As we head deeper into the winter months, many of us are putting the hard hours in at the gym. We have settled back into a routine and we are working hard toward our goals and of course, looking good for Christmas! Pounding hours on the treadmill, pressing heavy weight or explosive sprints in spinning all have an effect on our muscular system, our cardiovascular system, our nervous system, our skeletal system and of course – our immune system. All the systems in our body work together to drive us, fuel us, repair us and we must keep them in check. Up to 75% of our immune system is present in your gut! So, as you can imagine, what we eat will have a huge influence on our health, immunity and how we look and feel. Let’s have a look at what we can do to protect and enhance it;
Step 1 – Reduce Inflammation
We may do damage when we exercise, but don’t worry – this can be a good thing. This damage happens not only in muscle fibre but many other areas of our body. It sends out chemical signals which creates a certain amount of inflammation. Inflammation seals off the affected areas and heals the damage. Indeed, exercise at low intensities can actually reduce inflammation and protect against ageing! Chronic inflammation or inflammation that is too high is what we want to avoid. Chronic inflammation has also been related to weight gain as well, so keeping it in check is important. Which foods really help inflammation?
Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and highly anti-inflammatory as well, which makes it a must in our recovery foods. And if that weren’t enough, curcumin (or turmeric) does not have any of the side effects associated with drugs or other supplements. You can add it to smoothies, juices or into salads and curries as well. Half a teaspoon in your recovery drink will help with post exercise inflammation.
Fruit & Vegetables
Berries pack a real punch when it comes to nutritional value. Strawberries, blueberries and most other fruit are high in Vitamin C which really helps immunity. The phytonutrients and antioxidants in fruit accelerate repair and mop up damage.
Eat your Greens
You can’t go wrong with leafy greens and as cabbage and kale are coming into season now, it has never been easier to get hold of them. These are nutritional powerhouses when it comes to immunity.
Foods to avoid
Certain foods actually cause and increase inflammation in the body -we want to limit or avoid these guys as much as possible These are fried foods, refined sugars, red and processed meats, margarine and sugary drinks. These foods not only trigger inflammation but also encourage our body to store energy as fat!
Step 2 – Develop Good Gut Bacteria
Many of us may have heard that over 70% of our immune system is present in our gut or intestines! So how does that work? Simply put, our intestines contain more immune cells than the rest of our bodies. The bacteria in our gut plays a very important role in digesting food and keeping us healthy. Gut bacteria are known to aid the production of certain vitamins, such as vitamins B and K – which play a major role in immune function. So what foods should we be eating to help our gut bacteria?
Fermented Based Foods
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and miso are very good at feeding your gut with healthy live micro-organisms that will crowd out the unhealthy bacteria, improve the absorption of minerals, and improve overall health. Fermented plant-based foods are probiotics that have been found to improve the health of the intestinal cells, improve immune function, decrease allergies, reduce the risk of colon cancer, and treat diarrhoea.
Legumes & Beans
Build consumption up slowly as you need to build the good bacteria to help break down and digest the beans. Any legume will help release short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) that strengthen your intestine cells, improve absorption of micronutrients, and help with weight loss. Beans rev up your immune system. Calorie for calorie, beans offer the most nutrition bang for your buck. They are packed with fibre, protein, folate, and B vitamins, which play a role in regulating a healthy gut and a healthy brain.
Fruits & Greens
Again, back to cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale and cauliflower which reduce inflammation and risk of certain cancers. Fruits such as blueberries contain anthocyanins, the pigment that gives blueberries their blue colour. They contain antioxidants, vitamin K compounds, and fibre that make blueberries a nutrient bomb. Studies continue to show blueberries may help strengthen our memory, improve our immune system, and diversify our gut bacteria.
Step 3 – Eat a colourful Diet
Halloween is a time of the year where we see lots of pumpkins – these are part of the squash family which have numerous immune boosting qualities. Not to mention pumpkin seeds which are high in zinc – zinc is probably the number one vitamin for immunity! Pumpkins are also exceptionally high in Vitamin A, fibre and folate which all boost immunity along with vitamin D. Many orange coloured foods are high in carotene and have immune boosting qualities, so go for pineapple, ginger, carrots, and any citrus fruits. Garlic also contains active compounds that may help reduce your risk of infection. It is anti-bacterial, antimicrobial, and can also fight viral infections. It is a very potent food for immunity. For instance, allicin, the main active compound in garlic, is thought to improve your immune cells’ ability to fight off colds and the flu.
Take Home Message
Start to move toward seasonal vegetables like squash, carrots, parsnips and you can create wonderful roasted veg trays in the oven. You can also create great curries with lots of turmeric and ginger. Don’t forget your fruits as well. Utilize your blenders and Nutri-bullets to boost your immunity and reduce inflammation. For recipes, please check our Instagram account at mynutritionireland.