Looking for ways to increase your immunity during these trying times? You’re not alone – Google searches around for “how boost your immune system” spiked in April, probably because we’re all nervous about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. While there’s no cure yet, it doesn’t hurt to do everything in your power to boost your overall health and immunity.
Nutritionists have long espoused the benefits of a healthy diet in preventing disease. Anisa Woodall is a Certified Nutritionist with a Masters of Science from Bastyr University. She specializes in women’s health, mindfulness, and motherhood. We sat down with Anisa to ask her advice on how to strengthen the immune system, naturally. We covered lifestyle habits that can actually weaken your immune system, immunity-building natural foods, and three ways to boost your immune system fast.
What are the Most Common Habits You See in Your Practice that Weaken the Immune System?
In my nutrition practice, I work with a wide range of people from teenagers to perimenopausal women. Anywhere along the age spectrum, these are the top 5 lifestyle habits that I believe (and research supports) are increasing one’s susceptibility to infection.
- Poor sleep rhythms
- High sugar and carbohydrate intake
- Nutrient-poor diet
- Lack of movement
- High stress (emotional, relationships, work, physical or other)
What is the Biggest Misconception We Have About Our Immune Systems?
Western medicine supports the myth that pills, medication, and supplements are the only “real” ways to fight disease. The truth is that the best way to support immunity is through an overall healthy diet and lifestyle. Immune-boosting supplements contribute further as long as you have a healthy foundation.
But what does “healthy” mean, exactly? Low-fat, Low-carb, Sugar-free, High-protein, Low Calorie, Keto, Paleo, Plant-based, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Dairy-free, Cholesterol-free, Non-GMO… you name it, it’s been called “healthy”!
Choosing Foods to Boost Immunity
Just because a food has one of the above labels doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy or good for your immune system. To determine if something is healthy or not, read the ingredients on the back label and ask yourself these questions:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
- Was the food once part of our ecosystem?
- Did other parts of our ecosystem suffer because of the compensations needed in order to grow that food? (i.e. was it grown in a monoculture system requiring all the -cides to survive?)
- How much processing had to be done to make it edible?/ Were significant parts of the food removed (like skin, bone, fiber, fat, etc.)?
- Does the food offer naturally-occurring micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) beyond just Calories?
- Does this food make you feel good? (Hint: Are these optimal?: Energy, cravings, digestion, hormones, skin, mental clarity, immune health, sleep quality, muscle recovery, athletic performance, joints, etc).⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I often see the term “healthy” being thrown around for things like tortillas/wraps made with pesticide-laden unfermented grains, refined of all their potential nutrients, then fortified with synthetic, non-bioavailable vitamins to make up for the loss or “low fat” dressings using highly-inflammatory refined oils like soybean oil or canola oil that were likely damaged (oxidized) before even being bottled!
Just because something has a special label, don’t be fooled into thinking that the food has health-promoting effects. Don’t let “diet-friendly” labels convince you into thinking that you are doing something good for your health.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
3 ways to Boost Your Immune System FAST
To boost your immune system quickly, I suggest adopting three habits: get better sleep, reduce sugar intake, and spend more time outside.
1. Get Better Sleep
Normally, I recommend going to sleep no later than 11pm and avoiding coffee afternoon. You’re likely used to staying up late, so to make sleeping at this time more possible, reduce tech and device use at least 1 hour before bedtime and use blue-light blocking glasses or apps when using screens in the evening hours. Artificial light in the dark hours can interfere with natural melatonin production by increasing the stress hormone cortisol which, when chronically elevated, can increase susceptibility to illness.
Set a bedtime routine including some of the following: drink a relaxing beverage (like this one), foam rolling, epsom salt bath, mindfulness practice, journaling, diffuse lavender or vetiver, or read next to dim lighting.
When you sleep, turn off all devices (it’s worth repeating), and sleep in a cold (68 degrees F), dark room.
2. Reduce Sugar + Refined Carbohydrate Intake
Unless you’re a competitive athlete, you likely don’t need to be carb-loading for the day or “recovering” from your workday with a bag of chips or cookies. Not only do these foods dampen your immune response but they also significantly mess with your hormones and your skin. Choosing lower glycemic, higher-protein foods will prevent the blood sugar roller coaster that leads you to choose those foods in the first place.
- Instead of cereal or toast in the morning, choose eggs or sausage with avocado and berries.
- Instead of chips as a snack, choose flax crackers with olive tapenade.
- Instead of whole-wheat pasta with red sauce, choose zucchini noodles topped with a meat-and-veggie sauce (watch for sneakily added sugar in the sauce!)
3. Get Outside + Move Your body in a Way You Enjoy (ideally with friends)!
With the current global situation, many are finding themselves literally “staying home” and “socially isolating”. Remember, you can still leave your house, just be conscious of the places you’re going and get creative. You can still walk, run, dance, stretch, handstand walk (or at least try), hula hoop, garden, swim, and hike, just to name a few activities.
It’s not “social” distancing, it’s “physical” distancing. You can still socialize, just keep your distance! Go for a walk with a friend and keep 6 feet apart. If you find yourself chatting it up on the phone more often, use that as an opportunity to grab some headphones, get outside and do something mindless. Just yesterday, I was out in the garden pulling weeds while talking with a friend!
I could recommend a whole list of immune-supporting supplements (and I do, find my online supplement dispensary here) but when it comes to supporting your immune health, you really need to come back to the basics. Only when you’ve addressed the foundational principles of health, “immune boosters” really have a potent effect.
Take the Next Step
If you’re ready to start making some changes that promote your immune health, head over to Anisa’s website to get her FREE DOWNLOAD, “My Top 5 Tips For Cycle-Induced Sugar and Carb Cravings”.
Anisa Woodall, MS CN is a real-food, holistic Certified Nutritionist and natural mama. Her life’s purpose is to inspire and encourage women to live, eat and move with mindfulness, intention and confidence. She holds a MS degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics and a BS degree in Nutrition and Exercise Science from Bastyr University, the leading institution in natural medicine. She holds both individual and group nutrition sessions, with a special interest in Women’s Health and Fertility, through her website anisawoodall.com.
Follow Anisa on Instagram, @anisawoodallnutrition, for nuggets of wisdom, advice + thoughts surrounding women health, real-food nutrition and natural motherhood, and visit her website, www.anisawoodall.com, to schedule an appointment with her.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for educational purposes only. Please consult a qualified healthcare provider before making any significant changes to your diet or lifestyle.