amino acids for us to make immune fighting T-cells, whilst the warming nature of the broth loosens mucus. It’s an easy soup to add all those herbs and spices above as well as plenty of thyme, known for easing congestion.
Get a helping hand…
I keep my supplement cupboard stocked with some ‘just-in-case’ products. These almost always include formulas with elderberry extract, which knocks a cold on its head if you take it at the first sign of a sniffle.
Your need for vitamin C rises dramatically when you are fighting an infection. Luckily we include vitamin C in our formulas, so I use these alongside a liposomal vitamin C which is absorbed super quickly. Zinc is also a key player I wouldn't be without.
Vitamin D is thankfully getting the airtime it deserves in recent years and this is an incredibly important component of our first line defence. This means it keeps your barriers to the outside world, like the skin, lungs and gut, strong, We especially see a down turn in Vitamin D when the winter months hit due to the lack of sun exposure, so it’s a good idea to check your levels of vitamin D with a quick test to see how much you need to supplement, as doses vary from person to person. It’s often forgotten that vitamin D also requires magnesium to be properly utilised, so consider taking a supplement that combines the two.
A new kid on the block is a compound called Lactoferrin. We recently collaborated with the brand Leapfrog who offer a really helpful supplement combining vitamin C with antiviral lactoferrin and zinc. What is exciting about lactoferrin is its ‘immuno-modulating’ effects. This means, much like an adaptogen, it senses the immune system status and can act accordingly; boosting or down-regulating it depending on what you need. Incredible.
Stress Less, Sleep More
As well as the foods + drinks you consume, it’s worth thinking about a few lifestyle adjustments. Chronic stress is a leading cause of depressed immunity, so having daily rituals which are known to decrease stress levels such as deep breathing or getting into nature are great ways to also keep infections at bay.
When you do get a cold though, it is so important to rest. We live in a society where we ‘power through’, which usually just makes the illness last longer (and passes it onto others). By resting during the day, your body will be able to devote more resources to fighting the virus.
Sleep is one of the greatest weapons our immune system has. As we sleep, the body repairs, heals and cleans out pathogens. It plays such a huge role in regulating immune function and reduces inflammation, too. Sleep is also when your gut microbes perform crucial ‘maintenance’ work and clear out unwanted bugs.
Rituals for immunity
There are some great daily rituals which have been shown to support a robust immune system.
Focusing on mouth health is a great start and it’s important to remember we also have a mouth microbiome to look after! The goal isn’t to rid your mouth of all bugs however, but instead nurture the good bacteria in your mouth that actually also supports and trains your immune system. There are some toothpastes which contain probiotics and a healthy diet also plays a key role here. Herbal teas should be a regular ritual to give your mouth a dose of anti bacterial and antiviral compounds. Finally, tongue scraping in Ayurveda is thought to aid digestion (and in turn immunity) as well as help with sore throats and sinus infections.
There’s a fair bit of research now which also suggests taking a cold shower can support your immunity. This may be due to the impact it has on our circulation and the increase in endorphins which stimulate our immune system. Similarly, daily movement is also a great tool. Neither of these are recommended if you’re in the midst of an illness though. Exercising and cold water therapy places stress on the body, which is a good thing when we are well, but detrimental when we’re not. Opting instead for a warm bath with some essential oils and epsom salts would be much more beneficial. The warm water over your chest might even help to relieve congestion and relax those sore muscles.