We all know a strong immune system is critical to good health and when there are flu and viruses and other lurgies around we get all obsessed with boosting our immune system and increasing family immunity.
And then most of us – let’s be honest – forget about it and go back to our bad old ways, until the next panic.
And too often that’s because all those tips we’ve grabbed from Dr Google for boosting our immune system are just way too complicated : they’re all about fancy foods and recipes, complicated smoothies and juices and teas with obscure ingredients plus shots and supplements that cost a small fortune. They’re none of them sustainable in everyday life.
Especially, if we’ve got kids.
But you know what?
There are easy everyday habits that truly can boost – and balance – our immune systems. They are not a miracle cure, just simple ways to stick to medical advice about a healthy lifestyle in our crazy over-busy lives.
And they work because they restore our body’s natural arsenal of disease defeating weapons to full fighting order.
So do check out these easy immune boosting habits – save them for quick reference later – and give them a go. They really did transform my family’s health …
Immune Boosting Habits
(Please note, I am not a doctor and these tips should not be treated as medical advice. Remember vaccinations and good hygiene are the best way to prevent the spread of flu and viral diseases.)
1. Get A Good Night’s Sleep
I know, I know, it’s dull, it’s obvious but it doesn’t matter how many expensive immune boosting supplements we take, we will still keep getting sick and struggle to get better if we don’t sleep well night after night.
Our immune systems need us to get plenty of shut eye – it’s that simple.
2. The Simplest Chicken Bone Broth
Our gut is a major weapon in our immune system.
But rubbish food, stress and over use of antibiotics have trashed the good bacteria our gut uses to fight disease and infection.
A regular bowl of bone broth can restore gut bacteria but need not involve start from scratch, strip-the-carcass faff and effort.
Find a butcher or local store where you can buy proper chicken bone broth and make soup in five minutes by chucking in :
- handfuls of frozen veg
- finely chopped chives & spring onions (both good for the gut)
- bits of broken noodle or pasta or even better barley
- any leftover meat
- naturally antibiotic herbs
- fried crushed garlic if you’re a fan
Freeze broth so you can whip some up fast when anyone gets flu.
3. Quick Good Gut Sides
Loads of yummy foods can restore gut bacteria but to stick to our immune boosting habits we need instant sides or snacks we can grab fast.
These 10 quick side dishes provide a range of natural probiotics, (good bacteria), and prebiotics, (food for our good bacteria):
- Apples and pears
- Sugar free live yoghurt or creme fraiche
- Blue cheese
- Spoonful of sauerkraut
- Grated carrot
- A few pieces of very dark chocolate
- Chopped cucumber marinated in apple cider vinegar & salt for 30 minutes for instant pickles
- Ginger tea
- Chicory – combine with slices of apple or pear, crumbled blue cheese, walnuts & apple cider vinegar for the quickest gut boosting salad.
Have a couple of these every day and you’ll notice the difference.
4. Guzzle Green Soup
We all know we should eat our greens daily – they’re full of immunity boosting vitamin C, iron, folic acid and vitamin A – but we don’t, do we?
Heaps of broccoli or spinach aren’t the most appetising when we’re tired and stressed out life juggling. And although green smoothies can help they are a bit hardcore aren’t they?
So savour a warm bowl of green soup – made in minutes in a blender – instead. Just chuck in & blend and then heat:
- a few big handfuls of green veg
- a small handful of nuts – e.g. cashews, peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts – for zinc, vitamin A & E
- half a can or so of chickpeas, lentils or beans for protein and more immune boosting minerals
- either of these gut friendly flavourings:
- Turmeric, cumin & curry powder
- Blue cheese
Sticking to this easy habit every day or so has helped me loads. I really notice the difference if I drop the green soup for a few days.
5. Quick Oily Fish Stir Fry
Vitamin D has a vital role balancing our immune system. It helps prevent it under reacting to disease and over reacting to everyday stuff.
Most of us store up vitamin D in the summer but can run low in the short, grey days of winter when we’re cooped up inside.
Fresh, oily fish like salmon and tuna are a brilliant source of winter vitamin D and great in a super quick stir fry – with with multi-vitamin rich red pepper, broccoli and carrot – that can be on the table in 10 minutes.
We have this once a week. It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s yummy.
What’s not to like?
6. Mushroom Omelette Breakfast
Eggs and mushrooms are also key sources of vitamin D in the winter, so having an omelette or scrambled eggs with a big helping of mushrooms on weekend breakfasts is a great habit to get into.
7. Orange Sizzler Smoothie
Vitamin C helps our bodies produce the white blood cells that are a key part of our immune system defences. But we can’t store it.
So we do need to get vitamin C daily. We could fork out for supplements but research suggests vitamins are better for us in real food.
This quick smoothie – that can be whipped up in minutes after school – is a fabulous easy fallback when kids haven’t had their daily dose.
It’s also an extra source of vitamin A and E, probiotic and prebiotic bacteria, calcium and magnesium all of which help our immune system.
My trick for making it kid friendly is:
- Grind a handful of almonds dry in blender first
- Then add 3 peeled oranges and blend to smooth paste
- Finally blend in in one small carrot, a nob of ginger, a few spoonfuls of sugar free, live yoghurt, a little water and some ice cubes
- It’s extra yummy with frozen raspberries
8. Seasonal Berry Blitz
Late summer and autumn berries are rich in vitamin C plus vitamin A and antioxidants that strengthen our immune system but have lower sugar levels than many tropical fruits.
So cram your freezer full of seasonal berries in early autumn and you can easily boost your immune system throughout the winter.
I stock our freezer every year for free!!!
We grow raspberries and blueberries in the garden – super simple for gardening beginners – and made it a family tradition to pick blackberries and forage elderberries, damsons and sloes for free from the hedgerows.
We eat them on porridge and in puddings of all sorts and they are brilliant in this berry blitz immune boosting smoothie :
- Dry grind a handful of selenium rich brazil nuts
- Add handfuls of frozen berries to blender with a little water and blend to smooth paste to blitz any seeds
- Sneak in a little young spinach
- Add 2 or 3 spoonfuls of sugar free live yoghurt and a little cold water
- Top up with elderberry syrup or juice and blend thoroughly
If you didn’t stock up from nature this year, don’t worry.
It’s easy to pick up bags of frozen autumn berries. And Elderberry syrup is available in more and more stores. If you’re a fellow Brit, Biona sell a sugar free elderberry juice.
(N.B. don’t eat raw elderberries. They’re best frozen as juice, syrup or puree but should have been heated first.)
9. Simple Liver Stew
OK. I know lost most of you at the mention of liver.
But … it IS super rich in iron – 15 times richer than chicken – and a good number of us are deficient without knowing it. Especially vegetarians and women in their late 30s and 40s and those with heavy periods.
The iron we store in our bodies is essential for the production of lymphocites, a key white blood cell within our immune systems.
It is critical to keep our iron store up from food because it is not always – as I discovered – well absorbed from supplements. I was chronically anaemic despite taking an iron rich multi-vitamin every day!!
So if you vulnerable or don’t want to eat much meat, get as much immune boosting bang for your buck as possible by mastering a simple liver stew recipe and cooking it once a week or fortnight.
And check out this big guide to iron rich foods for everyone from kids and vegans to teenage girls starting their period.
10. Medicinal Meat
If you don’t eat much meat and you’re not up to liver have a small steak or slices of black pudding once a week and think of it as medicine.
It takes just minutes to cook in the pan but is super rich in iron, zinc – it has 5 times more than lentils – folic acid, vitamin B12 and selenium all of which are immune system essentials.
For more medicinal meat tips check out this list of the most iron rich meat.
11. DIY Hot Lemon
When we do get sick with colds and flu we all tend to do three crazy things that are bad for our immune system:
- Top up ourselves up with pain killers
- And keep soldiering on until we drop
- So colds and flu turn into chest infections etc for which we take antibiotics.
Anti-inflammatory pain killers actually fight against our immune system in early flu and colds. A slightly raised temperature is a sign of our immune system fighting back.
At the first sign of a sniffle we’re better off slowing down and reaching for this super simple DIY hot lemon drink that works with our immune system and helps to prevent infections. Simply chuck in a pan and heat up the following for five minutes or so before straining over a teaspoon of honey:
- Juice of a half a lemon plus the squeezed lemon cut into rough pieces
- Tablespoon or so of apple cider vinegar
- Small chunk of sliced ginger or a teaspoon or so of ginger
- Cinnamon stick or teaspoon or so of cinnamon
- Handful of chopped sage – fresh or dried
- Couple of cups of water
We drink this religiously during colds and it has really helped prevent them turning into grotty infections needing antibiotics because we really need to reserve antibiotics for emergencies. Firstly because of growing antibiotic resistance but also because they knock out all the good bacteria in our gut – see habits 2 and 3 – that are critical parts of our immune system.
12. Ditch Toxic Cleaners
Lots of our household cleaning products also seem to be causing antibiotic resistance and giving our immune system bigger battles to fight. But they also seem to be harming our lungs – especially those of young kids – and our lungs are a key defensive barrier in our immune system.
So it totally makes sense to swap out potentially toxic chemical cleaners and opt for simple nature alternatives instead.
13. Happy Snacks
Most of us reach for the biscuits when we’re feeling down. But unfortunately sugar is messing big time with our immune systems and causing our immune system to over react when it shouldn’t.
So get into the habit of reaching for these 20 low sugar mood boosting snacks instead.
14. A Day Of Rest
Many of the world’s ancient religions have a day of rest but we don’t have to be remotely religious to recognise there’s a lot of wisdom in it for our general well being and especially our immune systems.
The non-stop release of stress hormones such as cortisol in our over busy lives triggers inflammation in our bodies. It makes us feel rubbish and reduces our immune system’s ability to fight disease.
A weekly day of rest gives our immune system a clear message to stand down our defences and chill out – literally.
15. Have A Good Laugh
For even more immune boosting goodness, make sure you have a good laugh whilst chilling out on your weekly rest day because research suggests laughter actually increases immunity enhancing hormones – who knew!!!
It’s not exactly clear why but, it’s a great excuse to slow down, spend time with family and friends and actually enjoy life.
What better medicine could there be?
I do hope these easy to adopt immune boosting habits help you and your family fight off the colds, basic viruses and infections that grind us down.
But remember they are not an alternative to qualified medical advice which you should seek if your family are ill.
Photos : Berries and Sonnenblumen / Sun Flowers by Marco Verch and Raspberry by Theo Crazzolara under Creative Commons 2.0 Children by Kong Harald
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