As fun as staying home from school eating ice cream used to be, these days we avoid getting sick like the plague (pun intended). Our immune systems are like our own personal security guards, protecting us against potential invaders that threaten to derail our health and take us down with it.
It does a remarkable job, but with the average Australian adult getting between two and four colds each year (and children getting as many as 10), there are plenty of reasons we get struck down from time to time – from poor hand hygiene to spending more time indoors with other infected folk during cooler months.
We’re still learning about the impact of our lifestyles on immunity, but in the meantime healthy living can help give our systems the upper hand as we near the chilly months and dreaded flu season. Harvard Medical School says not smoking, only drinking alcohol in moderation, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise and enough shuteye are a great start, and recommend eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.
Forget superfoods, these kitchen staples are cheap, readily available and worth having around.
C is for Citrus
Full of immune-boosting go-to Vitamin C, citrus fruits such as orange, grapefruit, mandarin and lemon pack a real punch, with just one orange containing double our daily requirement of Vitamin C. Boom!
A powerful antioxidant, our bodies don’t make Vitamin C so we have to get it from food. It helps speed up wound healing and resistance to infection, boost the absorption of calcium and repair tissue. Deficiency can result in scurvy (yep – pirate disease) with symptoms like bruising, bleeding and joint and muscle pain.
While it won’t help you avoid cold and flu altogether, it may help with the length and severity of symptoms if you do get sick. Eat as much of the fruit as you can so you get the fibre, which is better for your cholesterol and blood sugar. Squeezing lemon into a glass of water or onto a salad and making your afternoon snack a sweet citrus treat will all help bump up your intake. Don’t overlook berries, spinach, capsicum, tomatoes, and brussels sprouts too.
Winnie the Pooh was onto something getting his paws in the honey pot on the regular, and cultures have used honey for centuries for all kinds of ailments – even slathered on wounds to prevent infection and speed up the healing process. Made up of carbohydrates, amino acids, vitamins and flavonoids as well as compounds that function as antioxidants it’s the only food that doesn’t spoil, producing hydrogen peroxide at high enough levels to kill micro-organisms but not high enough to damage our skin.
Its antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic properties can kill all sorts of bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant nasties like staphylococcus aureus or ‘golden staph’, streptococcus faecalis or ‘strep’, and even salmonella. Pop a teaspoon in a cup of hot water with lemon and you’ve got yourself a cup full of immuni-tea. See what I did there? Moving on…
Green, leafy veg
I feel healthier just thinking about these bad boys. Not only are they great for the waistline and make you FEEL like you’re doing good with every mouthful, they’re rich in folic acid, vitamin C, potassium and magnesium. Think: spinach, silverbeet and Asian greens, any dark green lettuce like rocket and cruciferous vegetables too – like cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale.
Enjoy as much as you like as long as they’re prepared in a healthy way (usually raw, lightly steamed or blanched rather than fried). We’re aiming for five serves of vegetables a day as well as two serves of fruit, which only one in five of us are getting according to the latest statistics. You don’t have to hit the farmers markets every weekend for a basketful of organics, do the best you can utilising the local supermarket and don’t shy away from snap-frozen vegetables too, you’re better off getting those into you than nothing at all.
Casey Beros is a health and lifestyle journalist, producer and presenter and is a spokesperson for Fusion Health.