Give your immune system a lift.
In the face of nasty infections like the flu, it’s wise to reflect on how robust your immune system is; as this could be the difference between coming down with an infection or not, or having an easier time of it if you do become unwell. Whilst many people reach for a handful of supplements in the hope of “boosting” themselves, this will not compensate for living a less than healthy life. A better strategy is to ask yourself what you are doing that’s compromising your immune system health and address these factors instead.
So how does this relate to you? Start by taking a good honest look at what you eat and your lifestyle choices, and correct everything that’s less than ideal. Free up your immune system so it can respond in the best way when you need it most.
Let Your Food Be Your Medicine – All Year Round
Base your dietary choices around what will nourish you, rather than reaching for items that may taste nice but offer little to no nutritional value. The foods that need to go will probably be of no surprise – these are the refined and processed foods (you basically miss out on the vitamins and antioxidants that can support good health), the fried foods that contain damaged fats which create inflammation in your body and any added sugars (even if they are natural sugars), as these can actually suppress immune function for a period of time after eating them. If your diet features sweet teas and starchy treats, alcohol, junk foods or an excess of animal meats and dairy, then now’s the time to make some changes.
So what should you be prioritising instead? You may have heard the term “eat the rainbow“, but if not, this refers to ensuring you focus on ample colourful vegetables, salads and fruits. A diet based upon natural whole foods, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes provides your body with a wide range of vitamins, minerals and perhaps most importantly the “phytonutrients” (special plant constituents, many of which are antioxidants) a number of which will help support optimal immune function. At least half of your plate needs to comprise green, red, orange, yellow or purple vegetables and salads to get a wide range of beneficial antioxidants into you. Don’t let avoiding sugars put you off eating a piece or two of fresh fruit a day either! Fruit is a valuable part of a healthy whole food diet — look especially to berries for their great antioxidant value.
What Else Depletes Immune System Function?
The “busy” factor in Hong Kong is, unfortunately, a way of life. Long hours and competing deadlines and commitments mean many people are fatigued and feeling under pressure. When the stress hormone cortisol goes up, immune system function decreases. The antidote to this is creating better work-life balance and making time to enjoy the things you love, as well as getting regular exercise. Too often, these are the things that get pushed aside as life gets busy, but work-life balance helps you resist stress and stay well. If you are experiencing worry and anxiety you should see your health practitioner for support.
Without restorative sleep, your body will struggle to maintain optimal function. Choose to prioritise seven hours sleep, even if this means dropping something from your schedule. Avoid caffeine after 1pm and eat at least two hours before bed so digestion doesn’t disturb your sleep. Perhaps most significant is to adopt zero screen time for at least one hour before sleeping as the screen light (even when filtered) has a stimulant effect.
Poor Gut Health
Around 70% of your immune system tissues are found in the gut. Symptoms of gas, bloating, pain, spasm and irregular bowel habits are your body’s way of telling you something is wrong, so don’t ignore these as gut irritation generates inflammation in the body and can lead to food intolerances. Address gut health and your immune system can focus on protecting you from infection instead.
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Munch On Mushrooms
If there is one whole food ingredient that deserves a shout out for immune benefits it’s reishi and shiitake mushrooms. Unfortunately, reishi can be tough and bitter (so is more frequently found dried and powdered), but luckily for Hong Kong, the shiitake is widely available here and delicious. What’s more, this “medicinal mushroom” contains constituents called beta-glucans that specifically support immune system health. Combine shiitake with fresh crushed garlic (one of nature’s antimicrobials) and you’ll have a tasty combo to help your body fight off any potential viral “invader”. Team up with some lightly steamed leafy greens or broccoli and you’ll be getting some natural vitamin C too.
What If You Still Become Unwell?
With a robust immune system built up by making consistently positive choices all year round, you stand a better chance of defending against any viral infection you come across. However, should you become unwell, then having an uncompromised immune system means you are more likely to bounce back faster so you can get back to enjoying the things you love.