With the overwhelming threat of Corona Virus and self-isolation, most of us have a lot of time on our hands to think about ‘stuff’. In the last few weeks I’ve had a lot of clients anxiously contacting me to ask about what food they should be eating and what supplements they need to take to boost their immune system.
It is generally agreed in scientific and medical spheres that you have a better chance against Corona if your immune system is functioning well.
Rather than feeling like a sitting duck waiting for Corona to get you, here is a cheerily impressive collection of things that you can do for yourself and your family……
Social distancing and hand hygiene. Not my area of expertise, but these are the most important ones Government guidance
There are many, many nutrients that are involved with the normal functioning of the immune system. There is no one super food or super vitamin that you need to max out on. I know it may be boring, but I maintain my consistent message that a healthy balanced diet is fundamental for your immune system to function well. Here’s a link to the Eat Well Guide. You will be doing very well if you can get these foundations of good, solid nutrition consistently in place.
There are some nutrients that you can make sure you are including that are specifically important for the immune system. I sympathise that supermarket and shop shelves can be sparse at the minute, so it doesn’t matter if these come from fresh, frozen, tinned or dried.
• Vitamin C – citrus fruit (lemons, oranges, grapefruit), kiwi, red pepper, broccoli, potatoes.
• Zinc – meat, fish, nuts and seeds, lentils, eggs, dairy
• Vitamin D – the main source is sunlight, with smaller amounts coming from food. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, egg yolks, mushrooms, fortified foods (breakfast cereals, milk & dairy). If you can’t get outside, then I recommend a vitamin D supplement 1000IU per day.
• Beta-carotene/vitamin A – carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, red and orange peppers
• Folate – broccoli, spinach, breakfast cereal, frozen peas
• Iron – breakfast cereal, red meat, dried fruit
Other important points:
• Taking mega doses in the form of supplements doesn’t provide extra benefits, and in some case can be detrimental. If you are worried that you aren’t able to get these nutrients from food then you could take a Complete Multivitamin – I will elaborate on this in a future post.
• Try not to become hyper focused, obsessive or overly worried about nutrition. Anxiety increases stress hormones in the body which negatively impact the immune system.
• Under-eating or over-eating can negatively impact the immunity (aka being underweight or overweight). Try to keep within a healthy BMI weight range check your BMI
Microbiome – our gut bacteria are essential for a healthy immune system. The healthy gut bacteria are found in the last part of the digestive system (the colon). To feed your gut flora eat a varied diet with lots of high-fibre foods. The more plant foods you consume, the better, it really likes fruit, vegetables, oats, wholemeal bread, beans, lentils and yogurt.
Alcohol – I know, I know, I’ll try not to get all preachy about this – I enjoy a drink as much as the next person. The fact is that boozing through the coronavirus crisis isn’t a great idea, because drinking depletes our immune cells. Daily drinking can lead to a reduction of the lymphocytes, so if Corona virus gets into you, you’re not going to be as good at fighting it off. Alcohol also has a negative impact on your sleep (see point 6)
Move – exercise mobilises the white cells of the immune system by increasing your blood flow. The NHS says adults should be physically active in some way every day. If you are lucky enough to be in a country that is not in complete lock down (yet!) aim for about an hour outside – this has the added benefit of getting vitamin D from daylight. Exercise also releases happy hormones.
Be careful not to over exercise, I regularly see elite athletes who over train and become very susceptible to coughs and colds. This is because too much intense exercise can produce stress hormones which are bad for your immune system. If your exercise leaves you feeling energised, then you’ve probably got it right, but if your exhausted and worn out, then you may be over doing it.
Sleep – Exercising and eating well will have the likely knock-on effect of helping you sleep better, which is a bonus because a tired body is more susceptible to bugs. Lack of sleep impaired the disease-fighting ability of lymphocytes.
Over the coming weeks and months I’ll elaborate on a lot of the points above. If there are any specific topics that you would like me to write about, leave me a comment below!
Thanks for reading xxxxxx
Well it looks like summer may finally be here! After 6 months of grim winter weather, the sun is making an appearance. OK, ‘summer’ may be pushing it………..but when living on the Irish coast, if the thermometer reads anything above 15 degrees C then the summer dresses and flip flops will be out. So quick! Before the sun disappears! I’ll be cookin a new suitably sunny Greek inspired wee recipe! (NB the word ‘wee’ in Northern Ireland is an affectionate term used for pretty much anything, for example a shop assistant may say: “Uck that is a lovely wee top, would you like a wee bag for it? Just pop your wee card in the wee machine there. OK you can put your wee PIN number in now. Would you like me to put your wee receipt in your wee bag?”)
Here’s the wee recipe for flatttened lamb koftas……seriously, you’ll be totally scundered at how good these are 🙂
How to make them healthier:
- Lamb is a high fat red meat, so try to buy the lean mince which has a reduced fat
- Grill rather than fry
- Add loads of crunchy salad in a pitta, tomatoes, humous etc
- 400g lean lamb mince
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 cloves garlic crushed/finely chopped
- pitta bread
- lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, greek yogurt or hummus
- In a bowl, mix the mince, cinnamon, cumin and garlic. Get stuck in and use your hands!
- Grab a handful, and mould in to a patty shape, about the same shape as a pitta bread but a bit smaller
- Place on some kitchen foil and grill for a few minutes on each side
- Put in a pitta (toast the pitta if you prefer), with some lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber and greek yogurt/hummus
Five years ago, not long after my youngest was born, I sat in the cafe at Virgin gym in Kingston chatting to one of the personal trainers about coming along to their Triathlon Club. But with three young kids, and later on two jobs, there was no way I could ever commit to the training.
One year ago, my circumstances changed massively. A move to my home town of Bangor, Northern Ireland in July 2016, somehow gave me the drive to focus on this ambition that had only grown since that initial conversation. I bought a road bike in August, and in September a turbo trainer was delivered to my door (a surprise present from my awesome sister!). This made it possible for me train on the bike every morning at 5am before the kids woke up. Running and swimming were fitted in around the school drop offs/pick ups and work, with longer weekend sessions made possible by my Mum and Dad (and their never ending patience with me and my looney 3!).
June 2017: I had no excuse for not entering the Peninsula Sprint Triathlon. Especially as it was from beach at the end of my road. My sis flew over to look after the children – thank you, and thank you for having them the night before so I could get my ‘race head’ on.
Here is an account of some of the things that were going through my head during the race. It is a VERY cleaned up version. If you can imagine in real life, every other word was very sweary. Very, very sweary.
The 750m Sea Swim “Booooof, aiooooo, elbow in my face…..I’m seeing stars! I’m fine, keep going, no problem.
Mmmmm, I can’t move my jaw, it hurts. Keep going you’re fine. All part of the experience! Just try not to get kicked in the head……that could be worse. What are all these people doing here??? Move out of my way! Not far now. Where’s the next buoy. Yellow, yellow, yellow, look for the yellow buoy. Over there, FFS it’s that way!”
Transition 1: Exiting the water to get on the bike. “Wwwwaooooo, the world is spinning. Waaaaooooo, don’t fall over. Smile at my 3 little people. High five, Mummy’s
feeling great, amazing!!! Waaoooo………focus, don’t fall over. Ok, you’ve got this! Oh jeez, I should be running to the bike!……..pick up your legs…….one two three four five six seven eight. Bike. Where’s my bike? Here you are! Ok, legs out of wetsuit. Why is everything still spinning…….find something to hold on to. You know how to peel a wetsuit off, you’ve done this a million times! Ok bike shoes on, good well done. I really shouldn’t be cycling in this state, I feel like I’m totally drunk. It will be fine. Helmet and glasses on. Run with the bike to the line, don’t slip over…….. clip shoes in, don’t fall off, for goodness sake don’t fall off!!!! High five Me, you didn’t fall off! Ahhhh my lovely bike and a smooth road. Sea swims are for nutters.
The 20 km Cycle: This is funnnnnnnn, hey there are police holding up the cars! Thank you! I love you!!! Oh s***, that guy’s come off his bike. He’s lying on the road. What am I doing?!!! Why am I here? Never mind, I sure he’ll be fine. This is fun again! Legs are feeling good, I’m catching that bike in front. What do I do?? Seems a bit rude to overtake. **** it, I’m going to it anyway. Next!! Oh there’s a girl to over take, BOOOOOM, go legs……..is it a girl? Top half looks like a bloke………….suspiciously smooth legs though. It’s a bloke! Ha ha, lovely hair free legs, must get some tips, tee heee!
Marshalls in your yellow vests. I love you, you make me so happy when you clap and say I’m doing really well. I think we should be best friends, you are soooo lovely. You tell me I can do this and it’s not far now. Thank you!! They said it’s not far now! Hang on, that was 2 minutes ago, I’m still not at the end of the bike leg……you lied to me!! Waaaaaaaah! I’m dying here! Waaaaaaah!
Transition 2: Bike to 5 km run: Yellow line!! Off the bike, run to the bike rack. DO NOT skite on your arse in these slippy shoes. Bike in to rack. Yikes!! How do I hook the bike on to the rack. Focus concentrate, quickly QUICKLY, you’ve rehersed this. There we go back of saddle over the bar. Nooooo!! *$!*!% The bike’s fallen off and taken the next one with it! I’m going to pass out, my eyes are all weird and my hands won’t work because. I’ve spent 37 minutes gripping the handle bars for dear life! Ok, focus. Front of saddle on the bar. Fix the other bike. Good, well done, you’ve got this. Shoe change, work hands work!! Mouth swill of Lucozade. Ha ha! The advantages of being a sports dietitan and knowing the carb mouth swill secret! Don’t swallow any, you know it will make you want to puke. Swill it around, spit it out. Ok where can a spit this gob full out. S***, there’s a photographer…………I can’t spit out now, that would be so disgusting to have that on camera! Abandon nutrition strategy! Swallow the Lucozade. Hope I don’t vom. Jesus my legs.
Final stretch of the 5km run to the finish. “Nearly done, just a few steps on the beach then
through the finish line. Hang on a minute, I’ve got to go to the end of the beach and back again? Jesus no.
I am actually going to puke. Walk 10 steps. Thank you marshall for cheering me on, I’m so sorry for not running, but I’m going to puke. Run again, toughen up, do not walk, it’s like the Marathon Des Sable, if those guys can run 250km over Sahara sand, I can do 500m of Ballyholme Beach! I can see the finish line!! OMG the sand has turned all soft and fluffy, this is cruel! The race briefing said this is a flat course, not a fluffy sandy flat course! Just look at the ground, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, focus on the ground, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. Up the ramp………I’m there! Finished! Sit down, heave, deep breaths, don’t throw up on your children.
10 minutes later: I could SO do that all over again. Olympic distance NO PROBLEM!!
24 hours later: my body feels like a sack of potatoes and my mind is somewhat catatonic. But in a good way 🙂
Thank you to http://bradleyquinn.com for the photos.
Nutrition Nuts, Food Evangilisim, Nutritionally Holiness. These are all good descriptions for people who are absolutely convinced (and will try to convince you too) that their way of eating is the only way to health and happiness. Unprocessed whole foods may be the ideal, but in reality, life can get in the way.
A few weeks ago I was working on the cancer wards at Belfast City Hospital, filling a gap in the staff shortage for a couple of months. At the same time I was single parenting three ‘lively’ children, shopping, cooking, cleaning, refereeing sibling rivalries, homeworks etc. etc. blah blah
Sometimes we need food that we can just throw together in minutes, pulling stuff from the cupboard and not requiring a recipe book. This pasta meal is one of my saviours.
Tin of tomato soup
Tin of tuna
Grated carrot, onion and cheese
In a frying pan with oil, soften the grated carrot and onion (and what ever extra veg you would like to chuck in). Add the tin of tuna, and the tin of soup. Stir in to the cooked pasta. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.
If I was a nutrition nut, I’d say that tinned tomato soup is loaded with salt and sugar. In reality, I use the reduced salt version, and the tin is divided between 4 of us. A wee bit of the ‘bad’ stuff can help the really good stuff go down more easily 🙂
We all know that flavoured yogurts can be laden with sugar. In an ideal world we’d choose natural or plain yogurt which will have none of the added sweetness. But flavoured yogurts taste goooood! So if you find being nutritionally holy with the unadulterated natural stuff tough, here’s a simple tip for taking things in the right direction……
You will need:
- pot of flavoured yogurt
- pot of natural yogurt
Simply pour or scoop out half of the flavoured yogurt and replace with the natural yogurt. Give it a good stir.
You will still have plenty of flavour, but much less sweetness.
For more info, here’s another post on Choosing a Healthy Yogurt
I’ve been astonished by the amount of bacon, sausages and ham that my Northern Irish clients eat everyday. One 19 year old, who has recently been diagnosed with a bowel condition called Ulcerative Colitis, seemed to be eating bacon or sausages at breakfast, lunch and dinner!
So what’s wrong with sausages and ham?
Research has shown that processed meats like these increase your risk of bowel, stomach and pancreatic cancer.
One of the reasons may be that chemicals called nitrites are often used to preserve processed meat. In the bowel nitrites can be converted into cancer-causing chemicals called N-nitroso compounds (NOCs). The presence of these chemicals may explain why many studies have found that processed meat increases the risk of cancer to a greater extent than red meat.
Can I buy sausages and ham that don’t contain nitrites? YES!
My children LOVE sausages and ham. For years, I have borne the ‘Mummy Guilt’ of giving them food that could potentially be carcinogenic, so I tried to limit the amount they were having. It has taken me this long to find my personal Holy Grail of reasonably priced nitrite free versions (I am still on the hunt for nitrite free bacon!)
The Good Little Company – Good Little Sausages, Great Big Sausages and Teeny Weeny Sausages
Established in 2011, The Good Little Company is a Northern Ireland based sausage brand which gives 50% of its profits away to three charity partners in Africa- Christian Aid, Mulanje Mission and Samburu Trust.
Where To Buy: Waitrose, Ocado, Tesco (NI) and Dunnes Stores (NI)
So what’s the verdict of the family taste test? They were definitely a big hit with my 3 kids (and their friend Charlie who joined us for dinner after school on Tuesday night!)
Other nitrite free sausage options: look out for organic sausages as these should be nitrite free
Denny 100% Natural Ham
Denny is the only ham available in supermarkets that has 100% natural ingredients. The Traditional Style Ham has just Pork with Sea Salt, Demerara Sugar and Natural Flavouring (celery and rosemary). Perfect for quick ham sandwiches in the packed lunches!
Where to Buy: As far as I am aware, unfortunately this ham isn’t available outside of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Available in NI at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda.
Although nitrite free, it is still important not to go crazy on these sausages and ham, as there is also an association between red meat and some cancers. I try to mix meal times up with fish, chicken, turkey and eggs for other good protein sources. And of course plenty of veggies, fruit and wholegrain foods.
Sarah Williams, health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: “We already know that not smoking, cutting down on alcohol, getting plenty of fruit and veg and staying active can reduce the risk of developing cancer. Keeping a healthy weight will help to reduce your risk of cancer, so try and be physically active and eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg and fibre, and cut back on red or processed meat, saturated fat, and salt.”
Here’s a helpful and simple infographic from Cancer Research UK on how to reduce your risk of food related cancers: