How your diet can aid your immune system 

The dark nights, lack of sleep, and ongoing stress cause the body to increase levels of cortisol and other hormones connected to hunger. There are many studies that support the fact that hormone tsunami due to various stressors increases appetite — along with your desire for sugary and fatty foods. 

Never before has grabbing an on-the-go sub, microwave meal or takeaway been more available. Although fast food or even supermarket readymade foods fill you up, sometimes the vitamins and minerals, nutrients your body needs to work properly and stay healthy are not as readily available as if you cook everything fresh.
The result: we are on our way to becoming an overfed yet undernourished nation. The highly processed, modern diets do lack nutrients, have high salt contents and sometimes hidden transfat can hijack the immune system.
Cleaning up your eating habits and following a mainly unprocessed, wholefood diet is one of the best interventions to support your immune function.  Good nutrition can help the sleep problems and also curb the side effects of stress.

The gut and the immune system aren’t separate entities operating in isolation as it is the whole body works interdependently. They have a multifaceted and deep-rooted relationship. I.E Each of our body systems are interconnected and dependent on each other. Our heart, which is part of our circulatory system, does not beat unless our brain, which is part of our nervous system, tells it to. Our skeletal system is dependent on our digestive system for an increase in size and strength. Remarkably, 70-80% of immune activity takes place in the gut (3). And so,  feeding the bugs that live in your gut – collectively known as the ‘microbiome’ – means you’ll be supporting your immune system. Nourishing your gut may prompt you to do a ‘spring clean’ of your life, re-evaluating your eating habits, stress levels and sleep hygiene.

What are ‘whole foods?

Whole foods educate the immune system to work better. The nutritional 'cooked from fresh' foods are minimally processed, in as close to their natural form as possible, and immediately identifiable (fruit looks like a fruit, for instance). Conversely, highly processed foods comprise refined carbs, unhealthy fats, free sugars, and salt. They’re also often woefully poor sources of dietary fibre, micronutrients and protein. As such, try to fix healthy meals using real, whole food ingredients: fish, meat, eggs, whole grains, legumes, plenty of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and plenty of fresh herbs and spices. Eating this way ensures every calorie you consume is jam-packed with goodness.

Broccoli vs. biscuits

Unlike a refined biscuit, which offers some nutritional value, broccoli lives up to its superfood reputation. This crunchy cruciferous vegetable's route down to the digestive tract, not only feeds your gut bacteria, but also supports immune function, has a good amount of fibre, and micronutrients and bestows various health benefits along the way. it’s no contest, really.
The five-ingredient rule, although important it is a good idea not to become obsessed with counting calories. Instead, be an ingredient 'sleuth' and live by this rule: limit your intake of shop-bought food products that contain more than five ingredients.
By reducing your consumption of these foods, you’ll default to a healthier way of eating. Consider this: even though an avocado may have more calories than a fizzy drink, you can guess what’s healthier (…and which has more ingredients)?
Allow for the occasional treat. Of course, we understand you may still be tempted by the allure of processed food, especially if you’re tired, working late, or at a social event. That’s fine, on occasion. Whatever the reason, accept this is a one-off and simply enjoy the pleasure of indulging. Just acknowledge that tomorrow is another day to get back on track with healthy whole foods.
- Try to remove all highly processed food from your house. Out of sight, out of mind, right? If you’ve purged your kitchen of highly processed foods, you’ll be less likely to stray.

Write a meal planner. Old school, but extremely helpful. When doing your weekly shop, buy the ingredients you need according to the meal planner.
Have a protein-dense breakfast to promote satiety. Protein helps you stay fuller for longer and prevents those mid-morning energy dips that can 
leave you hankering for unhealthy treats. This is also useful in keeping the cost of food down, especially now that the cost of living has gone up a lot.
Keep an emergency snack pack with you at all times. Stash some nuts, dried fruit, oatcakes or homemade protein bars in your office, car and rucksack for when those food cravings beckon.
Keep frozen fruit and veggies in the house at all times. Perfect for smoothies, snacks, or bulking-out meals.
Develop a repertoire of five simple meals you can quickly whip up. Flick through your favourite recipe books, browse food blogs, and pinch ideas from social media. Find five healthy recipes to form your kitchen mainstays.
Keep pre-chopped garlic and onion in the fridge or freezer. An excellent base for soups, stews, curries and much more. Plus, another incentive is to cook healthy meals. Use Sunday roast vegetables to make delicious 'Bubble and Squeak.
Make your kitchen an appealing environment. Keep it tidy, play your favourite music, adorned it with flowers and plants, display colourful cookbooks, or organise your pantry with beautiful glass jars. Do whatever you need to make the prospect of cooking in your kitchen fun and desirable.

Essential nutrients for your immune system

Besides making an effort to un-process your diet, there are certain foods you should try to eat in abundance thanks to their unique role in immunity. Indeed, like any fighting force, your immune system needs proper nutrition and fuel. To supercharge your natural defences, pack more of these powerhouses into your daily regime.

Microbiome diversity Historically, gut bugs were viewed as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Thankfully, we now understand this approach is far too binary and oversimplified. In truth, a healthy gut microbiome is diverse. Think of your gut bug community as a factory with specialist workers carrying out essential duties to keep you alive. For optimal health, you need to ensure all departments are sufficiently staffed. That’s why hiring a diverse workforce is so paramount.

Modern life’s attack on gut health Sadly, gut health and modern life are at odds with one another. Over the years, the trappings of modernity – highly processed food, psychological stress, over-exercising, a lack of sleep, and much more – have devastated our gut populations. Because the microbiome acts as a critical player in the body’s defence against the outside world, we need to repopulate our gut bacteria.

Eat the rainbow Eating a varied, colourful and fibre-rich diet is one of the simplest ways to transform your gut population. A diverse menu means a diverse microbiome. By increasing the number of foods you eat from all six plant-based groups – vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds – you can increase your intake of fibre. In turn, this may encourage the growth of happy and assorted bugs in your gut. Eating the rainbow can promote such diversity. The different colours in plant foods are known as phytonutrients. The more colours you eat, the more variety of these powerful nutrients you’ll be getting, and the healthier your gut will be.

Did you know? In a study on a Tanzanian hunter-gatherer tribe known as the Hadza, researchers found the Western gut microbiome is around 50% less diverse than theirs (4). amazingly, these tribespeople have access to over 8,000 different plant foods and, on average, eat 2,000 of these throughout their lifetimes.

The three k’s Fermented foods are all the rage these days. But don’t be so quick to pooh-pooh them as just ‘another wellness craze’. Traditionally, fermentation was used as a means of preserving food. But the benefits of fermentation extend far beyond this. Fermentation enhances the natural, beneficial bacteria in food. And these bacteria are widely touted to support gut health. For an extra dose of gut-loving goodness, try to increase your intake of fermented foods. The three k’s are a great place to start: kombucha (fermented tea), kefir (fermented milk), and kimchi (fermented cabbage). To further enhance the microbiome eat foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, artichokes, bananas, okra, cauliflower, broccoli and chicory root.

Many of my patients have started using these and now have a well-working gut and good microbiome to support it.

Chicory root Derived from the dandelion family, chicory root may play a particularly important role in maintaining normal intestinal health. Chicory root contains a specific type of soluble fibre called Fructo-oligosaccharide, otherwise known as FOS. Beyond feeding the healthy bacteria in your gut, soluble fibre also draws moisture into the gut and therefore, may support regularity.

Adequate rest and lowered stress levels are essential to fuel and care for the collection of microorganisms living in your gut.

Don’t over-exercise. 

Does drinking water boost your immune system?

Water truly is the fountain of health. About 60% of the human body comprises water; no wonder we can only last a few days without it. Drinking enough each day helps to stave off dehydration, which is crucial for your overall well-being. Dehydration hinders physical performance, along with digestion, kidney, and heart function. And these complications can increase your susceptibility to infection (1).
Try to drink at least 1.5 litres or eight glasses of water every day – more if you’re active. A simple rule of thumb is to look at your urine: aim for a colour that resembles light yellow to transparent. 
Not all drinks are equal in keeping the body hydrated. Although fizzy drinks, juice, tea, and coffee are ostensibly hydrating, they don’t quite pack the nutritional punch water does. Juice and fizzy drinks are full of calories and high in sugar. And caffeinated beverages, like tea and coffee, are diuretics, which means they cause the body to lose fluids. Why not swap your third coffee for a hydrating and healing herbal tea?
Tips to guzzle more water Have two glasses of water as soon as you wake up in the morning. Set an alarm every hour to get up from your desk and drink a glass of water
Add lemon, orange slices, mint or cucumber for flavour Buy a 600ml reusable water bottle: have one finished by lunchtime and another by the end of work, then top yourself up by dinner.



References: Popkin. B, D’Anci. K, Rosenberg. I. Water, hydration, and health. Nutrition Reviews. 2010;68(8):439-458.

Kim HS. et al., Stimulatory Effect of ??-glucans on Immune Cells. Immune Netw. 2011 Aug;11(4):191-5.

Vighj, Allergy;153:3-6.

Schnorr S. et al., Gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter-gatherers. Nature Communications. 2014;5(1).

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