Dietitian Hayley Blieden, Founder of The Australian Superfood Co shares her immune boosting advice for adults and children.
Hayley says: "We are living in unprecedented times as a flu-like virus sweeps through the world confining us to our homes and changing life as we know it. While staying home and observing social distancing practises are paramount to staying safe during the Covid-19 pandemic, here are my top tips for boosting immunity during this stressful time."
1. Eat two (fruit) and five (veg), or even better two and ten
Fruits and vegetables are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, fibre, and disease-fighting phytochemicals. Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables everyday can help boost immunity. It is no secret that vitamin C is a powerful immune boosting nutrient.
Naturally found in oranges, broccoli, cantaloupe, cauliflower, kale, kiwi, papaya and capsicum. Enhanced with native Australian Kakadu plum – regarded as the highest known natural source of vitamin C – The Australian Super Food Co’s Vitamin C Booster contains more than the daily requirement of vitamin C. Scientifically proven to reduce the duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms.
2. Eat the rainbow
Colourful fruits and vegetables contain a myriad of vitamins and antioxidants. Along with maintaining good health, the nutrients in vegetables and fruits work together to boost immunity, as well as protecting against cancer, heart disease, vision loss, hypertension and other diseases. Phytonutrients are found in plants. They offer many different health benefits, while also providing fruits and vegetables with distinct flavours and colours. For instance, red fruits and vegetables have lycopene and anthocyanins which help your organs and circulatory system stay healthy. Orange fruits and vegetables are rich in beta carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, and antioxidants. They help support your immune system and protect your body against cell damage. Green fruits and vegetables get their colour from chlorophyll, which helps your body eliminate toxins. Purple fruits and vegetables contain tonnes of antioxidants that raise your good cholesterol and support brain health. Eating the rainbow ensures you have a great variety of all the necessary vitamins and nutrients to keep your immune system strong and healthy. Smoothies and salads are a great way of incorporating colour into your diet. Vitamin C boosters can be added to smoothies.
3. Increase your intake of pre and probiotics
Celebrated for their health benefits, probiotics are tiny living microorganisms, including bacteria and yeast, believed to improve and restore healthy gut flora and enhance immunity. Prebiotics, on the other hand, serve as food for the probiotics, supporting the probiotic growth of gut bacteria and potentially enhancing digestion and metabolism.
Both probiotics and prebiotics are thought to support the body in building and maintaining a healthy collection of bacteria and microorganisms, which supports the gut and aids digestion. As well as benefiting digestive health, pre and probiotics are believed to aid mental health and general wellbeing. A recent study led by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that supplementation with a probiotic/vitamin C combination may be beneficial in the prevention and management of upper respiratory tract infection. The Australian Super Food Co’s Vitamin C Booster expertly blends vitamin C with pre and probiotics to deliver an effective and easy immunity boost.
4. Get outside
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient essential to the health and functioning of our immune system. Vitamin D enhances the virus fighting effects of white blood cells that are important immune defence, while also decreasing inflammation, which helps promote a more effective immune response. Sunshine is the best source of vitamin D, however only when the ultraviolet levels are below a three rating to minimise the harmful effects.
Low vitamin D levels are associated with an increased risk of upper respiratory tract infections, including influenza and allergic asthma, with recent research suggesting that taking the vitamin may protect against respiratory tract infections.
5. Sleep, sleep, sleep
During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which help promote sleep. Certain cytokines need to increase when you have an infection or inflammation, or when you're under stress. Sleep deprivation may decrease production of these protective cytokines. In addition, infection-fighting antibodies and cells are reduced during periods when you don't get enough sleep.
6. Stay hydrated
Without water, our bodies would stop functioning at their prime. Water is necessary for a range of bodily functions, for instance, blood – which contains a lot of water – carries oxygen to all the cells of your body. Lymph (from the Latin word lympha meaning water) is the fluid that flows through the lymphatic system, which helps you fight off illness, ensuring toxins and diseases are flushed through the system. There is no magic amount of water that kids need daily, rather the amount kids require depends on their age, body size, health, and activity level, plus the weather (temperature and humidity levels). Usually, kids drink something with meals and should definitely drink when they're thirsty. But if you're sick, it's warm or you're exercising, you'll need more. Our body regulates the amount of water in your system and is able to hold on to water when you don't have enough or get rid of it if you have too much.
7. Stay active
Colds are inevitable at some point, but recent research indicates that a person’s level of physical activity influences their risk of respiratory tract infections. Moderate levels of regular exercise seem to reduce susceptibility to illness compared with an inactive lifestyle, however, long, hard bouts of exercise and periods of intensified training put athletes at an increased risk of colds and flu.
A one-year study of over 500 adults found that participating in one to two hours of moderate exercise per day was associated with a one third reduction in the risk of getting an upper respiratory tract infection compared with individuals that had an inactive lifestyle. Other studies have shown that people who exercise two or more days a week have half as many days off work due to colds or flu as those who don’t exercise. While finding the time to exercise at home can be difficult with the kids around, encourage them to take part in your workouts by creating a circuit for everyone to be part of, or mirroring each other with your squats and lunges. My kids are loving being involved, and I’m proud to say both kids can now do burpees and squats and love it!
8. Hand hygiene
Washing your hands properly can help prevent the spread of the germs (like bacteria and viruses) that cause diseases. Some forms of gastrointestinal and respiratory infections can cause serious complications, especially for young children, the elderly, or those with a weakened immune system. Observe proper hand hygiene by rubbing soap on your hands and between your fingers for a minimum of 20 seconds. Ensure you wash your hands immediately after you have been out of the house, touched your face, handled rubbish or any frequently used things in the house such as door handles and taps. It’s also a good idea to leave your shoes outside and wipe things down daily with anti-bacterial cleaner.
Especially during high stress times, having downtime in your day – everyday – is a priority. Our bodies are not designed to cope with mounting stress and cortisol levels compounded daily by more stress and cortisol. We only have so much energy (mental and physical), and after we reach our body’s limit, we begin running on empty, leading us to get overwhelmed, reduce our immunity and ultimately, get sick. Daily meditation enables our bodies to control stress, decrease anxiety, improve cardiovascular health, and achieve a greater capacity for relaxation. Simple stretches, a gentle walk or hot bath are also great ideas to help relax. While the kids are home, enjoy a board game or puzzle together or get creative with them by painting and completing mindfulness colouring pages.
Hayley adds: "While the world is going through these major changes, I am taking it as an opportunity to reset. It’s been amazing to see my husband’s stress levels so reduced. He doesn’t have to rush off to work and is more patient. It has been so nice spending the extra time together, even if it is working across the dining table from each other. Having the extra time at home has even enabled me to cook dinner from scratch for the first time in ages!"