By Jen Bucciarelli
The best way to fight the flu this fall (and yuck, yes, the flu season is upon us—it begins in October) is to strengthen our immune system.
Eating a daily balanced diet doesn’t solely benefit our organs and help to keep us at an optimal weight; it is a habit that encourages our body to provide a protective barrier against pathogens like the flu virus.
Two experts—Nancy Raymond, registered dietician and fellow in anti-aging and functional medicine of Optimal Health Solutions in Rochester Hills and Anne Baker, certified holistic nutritionist and lifestyle educator of Nourish Holistic Nutrition—share some of their tips and guidelines for boosting our immune system so the Rochester community can be proactive against the flu this fall.
“The best defense is good offense,” Raymond said in an email response.
Roughly eighty percent of our immune system is found in our gastrointestinal tract. So, it’s no wonder that the key to avoiding the flu altogether lives in our gut. In order to keep our gut healthy, we have to maintain a proper balance “between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria,” Raymond said.
A target ratio might be between 80 to 85 percent ‘good’ to 15-20 percent ‘bad’ flora (bacteria), Baker said. “By maintaining a healthy gut, we can improve our immunity all year-round.”
So how can we balance our intestinal flora and boost our immunity? Both Raymond and Baker agree that increasing our daily vegetable and fruit intake is the best starting place.
“I like to tell people to eat from the rainbow,” Raymond said.
Ten servings of fruits and vegetables each day might sound like a lot, but “a serving size is half a cup of cooked, or a cup of raw vegetables,” she said. “If you had a plate filled with greens and veggies for a salad, it would equal about three cups.”
Mushrooms are good sources of zinc and copper, which are important nutrients for the immune system. Mushrooms offer a bounty of B vitamins, too, Raymond said. B vitamins support adrenal health to assist the body in stress reduction, “Which ultimately helps your immune function.”
Housing high levels of glutathione, a robust antioxidant needed in the energy cycle, according to Raymond, is a “great choice to add to your plate.”
Antioxidants help fight free radicals, tempering inflammation in the body. “Inflammation weakens the body and the immune system in many ways and is the precursor to every chronic disease,” she said.
Parsley and kiwi
Vitamin C is a well-known immune-booster as it is a powerful antioxidant that soothes and prevents inflammation. Found in citrus fruits and dark greens, Raymond offers kiwi and parsley as options when cooking.
Juicing is fun for kids who need more veggies
To help your family increase their vegetable and fruit consumption, juicing might be a fun option, Baker said. Her quick juicing tip: Apples can be paired with any vegetable and carrots may be juiced with any fruits. “But other than that, stick to just veggies or just fruit,” she said. “And, juicing is best taken on an empty stomach.”
“Protein is needed for a healthy (digestive) tract and immune system,” Raymond said. “Low protein status can result in altered immune function.”
Both Raymond and Baker recommend organic and grass-fed meats when possible.
We’ve heard that fiber is beneficial, for more reasons than one. But in this year’s fight against the flu, the dietary fiber from plants supplies the prebiotics (or food source) to our intestinal probiotics (or flora, bacteria). Through eating more vegetables, a balanced micro floral environment will be the result, Raymond said, ultimately improving our immune system strength.
Another way to boost intestinal flora and or immune system is by consuming probiotics in foods such as yogurt or kefir (a beverage made from fermenting milk with kefir grains). High quality probiotics are difficult to find in the store because living organisms must be refrigerated and with out-of-state shipments, it can be difficult to know if the product was refrigerated constantly. This is why Baker suggests making your own probiotics.
“It’s easy and less expensive,” she said.
“When you’re feeling crummy, even if you don’t have the flu, chances are you probably have impaired digestion,” Baker said. “Your gut is not able to break down food properly so you become more susceptible to catching a cold or the flu.”
Aside from improving our nutritional consumption, hydration is also beneficial in keeping our internal environment balanced. Our liver and kidneys flush toxins from our bodies and need water to do this, Raymond said. “Staying hydrated and drinking enough water is important—I recommend half of a person’s body weight in ounces of water (per) day as a goal.”
Additional guidelines to remember
Both Baker and Raymond agree that protecting your body against a virus such as the flu and just being health in general is a lifestyle choice rather than a single action. Here are a few additional proactive steps to keep in mind this season as you fight the flu:
“Sleep is critical,” Raymond said, it is when the body regenerates and a lack of sleep becomes a stressor to the body.
“Managing all types of stress, including sleep hygiene and quality, and finding time for yourself to relax will help to keep your immune system strong and protect you from colds and the flu,” she said.
Add enhanced immunity to the list of strength gained from fitness. Moderate exercise, three to four times a week will strengthen your immune system and help you to fight infections, she said. (Just another reason to lace up the sneakers and go for a stroll!)
“Our bodies are meant to move!” Raymond said.
Many don’t realize that our body’s lymph (or the fluid in the lymphatic system which helps our immune system) is everywhere but can be categorized in two main areas, Baker said, from the shoulders down, on either side of the spinal cord and in the digestive system. Sometimes a massage might be the answer to getting our lymph moving, she said.
“We have to keep the lymph clear and flowing to remain healthy,” and anything that makes us “jiggle,” as in exercise or a massage will do the trick.
Sunlight and vitamin D
Fifteen minutes of sunlight a day is typically enough for our body. But living in a state that experience a lack of sunlight during the winter, nearly 80 percent of Michiganders are deficient in this key immune-booster.
“I see it in practice all the time—if patients are taking their vitamin D and have their levels up to optimal (range), they are able to fight off colds and the flu throughout the year,” Raymond said.
As it is her favorite flu-preventive measure, she also suggests getting your vitamin D3 levels checked to maintain a healthy immune system.
Wash your hands
The flu virus accumulates by contact with ports of entry like our eyes, nose and mouth. Washing our hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds is just another proactive step to take against the flu this year.
Want to meet Anne Baker or Nancy Raymond?
Here are some upcoming events you may be interested in:
Food as Medicine: Thursday, Oct. 25 at 7p.m. in the Authentic Living Center in Troy.
This event is geared for anyone suffering from a chronic illness; anyone who has been diagnosed with autoimmune disease; those who have recently undergone chemotherapy or radiation and those experiencing gastrointestinal distress or debilitating fatigue.
Anne Baker, certified holistic nutritionist and lifestyle educator and Alice Goodall, herbal consultant, will be presenting on how to support your body and guide you through healing with food and herbs.
Please RSVP via firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-828-8494.
To learn more about Anne Baker and her work at Nourish Holistic Nutrition, be sure to take a look at www.NourishHolisticNutrition.com.
Optimal Health Solutions celebrates one-year anniversary with ribbon-cutting ceremony: Thursday, Nov. 8 at 4 p.m. at Optimal Health Solutions (1460 Walton Blvd, Suite 210)
Celebrating the one-year anniversary of Optimal Health Solutions in Rochester Hills, Nancy Raymond, owner and integrative and functional medicine dietitian will host a ribbon-cutting event sponsored by the Rochester Chamber of Commerce.
Raymond, who has a master’s in both metabolic nutrition and medicine and in exercise science, specializes in preventive wellness and managing chronic disease naturally through nutritional therapies.
Healthy snacks will be served and there will be a question-answer session regarding available services at OHS.
For more information about Nancy Raymond and Optimal Health Solutions, please visit www.YourOptimalHealthSolutions.com.