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Eating your way to immunity

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As we battle the colder months of the year, it can sometimes feel like every second person you speak with either has, or is recovering from a cold or flu and given COVID, it’s the last thing anyone wants to have!

As we all know, it’s easy to pick up these immune-busting illnesses during winter, team sports are always a breeding ground for the flu once it infiltrates, with high performance managers always on alert at this time of year.

It can come from anywhere, the gym, the kids or from just generally being run down. We’re most susceptible to illness when our training load is high, as our body does it’s best to deal with the stress we put it under.

This is why keeping healthy is an even higher priority during winter, without the added complications of a lockdown as the world still navigates its way through the pandemic.

Here are five nutrition tips to help you get through the winter months…

Hydration status is important for all facets of health and performance including the immunity space. Dehydration can lead to cell membranes being more permeable to pathogens and bacteria, which can make us more likely to pick up a cold or flu. If you are struggling to keep up your water intake in the cooler months, look to increase your fluid intake with other drinks like herbal teas, or try drinking your water at room temperature rather than ice-cold.

All the greens
Another win for getting enough colour in your day! Meeting your daily five serves of vegetables is so important when it comes to good nutrition and the power of food. Eating enough nutrients each day helps reduce risk of becoming unwell, but also helps optimise day-to-day performance, be it in your training sessions or at work. A general rule to aim for is having half of your lunch and half of your dinner coming from salad or vegetables, and then anything extra at breakfast or snacks is a win! With less than 5% of children and 8% of adults eating enough vegetables, this is a big area of improvement for most people. Want some motivation on how to eat more vegetables?

Check out the Health & Performance Collective Food & Mood course.

Healthy fats for the win
When we talk healthy fats, we are talking extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds or fish. The long and short of the story here – healthy fats are an essential part of the diet. Healthy fats are key to healthy cell membranes and assist with moving fat-soluble nutrients around the body. They also help keep membranes and skin healthy. Omega 3s are particularly important and are richest in oily fish (such as salmon or tuna), walnuts and chia seeds.

Herbs and spice make everything nice
Certain herbs and spices can impact immunity. Garlic, turmeric and ginger are commonly used to help build the immune system and rid the body of illness. Boost these up in your cooked meals, fresh juices or even get creative with an immunity shot consisting of some of these wonderful immune boosters.

Bone broth had a moment recently, and whilst further research is needed, consumption of collagen or gelatin may assist with reducing gaps in the cells in our gut. Reducing these gaps can help reduce susceptibility for pathogens to move from the digestive tract into the blood, and as such may have a beneficial impact on immunity.

In saying all of this, the big rocks when it comes to immunity are sleep, hygiene and managing stress! While it may seem odd that dieticians are talking about sleep and nutrition together, they seriously go hand-in-hand. Lack of sleep has a significant impact on the immune system, along with increased risk of a number of other health issues as well.

Jess Spendlove

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