Cypriot grain salad

This is a delicious salad a friend brought to the table on my recent trip back to Sydney when a gaggle of us got together for a catch up feast.  It’s inspired by the ‘Hellenic Republic’ grain salad recipe by Melbourne chef George Dimitrios Calombaris.


Instead of freekah (cracked wheat) I used quinoa only because I didn’t have freekah in my pantry.  It’s a good gluten-free option although be aware that pseudo grains like quinoa can be a problem for grain-, or gluten-sensitive peeps.
I also used dairy-free coconut yoghurt as that’s what I had at hand – and with that the salad morphed into a vegan recipe!  And even though df yoghurt doesn’t sound very Hellenic it was absolutely delicious with the cumin and pomegranate swirled in it.  Also I snuck in some rocket because I love leafy greens and it’s such an easy way to get more into your daily diet.
All in all, this is a well-rounded dish with all the macronutrients you need, so enjoy it on its own, or alongside other dishes for a feast.  Last week we ate it as a side with falafel, very yummy.

 

Ingredients

(serves 4)

100g red and white quinoa (or freekah)
100g Puy lentils
1 bunch coriander, chopped
1 bunch parsely, chopped
handful rocket or any salad leaves you like
1 small red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp (c 30g) toasted pine nuts
2 tbsp toasted flaked almonds
2 tbsp toasted pumpkin seeds
2-3 tbsp small capers
70g currants
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
100g pomegranate seeds (or a whole pomegranate)
100g Greek yoghurt or dairy free alternative
1 heaped tsp ground cumin

Method

Boil the Puy lentils and quinoa separately in water until cooked to your liking.  Drain and cool.
In a bowl, add these to the chopped herbs, toasted nuts and seeds, capers, currants, lemon juice and olive oil.  Mix well and then stir in the rocket or salad leaves.
Add the ground cumin and pomegranate to the yoghurt and dollop on top of the salad.
Easy, quick and very scrummy!

Red lentil curry coconut dahl

A scrummy lentil recipe for you to try, plus some quirky facts that take the lowly lentil to an altogether new level.
This recipe’s become a fast favourite.  We’ve eaten it as part of a meze feast, as a side to fish & veg as well as a stand-alone with wild basmati rice and a huge bowl of crunchy mixed leafies.

Lentils have certainly come a long way since I first spied them decades ago, an overcooked brown mound heaped beside some dry nut roast.  It took the deliciously exotic recipes from Asia and the Middle East to spark my interest and open up all sorts of lentil possibilities.

They’ve actually come an even longer way.  Not just the oldest cultivated legume but they’re also mentioned in the bible.  And as I was wading through lentil articles online I stumbled upon a blog, ‘The History of Lentils’ that claimed archeologists found lentil artifacts dating back to 8000 BC from the banks of the Euphrates.
Lentil artifacts?!  Can’t imagine what that means, can you?  I think of artifacts being ancient urns, crudely made stone weapons or broken bits of corners of obscure things… but not lentils.  [I have, however, since learned that organic material, when found alongside ancient artifacts, do have a name: biofacts.  Who knew?]
Whatever this dig on the Euphrates banks found, I now have an image I can’t shake from my head of an ancient cooking pot with petrified lentils stuck to the base (‘coz we all know how easy it is to overcook & burn them, even back in the day…back in the ancient day).

At different times over the milennia, and in different global cultures, lentils have see-sawed between poor man’s supper and sumptuous king’s feast.  What’s remained steadfast and certain is that they’ve always been nourishing, packed with fibre and protein, B vitamins, iron, zinc, potassium…

If you’re thinking split lentils are the same as split peas because they look so similar, they’re not.  The name says it all.
Split peas come from dried field peas and lentils are seeds found in pods on small plants with branching vines that love dry, warm climates.  This is one reason they’ve not been traditionally grown here in UK (although this, too, has changed.  Hodmedod’s, a Suffolk company specialising in pulses, seeds and grains, were the first to successfully grow them back in 2017, and since then it seems everyone’s giving them a go).
Undoubtedly lentils’ first love must be the prairies, since Canada’s production and export of the not-so-lowly lentil far outstrips the rest of the world’s production by thousands of tons.

Lentils come in all sorts of colours, another reason to love them  – how many foods have this talent?  There’s black beluga here on the left of the photo (looking a little like caviar), and then various shades of brown, including the smaller puy ones (and a packet from Greece).  Plus green, red and yellow, and no doubt more I haven’t come across yet.

Pulses, even lentils, should be soaked overnight before rinsing and cooking in water.  Soaking, cooking and sprouting helps break down the oligosaccharides in the tough outer skin, that can cause bloating and gas for some.  Soaking also reduces the phytic acid, which can block absorption of important minerals in our foods.

The split red lentils in this recipe are smaller than the more common brown and green variety, and because they’ve been hulled (outer covering removed) and split, those hard-to-digest carbs have already been removed so they do not need soaking, just a rinse before cooking to ensure no small stones within are masquerading as lentils.
If you’re using canned pulses, give them a thorough rinse as they’ve been canned in firming agent, an additive that stops them turning to mush (another good reason to choose dried rather than canned).

Here’s the recipe and bravo for getting to the end of this lentil story.  I don’t know about you, but after discovering all these snippets I actually love this little pulse even more!

Ingredients

(serves 4 as a main)

100g dried red lentils
One 400 ml tin coconut milk
olive oil to gently fry:
3 large banana shallots, peeled and finely chopped
5 cms peeled fresh ginger,  grated
Optional: 1 red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped (or dried chilli, as much as your tastebuds enjoy)
20 dried curry leaves, crumbled and stems removed
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 heaped tsp mild curry powder (or sharp if you want more zing)
200g very ripe tomatoes, or 200g from a 400g can tomatoes – OR 2 heaped tbsp tomato paste
a pinch of sea salt
500ml water, more or less (depends on what tomatoes you use)

Method

Pour the olive oil in a large pan and heat on medium.  Add the shallots until they’re transparent, not too coloured, then the grated ginger, chilli and curry leaves.
Stir through and heat for a few minutes.
Next add all the spices and chopped tomatoes (or paste) and the lentils.  Mix for another few minutes then pour in the coconut milk plus c 500ml water and that smidgeon of salt.  Check regularly as you may want to add more water if you used the tomato paste and not the fresh & juicier toms.

Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and let simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce thickens and the lentils are done.  Stir occasionally throughout to stop them becoming future lentil petrified artifacts!

Let me know if you love it too 🙂

 

 

Sharing thoughts and inspirations this Christmas

In these days before Christmas, when some of us are seeing well-laid plans scuppered, or Xmas traditions taken away due to Omicron looming large, it feels like the right time to share some positives from my world of functional nutrition.  Not about Covid or immune health (we need a break, plus I wrote about it here back in March). https://www.appleaday.org.uk/immune-health-natural-tool-kit/

Instead, some books and a few of the many health ‘influencers’ and podcasts that have inspired and taught me, plus some health facts about the vagus nerve, which may sound random, but isn’t, because it has popped up at so many webinars, online conferences and health discussions this year.

Introducing the vagus nerve (VN):

This nerve may not be on your radar, but one of the reasons it keeps coming up in the health world is because it’s the main neural highway running from the brain down the length of the body.
In fact, it’s the longest nerve in the autonomic nervous system, and it travels or ‘wanders’ (= latin vagus) down the body to the colon, innervating organs as it passes the cardiovascular, digestive and reproductive systems, taking information from each and sending on messages from the brain.  Little wonder it has the potential to impact health!

The trouble is, like so many body parts, this nerve can lose tone from middle age.  It’s also affected by a sedentary lifestyle or chronic stress, trauma, poor diet, and more of the usual western world lifestyle habits.
And this loss of vagal tone can then undermine the organs and systems it passes through, affecting mood, digestion, breathing, heart rate, reflex actions, even relaxation.

So how do you improve vagal tone?

Meditation, yoga, pilates (really most form of exercise), will help improve your autonomic nervous system and the vagus nerve.  And then, interestingly, taking cold showers or swimming in cold water (maybe not something to start now if you’re living in the northern hemisphere!)

There are other even more unexpected and unusual practices that are at the top of the list when you read about improving vagal tone.  And they’re very do-able.

Humming or singing loudly 
How lovely is this!  By humming or singing, you actively stimulate the laryngeal muscles and improve the signalling of the VN.  If you don’t have a voice others appreciate sing in the car to the radio; it won’t complain!

Laugh loudly (the harder the better)
A smilar mechanism to singing, plus research already tells us that laughter improves physical and mental well being.  So if it also specifically helps vagal tone, there’s another reason to watch more comedies over Christmas.

Gargle with vigour!
Ideally 3x daily for a minimum of 20 seconds, which may sound short, but isn’t when you’re starting out.  Anecdotal evidence shows it can improve gut health, specifically peristalsis and symptoms of a hiatus hernia.
When you gargle you activate the three pharyngeal muscles at the back of the throat which stimulates the vagal nerve.   You’ll feel your diaphragm and muscles around your stomach and oesophagus getting quite a work out, and if tears pool in your eyes it’s apparently a sign you’re doing it correctly.  According to Dr N. Habib who wrote a comprehensive book called Activate your vagus nerve’ (yes, there are specialised books about it), the superior salivary nucleus is being stimulated, which triggers the glands around your eyes to produce fluid.
Like brushing your teeth, gargling should become part of your life…. your new noisy singing life!
And by adding salt to the gargle water you have the added benefit of an antimicrobial oral wash.

If any of this sounds like a Christmas fairytale just search online for vagus nerve and you’ll be inundated with a plethora of articles and studies referencing its importance.

Podcasts on health and life

Podcasts are such a great platform to hear the latest in health!  I love them and wish I had more time to listen to more…
Rangan Chatterjee’s ‘Feel Better Live More’ is still my overall favourite with so many expert guests sharing their unique insights and wisdom.
I particularly liked the May interview with investigative journalist, James Nestor.  The latter has written a brilliant book, ‘Breath’  which covers far more aspects of breathing than I ever thought possible.  In using himself as a guinea pig in all the different breathing techniques that are out there, he not only tells a great story but ultimately makes it clear how we should all be breathing for good health.
Another interview on July’s ‘Feel Better Live More’ that has stayed with me, was with Dr Rahul Jandial, a neuro surgeon.  He talked about the trials and joys of his training years and subsequent career, and how humbled he is by his patients.  Jandial’s book, ‘Life on a Knife’s edge’ is extraordinary, illuminating and at times unnerving.

Other great podcasts I try to find time for:
The happiness lab,  The Doctor’s Pharmacy, Natural MD Radio & Huberman lab (which is full of science if you’re into it)

 Some health books of many to ponder  

‘Hormone Intelligence’, by Aviva Romm;  should be on all bookshelves – and she’s written more excellent books!
‘Untamed – Stop pleasing, start living’, by Glennon Doyle. The title says it all.
‘Breath’ by James Nestor.  A must for anyone who breathes
‘The metabolic approach to cancer’, by Dr Nasha Winters.  An extraordinary functional ND, author, speaker, global cancer consultant who survived stage 4 cancer some 25 or 30 years ago.  Her next book is coming out in February  ‘Mistletoe and the Emerging future of Integrative Oncology’
(mistletoe extract has a century-old history of use in complementary medicine especially regarding cancer.  In Europe, mistletoe extract injections are among the most prescribed therapies used to treat cancer alongside chemo or exclusively.  Studies and testing have been ongoing for decades so I’m looking forward to discovering what Dr Winters puts forward in her book.

Health influencers, some of the people who’ve inspired me

Dr Caroline Leaf, a neuroscientist and mental health expert; always seems to find the perfect single sentence or paragraph to sum up a very long and difficult complex issue.
Robyn Puglia, functional medicine practitioner; lecturer, teacher and more.  Also runs online talks and QA sessions on facebook with the brilliant thryoid and brain author/educator Dr Datis Kharrazian (check out his weekly talks on his facebook page).
Ben Brown, functional nutritionist, lecturer and more; website newsletters offer well-researched commentary on current health conditions and studies.
Dr Nasha Winters, mentioned above; some of her talks and interviews are available on YouTube.
Avivia Romm, also mentioned above; her website is an encyclopaedia of knowledge 

So many other health professionals who are daily influencers for me, who are part of my practitioner world – Debbie Cotton, Moira Bradfield, Jason Hawrelak, Emma Beswick…. There will be YouTube talks by them out there.

As for food authors there are so many new, fab cookbooks available, I can’t keep up with them.  For me, Ottolenghi continues to deliver and I am currently still working my way through the vegetarian recipes in ‘Flavour’ (just reduce the sugar which he SO loves to add, in some form or other, to his recipes).
His mushroom-lentil ragu dish is a winner for us and will be part of our Xmas menu this year.

Niki Webster (aka Rebel recipes), is about to bring out another vegan cookbook, watch her space!

And for anyone wanting to do gluten free baking, Naomi Devlin offers so many excellent workshops online, take a look at her website.

Finally, my dear friend, and surrogate mum, 94 year old Hedi continues to be a big influencer for me.  She can still walk the length of Regent street and then enjoy a hearty meal.  I think she invented the word resilience.

I’d love to hear from you!

Tell me about some of the positives you’ve found this year, whether it’s some people you’ve met or books or happenings that have made your life, or illness, or Covid journey, aka slog, a little easier.

I’m back in my zoom clinic here, in Dorset, on Tuesday, 4th January.  As always I’m offering a Christmas gift discount for the month of January; 10% for all consultations.  Just email me for bookings.

Until then I’m sending you all huge hugs and lotsa merries, and a happy 2022 for us all.

Stay well friends!

x

Mindfulness, what’s in a word?

I’d like to find another word for mindfulness.  Not that it isn’t apt, on the contrary, being mindful in our lives can be life changing, mind blowing.  But we’re hearing the word used so much these days, a little like the hackneyed terms ‘life changing and mind blowing’,  that it can end up falling on deaf ears or meaning nothing at all to some people.

A male client on zoom yesterday rolled his eyes when I mentioned mindfulness.  “No, that whacky stuff’s not for me,” he said.
There’s not much whacky about it; pretty straight forward in fact.  Mindfulness is about tapping into something that was commonplace for our grandparents:  taking each day, each moment, as it came; not having to juggle deadlines, childcare, finances, nights out and traffic holdups.  These days there’s not a lot of Living each Moment, and therein lies a big part of our global chronic health crisis. The speed and stress of daily life is throwing us out of kilter, making many of us sick.

However, saying all that, I get what this client meant.  Even though he hasn’t tried it, he said it sounded too vague, that ‘mindfulness’ didn’t explain enough of what it was about or how to do it.  For him the name seemed to be a big part of why he hadn’t tried it. Hence my search for another word, a new title.

‘Being in the moment,’ or ‘living in the present’ may say more about what it is, but clients have told me they don’t think it’ll work for them, or, like this man, it sounds too ‘out there’.  Someone once told me she was already being careful and didn’t need to do a course on it.
For others it doesn’t sound medical enough, doesn’t carry enough gravitas.  I can’t help wondering if these people are still hanging out for the ‘one thing fixes all’ remedy.  The trouble here is that we’re not living in a one-pill-fixes-all world. Our current chronic diseases are too complex for monotherapies.

The compelling science behind how mindfulness works – how it can kick in a relaxation response that lowers stress & anxiety, how it can lessen gut pain, even body inflammation, and that it’s something that can alter the microbiome and, amazingly, gene expression – all this information seems to only reach those interested in health or lifestyle therapies, and not the ones who might need it the most.  It’s not on their radar until ill health has exhausted conventional medical routes and they somehow find a book or hear about cognitive therapy or an MBCT class (mindfulness based stress reduction), or they start working with a functional nutritionist, like me, who encourages it for helping with anxiety or IBS symptoms.

The thing about starting mindfulness is that we’re already doing it, this living in the present.  Some of us are just not doing it as consciously as we should.  And even though mindfulness is about developing a daily practice that will grow into something bigger and more sustained, into a higher awareness of our days, and of the many ‘present moments’, the key to starting it is to begin small, to keep it do-able.

I’m not a mindfulness expert or teacher, however the weekly mindfulness classes I went to about eight, maybe more?, years ago opened my eyes to the possibility of having a mindful practice in my daily life.
I remember during one of the early classes we were told to walk barefoot in the grass and listen carefully to the sounds around us, and then try doing it at home every day for any length of time we could manage.  It was a lightbulb moment for me, realizing it could be something enjoyable, something I could easily do inbetween work.  Also that I wouldn’t have to sit cross-legged for an hour cancelling all thoughts and finding a higher plane (which of course was my misinterpretation of meditation!)

Slowing down my daily pace in some way, at some point in the day, was key for me when I began (I’m speaking from the perspective of a busy person with a busy mind who likes to pack in lots).

In those early days, the more I read about mindfulness, the more I realized there was no rule about timing, no rule about what mindful practice I should do.  Listening to the breath is often a starting point, and it can be the exclusive daily practice for many.  I love it, all the more so since reading James Nestor’s book, Breath.  However, I’ve met clients over the years who hate it, who say they get anxious listening to their breath, so it really is very individual.
An hour of sewing or gardening might be mindful time for one but torture for another.  Examining pebbles on the beach for an hour might bore most people to tears except me.  Sitting still to watch the day slowly shift from twilight to sunset might be your daily quiet time but only a holiday treat for another. Closing your eyes for ten or more minutes, listening to your breath might be a huge leap of faith.

When I talk about mindfulness to clients I suggest they try whatever they enjoy, something that will slow them down into the Now moment.  Start their practice in small increments and take it from there, not beating themselves up if they need more time to get into a daily routine.  This was the sustaining advice I was given when I was first introduced to mindfulness.  After that, there’s a whole world of excellent books and qualfied teachers out there.

Now back to my first thought.  Is there another word you can think of for Mindfulness, something that might reinject it with oomph, or explain it better?  Something to describe this mindful awareness of our daily moments?  If so, I’d really love to hear from you. x

Asian-style soup

This is my wellness soup.  I’m such a fan of zingy fresh spices like lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and ginger.  If I want a comfort soup this is it.  All the more so if adding chicken, with its high tryptophan, an amino acid that’s the precursor to our feel-good serotonin.
The soup can actually be anything you want.  Vegan, pescatarian or a good ‘ole chicken soup with an Asian swing to it.  Here are some options for you to try.

Ingredients

4 servings

Spices for the broth:

1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp grated or ground turmeric
1 heaped tbsp brown miso paste
1 crushed, then finely sliced lemon grass
5 dried kaffir lime leaves, crushed with stems removed
4 cms fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped
1.5 litres veg broth or water

*If doing a veg-only soup, ie. no marinade, add c4 tbsp tamari, 1/2 cup chopped coriander, 3 crushed garlic cloves and, if you want a kick, some chilli flakes to the above.  Also more veg broth to compensate for not having the fish/chicken liquid marinade to add to the pot.

The vegetables:

1/2 leek, sliced
150 g brussel sprouts, halved
200g broccoli florets
100g green beans, halved
100g mangetout or sugar snap peas
large handful spinach, shredded
another generous one of kale, finely shredded
4 mini bok choy (or 4 large if you can’t get minis)
olive oil to start the stir fry
sesame oil to drizzle at the very end
chopped coriander to decorate
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

The optional chicken or salmon:

3 fillets free range or organic chicken, cut into chunks or thick slices
OR
3 wild salmon fillets, whole

Marinate the chicken or fish for at least 4 hours in:
1/2 cup chopped coriander
1/4 tsp dried chilli
1 tsp garam masala
3 crushed garlic
4-5 tbsp tamari
plus enough veg broth to cover the chicken/fish.

Method:

If I’m making my soup with either salmon or the chicken slices, I poach them first.  That way I can remove the fish skin easily and break it into smaller pieces, put aside and focus on the soup and veg.  You can of course poach whilst making the veg broth, whatever works for you.

Gently fry the leek in olive oil on a medium heat until soft.  Add all the spices, stirring well.
Pour in the vegetable broth plus the chicken/fish marinade [or the additions mentioned above for the  *veg-only].
Bring to the boil then simmer.
Add the vegetables to the broth, starting with the halved brussels which may take longer depending on size, then the beans and broccoli.  After simmering about 6-8 minutes (check the sprouts aren’t still rock hard), add the mangetout, bok choy, kale and spinach which only need a bat of an eyelid to wilt.  Now find room for the cooked chicken or salmon!

Serve in deep bowls, drizzle with sesame oil and top with chopped coriander and a wedge of lime, yumm!

Immune health natural tool kit

Immune health has understandably been in the spotlight since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.  We’ve all been asking the same:  how to avoid catching Sars-CoV-2, and how to have less severe symptoms if we do catch it.  Staying home, socially distancing and wearing masks will all naturally minimize exposure to any pathogen, but what else can we be doing to support our immune system?

Since nutrition is such a big part of who I am at home, and in clinic, as a functional nutritionist, I’ll always think food first.  If research has shown that we are what we eat, then being vital and thriving versions of ourselves is the first step to being immune strong.

A daily rainbow of vegetables means we can piggy back on the defence mechanisms of the plant world; support our immune systems by eating a variety of colours and tastes.   Bright colours and strong smells and tastes – just think of garlic! – are the plants’ defences that translate into antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals for us.
Ten or twelve portions of vegetables, herbs and fruit may sound a lot, but it’s not that difficult to incorporate them into daily meals.  Salads, soups, juices, stir fries, oven roast veg, or a packed steam-pot.  Variety and colour are key.  Then add to that good quality protein, healthy fats – and clean, fresh water, always – and we have an arsenal of nutrients to battle any infection.

In order to absorb and effectively use these immune-enhancing nutrients our digestion has to be working well.  In fact, with Covid-19, we need to ensure our gastrointestinal AND oral & respiratory barriers are robust and healthy.  There are specific foods, nutrients and probiotics that can help us optimize the structure of these barriers, as well as increase the diversity of our gut’s microbiome.

Sleep ourselves well!  This is a quote by Matthew Walker, sleep specialist and author of the best seller ‘Why we Sleep’ who seemed to be on every health podcast in 2020 explaining the importance of sleep to our overall health and longevity (watch him on Youtube’s Ted series, 2019 and 2020).
Walker writes about the link to immune health, stating how during sleep we not only stimulate the production of different immune factors, but the body also increases its sensitivity to those factors.  We literally wake up immune stronger after a good night’s sleep.   Reason enough to hunker down and rest if we get sick.  According to Walker and other sleep experts we should be aiming for 7 and 9 hours each night to ensure continued wellness; more if you’re a child or teen – or ill.

Being outdoors is another vital part of good health.  It has been shown to improve overall well being and more specifically our immune status.
There are so many fascinating studies focussing on our deep bond with nature.  How simply looking at the sea or forest or at birds and clouds can lower blood pressure and be an antidote to stress (‘ecopsychology’), as well as improve our immunity.
Stand in a woodland amongst trees and we’re breathing in compounds called phytoncides, the airborne antimicrobial chemicals that plants release as protection against insects.  Shinrin yoku, (directly translated to forest bathing), enhances our immune health because these phytoncides have antimicrobial properties which our bodies respond to by increasing the activity of certain cells in our white blood cell army, namely our natural killer (NK) cells which kill off virus-infected cells.

Take it a step further, literally, and we have exercise, no newcomer to playing a role in our well being.  We all now understand how exercise of any sort, when not excessive, can improve so many body systems, from circulation and heart to bones and mental health a.o.
Endorphins, such as serotonin, rise when we exercise, and these higher ‘happy’ serotonin levels are yet another antidote to the damage that stress hormones can wreak.  Stress will always undermine our immune health.

Exercise immunology is a fairly new sub discipline of exercise physiology and looks at the relationship between exercise and immune function.   In an article from The Journal of Sport and Health Science (May 2019) we can read that short bursts of exercise enhance our anti-inflammatory cytokines and natural killer (NK) cells, as well as increase neutrophils and our T cells (according to many sources including BMJ, these T cells are the actual ‘superstars’ of our white blood cell army, in the fight against Covid; BMJ 2020;370:m3563).

When outdoors exercising we are being exposed to natural light.  This in turn affects our melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep.  Being outdoors in the morning, ideally walking or exercising, exposes us to that natural light, helps set our natural clock for the day and also gives us a better sleep routine. Win-Win!
Interestingly, there have been numerous studies on melatonin during 2020 due to its antioxidant, anti inflammatory – and its immunomodulatory properties. It is being researched for potentially helping reduce the consequences of the SARS-Cov-2 infection, and studies continue on its potential antiviral action (Frontiers in Medicine. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmed.2020.00226).

If we’re social distancing and eating our rainbow diet (plus protein, healthy fats, water…), sleeping well and exercising, plus trying not to get stressed by work, or lack of it, or children home-learning or the latest global disaster (or certain irritating BBC journalists reporting on Covid), but we still end up catching SARS-Cov-2, or even the common cold, what other support is there for our immune system?

So many studies and papers were published during 2020 concerning Vitamin D.   In the functional nutrition world this vitamin has been in the limelight for a number of years now due to its immune-protective properties.  So it’s been heartening to see how doctors the world over, and the NHS here in UK, are recognising its importance and recommending we check D levels and supplement if low.
It may be difficult at the moment to get vitamin D blood levels checked if in lockdown or if medical staff and clinics are overwhelmed.  There are however labs across UK, and no doubt in other countries, which can send out Vit D finger prick test kits.  Easy to do and not expensive.  Here in UK a number of NHS hospitals are offering these kits online, just have a google.
Chances are, if living in the northern hemisphere, D levels will be low given the lack of sun, which is how we make Vitamin D.  And it’s likely to be the same in the warmer southern hemisphere if people are lathered in high factor sunscreens.
Foods like oily fish, egg yolks and some fortified foods will have small amounts of Vit D, however taking D in supplement form is a good solution (although the best solution will always be supplementing after having been tested since overdosing on Vit D, although not easy to do, can potentially be dangerous).

Other star antioxidant vitamins are A, E and C.  Vitamin C has a long history of immune support, but drinking huge glasses of orange juice won’t cut it.  Not only are you getting a detrimental sugar spike in your blood, but you’re missing the ‘whole’ fruit benefits.  Plus, in the end it won’t be anything near the levels of C you need if combatting a virus.  You can safely supplement 500 mg – 2000 mg in divided doses daily.
Vitamins A, E and C are all critical for immune health, with the bonus that they also improve the integrity of our gut and lung barriers.

Another crucial player when it comes to immune modulation is zinc.  Amongst its many attributes it stimulates the hormone in our thymus gland to produce new T cells.   Sadly, this mineral is sorely lacking in our diet since it’s lacking in our soils.  We also don’t get enough from fish when the fish is farmed.  And despite it being in a lot of fortified cereals these are rich in phytic acid which binds out the zinc so we can’t absorb it well.  Everyone tends to be low in zinc and a supplement of 15mg daily is generally safe.  Again, it’s best to check your zinc levels with a functional nutritionist or doctor so you know the amount you should supplement.

There are so many different herbs that are immune-supportive.  In fact, if we add a wide variety to our cooking, eg. rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano etc, then we’ll be adding a wide palette of phytonutrients that will not just be improving the flavour of our food but also our health status.
There are some stand-alone herbs which have either specific anti-viral action, like echinacea, or anti inflammatory properties like turmeric root, or herbs like andrographis, which have been traditionally used to support immunity in the respiratory tract.   Again, it’s best to work with someone in the know when it comes to herbal tinctures.

Last but by no means least, medicinal mushrooms have to be mentioned.  Mycology, the study of fungi, burst onto the health scene years ago due to the astonishing antioxidant properties and immunemodulating effects of specific mushrooms.   There are a number of varieties like reishi, shiitake, turkey tail (coriolus versicolor) and chaga which show anti-viral action, either by inhibiting viral replication or enhancing the cellular immune response to infection.  As long as you’re not allergic to them, adding fresh shiitake mushrooms to your menu or a reishi powder to your smoothie or soup can only be good, and there are some excellent supplements available.

Viruses are resilient so they certainly won’t be going away anytime soon.  However, nature has given us this wonderful tool kit to work with – food, specific nutrients, sleep, exercise, the outdoors – which can help us either as a preventative measure or in face of an acute infection.

Let’s make use of this tool kit and go safely forward into a healthier year!