I don’t get sick very often, and it's not because I'm 'lucky', it's because I intentionally choose habits that will prevent me catching viruses. But very occasionally, I do pick up a virus, and before I studied nutrition, I would just eat comfort foods and surrender to the illness and then crawl out from under my doona when it was all over.
Now I know that food is a very powerful tool in fighting off infection and regaining health quickly, so I’m sharing my top tips for what to do when illness strikes.
Unfortunately there's very little that modern medicine can help with when it comes to cold and flu viruses. However you CAN boost your immune system to help your body heal itself.
Here are my Top 5 Nutrition Tips for Healing:
- Hydration. Keeping the body hydrated helps your body eliminate wastes better, including the viruses and bacteria that your immune system is breaking down. Sometimes the last thing you feel like doing is drinking water when you’re sick. I always used to buy diet lemonade (which I CRINGE at now!) as I hated the taste of water when I was sick. Here are some better suggestions:
- Water with slices of lemon (or other fruit like strawberries, limes or even mint)
- Herbal teas, especially ones containing ginger, lemon, turmeric or peppermint, as they have immune boosting and/or decongestant properties
- Juices like beetroot, carrot, ginger, turmeric, green leaves and apple. I never drink straight fruit juice anymore due to the sugar content (yes, even if it’s freshly squeezed!)
- Probiotics. The gut is where the majority of your immune system resides, and so it’s critical to ensure you provide the best environment for this system to thrive. I make my own kombucha and drink it every day to keep my gut bacteria healthy. I also flavour it with turmeric and ginger for that extra antioxidant boost. Other fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir are also great sources of healthy gut bacteria. If making your own kombucha or fermented foods isn’t your thing, then you can buy high quality probiotics at your health food shop or pharmacy. Some yoghurts are also a great source of probiotics.
- Garlic, Ginger, Turmeric. This trifecta of immune boosting antioxidants are a powerhouse of goodness and I make sure I have a steady supply of these on hand especially when there is illness in my household. Turmeric is especially good grated into stir fries, juiced, tossed into scrambled eggs, in a smoothie and in a tea. The flavour is VERY strong so use small quantities initially until you work out how much you like. You’re probably more familiar with how to use ginger and garlic so I won’t go into that too much. I have raw garlic in guacamole and ginger in tea, juices and water and well as cooking with them both.
- Orange foods. Foods such as carrots, pumpkin and sweet potato contain carotenoids, which are high in antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory and boost immunity. That’s why putting these vegies in a nourishing soup makes you feel so good.
- Protein. Protein is needed to repair the body and promote recovery during illness. You also need protein for your immune system to function effectively. If you don’t feel like eating much in the way of solid foods, then blitzing pulses in a soup can help boost protein without being difficult to digest. Try my immune boosting Pumpkin Soup with White Beans recipe.
There are so many more nutrients that I could go into, such as zinc and iron, but the best way to ensure that you’re getting all of the nutrients you need to beat illness is to eat loads of fresh vegetables and fruit as a priority. Of course, getting lots of rest and some sunshine will help as well.