Feeling ill is awful, and often spreads into all aspects of your life - you miss out on social events, can't support the family as well or get behind at work. This compounds stress and often means we are sicker and for longer. Even with greater flexibility to WFH, we don't always take the necessary time to rest.
So what should you do if you get ill?
Hot drinks & herbal teas: This will ensure you maintain hydrated but are also soothing, providing healing qualities. Hot water with thyme, peppermint, ginger, lemon, turmeric or yarrow are my favourite. Please note, this excludes cow's milk and caffeinated drinks. Milk increases mucus production and caffeine is a diuretic.
Sleep with window cracked open to get some fresh air: Stale and stagnant air means the body can be slower to recover. Mentally this is also invaluable, especially if you're bid ridden as it provides a connection to the outside world.
Don’t overeat: Allow the body to focus on healing and fighting infection. When you are ill your body naturally loses its appetite and this is so it can divert energy towards fighting infection, rather than digesting. Eating meals that are easy to digest means the body can focus on repair. Soups, stews and broths are kind on the gut, and full of vital nutrients. As soon as you feel hunger again this is a good sign that you are recovering so be sure to replenish all the lost nutrients with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Don't forget fibre too, to ensure that you can eliminate the dead bacteria quickly via excretion.
Sleep: This is the time when the immune system repairs and fights infection, so please don't fight it. If you feel tired, let the body sleep. Put your out of office on, put a movie on for the kids and turn your phone on airplane mode.
You will recover quicker and better if you let the body do what it needs to do.
What foods weaken your immune system?
Refined sugars and artificial sweeteners: They deplete nutrients and provide little nutritional value. Sugar causes an inflammatory response in the body and can temporarily paralyse the immune system. Sugar also feeds the infection, as the viral or bacterial cells will hijack your food over your own cells.
It goes without saying that cigarettes and alcohol are no good for the immune system. They put an extra burden on the liver and make detoxification harder. Our poor liver never gets a break, processing over 500 other functions so if we it's given further jobs of detoxing cigarette and alcohol chemicals, it means detoxification and excretion of te infection is hindered.
Dairy: This can be worse in some people than others, but as I mentioned before, dairy creates more mucus and congestion, which exacerbates the inflammatory response. Best to avoid for a few days.
Junk food, processed food, processed meats and take-aways: Similar to sugar, they deplete nutrients and provide little nutritional value. In the case of processed meats, they also contain a high level of sulphites and sulphates, which are yet another toxin for your liver to process.
Microwaved food: When you heat food in the microwave it can reduce nutrient content. It's much better to heat food up in the oven or on the stove to prevent vital nutrients being lost.
Your mouth has its own microbiome (much like your gut). Try to avoid alcohol based mouthwash as it kills off all the bacteria in your mouth. Our body relies on bacteria to keep the immune system strong, so whilst you may be killing off bad bacteria that causes foul smells, you are also killing off the good bacteria. If you need mouthwash for bad breath, this is a symptom and would indicate something going on in the stomach or gut and this should be investigated seperately.
My top tips to strengthen your immune system.
Aim for 2-3 fruits and 7-8 vegetables per day: Although the government advises 5 a day, this the minimum to avoid getting sick. If you want to thrive, feel full of energy and develop strong immunity you need to aim for 8-10 serves of fruits and vegetables a day.
Prebiotic foods to feed the good bacteria in your gut: Since 70% of your immune system is in your gut its important to make sure you look after it! Getting a good mix of oats, garlic, onions, leeks, chicory and asparagus will help to feed the good bacteria in your gut.
Probiotic food is food that already has the growth of beneficial bacteria, in which all goes towards populating your gut with more good bacteria: Getting a daily portion of kombucha, coconut kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi or miso is a great way to keep the gut happy!
The immune system also loves Vitamin C, Vitamin D and Zinc: You can find these vitamins naturally occurring in very high amounts in common foods. Vitamin C: Red pepper, kiwi, orange, brusel sprouts, melon Vitamin D: mushrooms, oily fish, eggs, and of course sunlight! Zinc: chickpeas, lentils, nuts, seeds (especially sesame, pumpkin and hemp seeds)
Boosting your superfood intake: "Superfoods" are really just foods that are incredibly nutritionally dense. These include garlic, mushrooms, wheatgrass, barley grass, acai, blueberries, beans, chia seeds, beets (root, stalk and leaves!), herbs and spices like turmeric and cinnamon.
Overall, being isolation or staying inside is a challenging time for everyone - we are stuck at home, reduction in incidental exercise, working long hours at a desk, huge increase in screen time and not seeing friends and loved ones all contributes to higher stress levels. This can impact our immune system, so any of the above along with a good nights sleep and exercise, will aid in lowering stress and help you to keep on top of your health.
Get in touch if you want some more useful diet advice, exercise inspiration, healthy recipes or gut health advice.
Registered Nutritional Therapist
Kelly is a Registered Nutritional Therapist who focuses on positive physical and mental wellbeing, achieved through diet, lifestyle, sleep and exercise. Having struggled for years with IBS and hormonal imbalance, and increasingly frustrated with the lack of support and helpful advice from her GP, Kelly began her own journey of healing the body from the inside out. After seeing huge improvements she quit her job to study nutrition and focus on harnessing the healing powers of food to help other people in similar situations.