Evidence based optimum nutrition for optimum immunity - a fresh start for your health and wellbeing?
The past 6 months have not been easy. While some people have taken advantage of more time to cook and exercise, others have found this more challenging, with working at home, having the kids around, and needing to produce three meals a day – sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation!
The numbers of cases of COVID-19 are on the rise and lots of people are asking whether the immune system can be "boosted" through diet.
This is a very relevant question for all of us wanting to give ourselves and our loved ones the best chance of fighting off the coronavirus as we move into the Autumn. There is a lot of misinformation about a boosting our immune systems, simply what you want is a healthy immune system, operating at its best. If you have a boosted immune system, it’s in ‘overdrive’ and this state is associated with conditions like autoimmune diseases. What we do know is that optimum nutrition is the key for optimum immunity.
There is also clear evidence that maintaining a healthy weight, an active lifestyle and a balanced and varied diet has huge benefits - reducing risk of cardio-vascular diseases, certain cancers, diabetes, improving your mental health – and even leading to better outcomes for Covid patients.
With the kids finally returning to school and our work life finding a new normal and winter approaching, this may feel like a good time to reassess your health and well-being.
I am now offering consultations on ‘optimum nutrition’ for individuals or families which will look at your diet and lifestyle and help you make sustainable and lasting changes.
I feel passionately that this does not mean you have to have a restrictive boring diet, food is one of the pleasures of life, and eating a balanced varied diet means no food is off limits - moderation and balance are key. I have a range of delicious and healthy recipes to suit even the fussier eaters.
Any ‘Optimum Nutrition’ consultations booked in September will only cost £55 for individuals and include a 45 min remote or socially distanced consultation and personalized diet and lifestyle recommendations. (Please get in touch for family rates – remote consultation)
5% of all consultations will go to SOFEA www.sofea.uk.com in Didcot, which distributes Fare share food waste to those in need around Oxfordshire, runs the Community larder in Didcot and supports disadvantaged young people with education and life skills.
If you would like further information, on ‘Optimum Nutrition’ consultations or any other nutritional consultations please do get in touch for a free initial chat.
The UK’s obesity plan – a view point
Covid has highlighted our country’s growing obesity problem. With c.60% of UK adults overweight or obese the evidence based link between Covid, obesity and poor outcomes has led our Government to produce an obesity strategy ‘designed to get the nation fit and healthy’ and ‘protect themselves against Covid-19’. So what’s in the strategy and will it work?
The strategy recommends is the end of promotional offers on ‘junk foods’, changes in advertising for junk food and an extension of access to free weight loss programs, referral via your GP. I think the first two are positive moves for all of us, to change our food environment by removing the commercial nudges for eating more junk food, whilst encouraging food companies to develop healthy food alternatives. We also know that formal and supported weight-loss programs have good results. However, it’s complex and there are so many different drivers that contribute to obesity – physiology, psychology, culture, education, socio-economic status, as well as the food environment. Providing generic public health strategies is challenging (and often confusing), as every individual’s case is different.
I would like to emphasise that any notion of blame or guilt around the topic of obesity is unhelpful and can lead to disorder eating. We are all unique in our physiology and for some weight management is much more of a challenge, so we need to be more compassionate and less judgmental. I also believe obesity should be defined by a person’s overall health not just their weight. Whatever your weight you will benefit from a more active lifestyle and a healthier balanced diet.
As most of us want to eat well and no one wants a nanny state telling us how to live our lives, these moves should improve the food environment for everyone by reducing the active encouragement of eating junk food and give everyone more information about the food we eat, helping us all live healthier and longer lives.
For more information see the Achieve Oxfordshire's website www.achieveoxfordshire.org.uk or our phone is 01865 338119 and individuals can self-refer.
Should I snack?
Snacking has very much become part of our culture, the market for snack foods is huge, you only have to stand in the queue at a petrol station to eye up the hundreds of snacks on the market, but is snacking as beneficial as it is enjoyable? As with many topics in Nutrition the answer to this is all about context and the individual in question. What your activity levels are, age, medical conditions, nutritional goals etc. and of course the snack itself.
Snacks can be really useful for young children who need a consistent intake of nutrients and energy to support growth and development. Often the same is true for the older adult who may suffer from low appetite and conditions such as acid reflux and then small snack meals have real benefits, as well as providing the extra nutrients in manageable quantities. For athletes and anyone involved in regular sporting activity, particularly endurance sport, snacks are essential pre and post exercise for topping up glycogen levels in muscles, as well as repair and rehydration.
Snacks can also be useful if you simply haven’t had the chance to have a meal, but probably the most important thing is snack choice. Of course, the occasional bar of what you fancy is fine, enjoy it don’t infuse it with guilt but try and make it a treat and not a daily occurrence. If you are you are trying to have a healthier diet and know you are susceptible (known as more food responsive) to the eyelevel ‘snacks’ available in so many food outlets, planning is key. So, arm yourself with a piece of fruit and some nuts, or similar snack that you enjoy and will keep you satisfied and isn’t just a rather expensive bar of ‘empty calories’. Finally watch your portion control, those family size treats may seem good value but we know we eat far more than we think without realizing it!
I’ve put some tasty snack ideas on my website – enjoy!
Eat better in lockdown – Tips on how to curb those cravings
Food and drink have been one of the few pleasures that we have still been able to enjoy during this lockdown and although the odd treat is fine, many of us are finding ourselves eating and drinking more, and have gained a few unwanted inches. Commercial weight loss programs simply don’t work long term, with most achieving limited and/or temporary weight loss. So here are a few practical tips on how to eat better in lockdown.
For more information see my website and please do email any questions
Coronavirus and nutrition – fact and fiction
I hope you are as well as possible during these difficult and unsettling times. Understandably, everyone is worried and wants to do everything possible to protect themselves and others from catching Covid-19. Unfortunately, this fear around the coronavirus pandemic has given rise to all kinds of nutritional quackery, supplements and snake oil products claiming to ‘boost’ your immune system. Keto diets, vitamin C shots and herbal remedies are just some of the misconceptions I’ve seen touted. Please avoid any product using the terms ‘immunity boosting’ or ‘COVID-19 protective’ in its advertising. These are red flags for scientific quackery.
Just to be clear, no single food, nutrient, diet or supplement that will ‘boost’ immunity or prevent you from catching Covid-19. Enticing as it may sound, you don’t want to be ‘boosting’ your immune system. The term, ‘boosting’ is very misleading but it seems to be being used everywhere. An immune system which is ‘boosted’ or over-active can lead to problems such as allergies or autoimmune disease, and some of the more serious complications associated with Covid-19. Anyone peddling such advice does not understand how the immune system works. The only way we can safely ‘boost’ our immune system is through immunization.
A healthy and active immune system is critical to fighting off the Coronavirus. Instead of talking about ‘boosting’ immunity, we should be talking about ‘maintaining’ or ‘supporting’ immunity to avoid infection. We know a varied and balanced diet can ‘support’ our immune system. It can also give us the feeling we are proactively doing some-thing to help ourselves and others, in a time when we are all feeling powerless and vulnerable.
Other lifestyle factors to support immunity
Nutrition is not the only way you can support your immune system, making sure you take regular, but NOT excessive exercise. Studies have shown that regular moderate exercise lowers your risk of infection, more is not necessarily better. Many studies show that long, hard, continuous sessions (over 90 minutes) can temporarily lower your resistance to infection, so this is not the time to be aiming for your PB! Make sure you fuel your exercise too particularly with good quality carbohydrates like porridge. Sufficient carbohydrate can reduce stress hormone levels and the associated drop in immunity following exercise. Exercising with low glycogen stores is associated with bigger increases in stress hormone levels and greater suppression of your immune cells. So now is not a good time to experiment with intermittent fasting diets!
Sleep is also really important as we know lack of sleep depresses the immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses and infection. During sleep your body produces anti-bodies and cytokines, proteins that co-ordinate your body’s response to infection and inflammation. One study found that getting fewer than 6 hours sleep a night can quadruple your risk of getting a cold. Also try where you can, stick to your usual bed and waking times, the body and mind thrives on routine. Avoid blue light for an hour before you go to bed, read, take a bath, listen to music. Do you really need to see the news again, when it’s probably only going to unsettle you? Finding activities that you find relaxing and enjoyable are key from meditation to art, you now have the time to give it a go. I sketched for the first time for probably 20 years this week and found it remarkably relaxing, my kids were even able to recognize what it was!
So, what is this balanced diet?
A balanced varied diet is key, but what does this mean in practice in term of nutrients? Ensure you’re consuming plenty of foods rich in vitamins A, C and E, vitamin B6, zinc, iron and magnesium – nutrients that are vital to the functioning of the immune system. To get these into your diet focus on fresh, frozen and tinned fruit and vegetables, whole grains – the brown rice, pasta, quinoa, oats, lean proteins, beans, eggs, lentils, nuts and seeds, and low-fat dairy while limiting highly-processed foods. I’m sure it’s a message your familiar with and it doesn’t mean deprevation, food is one of life’s pleasures we still can access, however eating too many processed food which are basically ‘empty calories’ mean we won’t be getting all these important nutrients.
Another key message for a balanced diet is variety in all the food groups – so eat the rainbow of colours in fruits and veg – get your kids to make a chart. The blue, purple, red and orange fruits and veg are rich in flavonoids which have antioxidant properties that help support immunity. A 2016 study showed that flavonoids play an essential role in the respiratory tract’s immune defence system, an excellent reason to include a wide range your diet.
There is one other way that nutrition has its greatest impact on our immunity is through our gut. Our gut is host to trillions of microbes that produce chemicals (such as short chain fatty acids) that play a key role in the body’s immune response to infection and maintaining health. In fact, 80% of immune cells reside in the gut. These microbes feed off the fibre from the grains, fruits and veg that we cannot digest and they thrive on a variety of plant fibre, hence one of the reasons variety in the diet, is so important. These plant fibres are called pre-biotics. Particularly beneficial pre-biotics are onions, garlic, pulses, artichokes, leeks, asparagus and whole grains.
So, the best way to increase the beneficial microbes in your gut is by eating a wide range of plant-based foods, which are rich in fibre, and limiting ultra-processed foods. Eating a Mediterranean-style diet with plenty of fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts, seeds and whole grains has been shown to improve the diversity of gut microbes and reduce inflammation. If you can’t get fresh fruit and vegetables while self-isolating, then buy frozen, which are just as nutritious as fresh. You can also increase the number of foods that are probiotics like kefir, natural live yogurt, saukraut, kombucha and sourdough bread. These foods are fermented and contain the live microbes that exist in our gut. You can also take probiotic supplements but there is such a huge range to choose from make sure you select one with robust evidence that the bacteria actually survive our stomach acids and make it to your gut. If you want to read more about Gut health Dr Megan Rossi is a research leader in this area and here is her website.https://www.theguthealthdoctor.com/
I hope you find this helpful and use this unprecedented phase of enforced home living as a chance too cook more from scratch, experiment with new recipes and nourish yourselves with a varied balanced diet.