4-ways to stay healthy as Nature intended this winter
Will you stay healthy as Nature intended this winter and beat the bugs? When it comes down to it prevention is definitely better than cure… but I’m talking prevention as nature intended not flu jabs and the like.
Staying healthy as Nature intended, comes from a food-and-lifestyle-as-medicine approach: eating real (mostly) unprocessed food, cooking (mostly) from scratch, moving our bodies outside, getting enough restorative sleep, managing stress (and making time for relaxation including play), maintaining or making social connections (despite the weather) and finding purpose and meaning in our lives.
Research shows that making better lifestyle choices and adopting healthy habits will greatly reduce the chances of us getting sick as colds and flu abound.
In this post, I’ll share four ways we can stay healthy as Nature intended this winter. I’ll also share some bonus tips on how to nurse yourself back to health if you do succumb… after all, even healthy people get sick!
4 ways to stay healthy as Nature intended this winter
Tip#1: Keep your GUT healthy
80 percent of our immune system is in our gut microbiome, so it follows that the best way to improve our microbiome is through a varied and colourful diet:
- Keep eating a wide range of phytonutrient-rich, colourful fruits and vegetables this winter, plus lots of dark leafy greens, berries, onions, and raw garlic.
- You’ll also want to feed and seed your gut microbes as well as yourself – so add in a variety of fibre-rich prebiotic foods (garlic, onions, leeks, apples, cocoa, seaweeds, flaxseeds)to provide food for your gut microbes and home-made probiotic foods (fermented veggies like krauts and kimchi) that help seed your gut with beneficial bacteria.
- Spices are amongst the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet (that’s why we need only small amounts) so adding spices such as ginger, cumin, turmeric, oregano, and cinnamon to your food can not only help to improve your digestion, they have the added benefit of supporting your immune system with anti-oxidant, anti-viral and antibacterial properties.
- High-quality, organic dairy, nuts and seeds, organic meats and sustainably sourced fatty fish are all excellent components of a gut-healthy diet.
As we transition into winter, the summer and early autumn abundance has given us the opportunity to enjoy a seasonal ‘carb-fest’ of ripe, local fruits and vegetables – foods that fuel our energy needs for winter, delivering quick, powerful and easily burned nutrition to our muscles.
This seasonal ‘carb-loading’ is an evolutionary and adaptive process; it peaks towards the end of September, when our wise bodies become naturally insulin-resistant and begin to divert excesses of carb-derived energy into fat storage – ready for a much slower winter burn.
Download my free eBook on Seasonal Eating for more on what to eat over the winter months and my book Once Upon a Cook- Food Wisdom, Better Living offers a treasury of real food wisdom to take back your health.
Tip #2: Keep track of your Vitamin D levels
While for everyone, no matter what age or gender, vitamin D deficiency is a sure-fire way sabotage our health, for women, our physiology makes us particularly at risk for a wide range of low-D related conditions.
The best way to increase vitamin D levels is exposure to the sun, but of course, this is not always possible during the winter months, so it might be advisable to consider supplementing.
There is an enormous range of vitamin D supplements on the market – with huge variation in their efficacy and quality – so it’s always best to supplement under the guidance of a health care practitioner experienced in supplements.
Here are some basic guidelines when considering supplementing:
- ALWAYS get a blood test done* before supplementing with vitamin D to check if you are deficient and to set a baseline against which to monitor and adjust supplement dosage.
- SUPPLEMENT with vitamin D3, not D2: this is the form of D that your body produces in response to sun exposure.
- ALWAYS tandem D3 with vitamin K2: K2 keeps calcium in the bone and out of soft tissue.
- CONSIDER a B-vitamin complex: Low D changes intestinal bacteria that produce our daily dosage of the B vitamins, which help convert our food into energy to fuel our body throughout the day.
- CONSIDER a magnesium supplement – the overwhelming majority of us (including men) need it. Why? Because all the processes in our body are synergistic – we don’t use nutrients, vitamins and minerals in isolation, so to be to convert vitamin D into its active form, we need sufficient magnesium. This means that an underlying magnesium deficiency can show up as a low vitamin D blood level and supplementing with D alone may not raise D blood levels.
Remember: it’s still important to get as much natural light as you can during the winter months: this will offer a host of benefits and will help you maintain a positive attitude, which will help boost your immune system (see Tip #4).
Tip # 3: Prioritise enough quality sleep
Without sufficient quality sleep our body can’t repair from the daily toils of living, nor can it heal from disorder and disease. Chronic stress disrupts our hormone production and our sleep physiology, making restful, restorative sleep impossible. Surprisingly, we need sufficient energy for quality sleep.
Our body works very hard while we sleep to repair itself from the damage of… just living!! That means we need to eat enough energy-rich foods during the day we don’t run out of energy during the night and enter ‘stress mode’.
When it runs low on energy, our body calls for the release of the stress hormone cortisol in order to release stored energy to fuel its repair. Because cortisol is an ‘awakening’ hormone, it makes disrupts our sleep, making us restless and ultimately waking us up.
By eating enough during the day to store sufficient energy for the night-shift, we’re sending our body a message of ‘safety’ – that all is well. If you are prone to waking around 2 – 3 am re-consider your diet during the day… are you eating enough?
As the days get shorter over the winter months, take a cue from the sun and go to bed earlier; take heed of granny’s wisdom – an hour’s sleep before midnight is worth two after midnight. This is because melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone) is higher in the earlier part of the night, supporting sounder, better quality, sleep.
Limit caffeine, avoid alcohol and turn off the television, computer and phone at least one hour before going to bed. The blue light from our addictive devices tells our brain it’s still daylight, disrupting melatonin production BIG time.
Tip #4: Move it! Outside! Often!
While the winter months make us less than enthusiastic to get our butt’s outdoors for exercise… we’d be well advised to wrap up and do it anyway. As well as making us feel better, regular exercise strengthens our immune system and allows our lymphatic system to pump out toxins (moving lymph depends on moving our body circulatory system of its own).
The blue light we get from time spent outdoors (especially in the mornings) is invaluable to a healthy immune system. Exposure to blue light and ultraviolet light from the sun increases the movement of T cells, a key part of our immune system.
In between times, it won’t hurt to get into the habit of a daily at-home workout, no need to join a gym or own any gym equipment – just try Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s 5-minute kitchen workout for an insanely simple workout.
And group exercise classes or joining a Park Run (you can walk too) especially in the winter months when we tend to hibernate, will not only keep us moving but will help us to stay connected to others – such a critical factor in strengthen our immune system and, let’s face it, every aspect of our health.
From psychological theories to recent research, there is significant evidence that social support and feeling connected can help people maintain a healthy body mass index, control blood sugars, improve cancer survival, decrease cardiovascular mortality, decrease depressive symptoms, mitigate posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms, and improve overall mental health. The opposite of connection, social isolation, has a negative effect on health and can increase depressive symptoms as well as mortality.
-Jessica Martino, The Connection Prescription
So move. Use it. Don’t lose it!
But, what if you still end up getting sick?
Even with the best efforts, we can still end up getting sick. When I succumb to the lurgy, in truth it’s usually because I’ve been overdoing things and not prioritising getting quality sleep!
So if this resonates, put first things first and allow your body the time to recover. Take your foot off the gas, stop putting your pedal to the metal and take some time out and REST. Trying to push through puts your body into stress-mode instead of recovery mode… and usually results in downstream complications… so ease off and ‘hygge’ yourself.
Prioritise remedies that you can reach out for in your (wells-stocked) natural kitchen, rather than on dubious chemical formulations with mysterious ingredients and a host of potential side-effects. Here are some quick ‘as Nature intended’ hits to help fight off the lurgy over winter:
- Old-fashioned chicken soup good for the body viruses and colds… be very afraid) as well as for the soul. Make yourself a pot of chicken bone broth and sip it frequently throughout the day; your body will thank you.
- Adding spices to your foods as beverages can help ease congestion… think peppermint tea.
- Drinking tea! It’s practically a legal requirement for us Brits to indulge in tea drinking. Teas and herbal infusions are a great way to improve your health and well-being naturally. Drinking green tea throughout the day can help to support immune health.
- A hot lemon, honey and ginger toddy is a great immune helper: lemon helps to thin mucus, fresh ginger juice helps with inflammation and raw (ideally local) honey soothes a sore throat and fights the bacteria that cause infection.
- Diffusing high-quality essential oils – they’re Nature’s powerful pharmacy and can reduce the risk of colds, reduce fever, treat viral infections and offer a powerful alternative to medications.
Finally, we should be prepared to listen to our body and… do nothing. There are times when we should not suppress symptoms fevers help us to clear our body of viruses and bacteria and give our body a fair chance to work… as nature intended!
This Celeriac Dauphinoise is a classic winter warmer. Celeriac adds another dimension to a traditional dauphinoise, but you could replace it with sweet potato – or just more potato! Delicious and versatile – it’s a luxurious vegetarian main course, or a great side to pan-fried fish, succulent steak, aromatic roast lamb, or tender beef.
Herbs and spices add yet more flavour; this recipe calls for thyme, but a teaspoon of finely chopped fresh herbs like rosemary, tarragon or sage are also delicious – as are a couple of pinches of ground cloves, or even a teaspoon of masala spices. (Please note: NOT all at once!).
For even more flavour and replace some of the cream with nutritious, healing chicken stock.