6 Nutritionist-Approved Tips to Boost Immunity This Winter
As a nutritionist, educator and presenter, spending time on the road is just another day at the (mobile) office. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to share the ‘food as medicine’ gospel, and meet so many interesting people and travel through our beautiful country. But all the travel isn’t without it’s challenges, and for me, one of the biggest is staying well, particularly in winter. So every year at about this time, I begin my wintertime immunity ramp-up. Here are a few of my seasonal ‘tricks of the trade’ to help keep my immune system’s defenses high – and can help yours too, no matter where winter takes you:
1) Stock up on greens.
If you’re like me and prone to coughs or bronchitis, before winter really gets it’s hooks in, start upping your greens intake. Sneak them in at every meal, even into your breakfast smoothie. A few extra servings of greens will feed the good bacteria in your gut the delicious fiber they need to keep defenses high and repel viral invaders. Those greens will also gift the rest of your body with immunity-supporting vitamins and phytonutrients, so feel free to fill up.
2) Nourish your belly.
No matter what time of year it is, the fewer sugary treats and drinks you consume, the better! You see, sugar feeds your bad bacteria, enabling the baddies to flourish and overwhelm the good, triggering an imbalance which lowers your defenses – the last thing you want to be doing during cold and flu season! Instead, fortify your gut flora with real comfort foods, like nutrient-rich bone broths, veggie soups and hearty stews with cloves, meaty and medicinal mushrooms, grass-fed & finished beef and pasture-raised poultry. Season abundantly with health supportive spices that warm you and your dishes up (cayenne pepper, rosemary, ginger, cinnamon et al.)
3) Supplement your immunity.
Give your gut bacteria an extra helping hand with a daily probiotic to help maintain your bacterial balance and keep immunity strong. I also include a daily dose of 2,ooo IUs vitamin D3 and 250-500 mg. buffered Vitamin C for additional support. In winter, I recommend traveling with a few essential oils (a combo of eucalyptus, lemon peel, peppermint and cardamom is one of my favorites) as to help breathe easy. I also always carry along a supply of immunity boosting elderberry (available in pill, lozenge and as a syrup) which has been shown to shorten the duration and severity of colds, flu and respiratory infections.
4) Water your lungs.
There are hundreds of reasons to drink water, but what most of us don’t realize is that we need to keep drinking it straight through winter. Even though we may not be feeling hot or thirsty, staying hydrated helps keep lungs moist and mucus flowing, clearing our lungs of the gunk that can collect and create conditions for opportunistic infections to thrive. So drink up-- and don’t give the bad bugs a fighting chance.
5) Moisten your schnozz.
Yes, it sounds strange, but keep nostrils moist and hydrated, especially in winter. Doing so will make it tougher for viral invaders to enter your body through the microscopic cracks that can occur when nasal membranes get dried out by things like dry cold weather, airplane air or indoor heating. To keep things moist, I dab a bit of Naysa oil (an Ayurvedic remedy) inside my nostrils in the morning and before bed, I’ll give my nostrils a rinse with an aerosol saline solution. When traveling, you can also fill the basin and bathtub with hot water and leave overnight to add moisture to the air.
6) Light your way.
The winter blues are real, and whether you have been diagnosed with full-blown Seasonal Affective Disorder or just feel a bit down during the dark days of winter (who doesn’t?!), a little light therapy can help take the edge off. Though natural, mood-elevating, warm, glorious sunlight is best, for most of us in the upper half of North America, there simply isn’t enough of it in winter, so supplementing with the bright, artificial glow from a light box is the next best thing. To enjoy the mood-boosting effects of light therapy – it usually takes about 2 weeks to start feeling the effects – try a daily dose of 20 -30 minutes of light box exposure, preferably in the morning, to lift mood without disrupting your sleep.
Here’s to a healthy, happy and enlightened winter!