Eat to beat the winter blues
The summer is pretty much over and as I walked to the station this morning, my breath came out in white plumes - the surest sign that winter is coming!
Although summer is by far the best season for me (I don't feel perpetually cold, its easier to pack to go away, my vitamin D levels soar through the roof, I swim like a happy dolphin at every opportunity, lying on grass or walking through it barefoot is like being in heaven, ice cream is always encouraged, carrying a whole watermelon home feels worth it etc), the autumn has some great moments too. The trees look amazing, the crunchy leaves are fun, it feels snuggly to wear knitted jumpers again, unpacking the winter wardrobe is like greeting long lost friends and there are conkers everywhere!
The thing I look forward to most of all, however, is the food. I am a true believer that nature gives us what we need when we need it and we really need to embrace the natural larder at this time of year. It feels like everyone I know has a cold and I shudder to think of all the germs jubilating in the colder temperatures and mass mix of children in the new school year. Everyone I interact with regularly will have heard me proudly boast that I have not had a cold since October 2015 (amazing isn't it?). In this post, I will share my secret.
Its all about the gut. Our gut is the game-changer in managing our immunity. It houses about 70-80% of our immune system by communicating with the innate or reactive part of it when foreign invaders such as bad bacteria or viruses enter. There are hundreds of species of bacteria in our guts and most of them are good but we also get bad bacteria invading from time to time (like when someone sneezes in your face). The good news is, that we can change the make-up of our gut quickly and effectively by changing our diet.
Things to avoid:
- highly processed food - it makes all the wrong bacteria and yeast grow in the gut and doesn't offer any nutrients to help the good ones grow to fight it off.
- too much medication - things like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, acid-blockers and steroids can damage the gut and block normal digestive function.
- stress - chronic stress alters the gut nervous system creating what is called a "leaky gut" and changing the normal bacteria and decreasing the digestive enzymes - ever had a funny tummy when stressed out? Or become ill at just about the most inappropriate time when you had to perform or present?
So, what can we do to make it super?
- eat real food. Look at something you want to eat and try to imagine the steps it took to get there. How long did it have to travel and how was it preserved along the way? How many different ingredients did it take to make it? Do you understand all the words in the ingredients?
- learn which foods contain gut friendly nutrients: zinc, omega 3, glutamine, vitamin C, probiotics etc.
- take a multi-vitamin if in doubt. I take one that has added probiotics (Boots own brand) and see it as a back-up because I don't otherwise spend my day hunting down specific food items.
Winter is a treat because we can find fresher oranges, loads of robust leafy greens and hearty root vegetables. We can add warming spices such as cinnamon and ginger and slow roast garlic and meat. And then make bone broth - my new favourite thing!