While prevention against winter bugs is the best approach by nurturing and boosting a healthy immune system, sometimes illness is just unavoidable and you have to focus on the best way to bounce back to good health.
It's really important to keep well hydrated when struck with a cold or flu. Streaming eyes, sweating, high temperature, sickness and diarrhoea are all ways that the body can become dehydrated. Fluids prevent dehydration and thin the mucus which can help to unblock stuffy noses. If plain water seems unpalatable then try flavouring with a little fruit juice or lemon. Hot clear drinks are also good such as the traditional 'water with lemon and honey' that can also help to soothe sore throats. Clear broths and light soups are also good ways of nourishing and rehydrating tired bodies.
A high temperature, sore throat, cough and upset tummy can all put you off your food and often when hit with nasty bugs our appetites plummet at a time when the body is working harder than normal to try and fight the infection. A lack of food also means low energy levels and lethargy which can leave you feeling depressed. The body also requires energy to produce white blood cells that are needed to fight infection.
Whist ill, it's a good idea to try and eat little and often, opting for nutrient dense foods that pack a punch with every mouthful. Try including protein and carbohydrates with each meal which could be in the form of a sandwich or soup made with shredded meat and pulses. Food such as ginger and garlic are also good to include for their anti-inflammatory properties, as is chilli, which acts as a brilliant decongestant. You could try combining these ingredients to make a spicy nourishing broth to help unblock a stuffy nose.
If your immune system has taken a hit from illness then it's good that you look for ways to re-charge it back to it's full potential. Eating lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables is a good place to start, as these are rich sources of vitamin C and beta-carotene, both of which are considered to be important for the health of your immune system. Fruit smoothies are a good way to increase your vitamin C intake and eating plenty of orange coloured fruits and vegetables means more beta-carotene (sweet potatoes are a very good source and can be made into soups, wedges or added to stews).
The minerals, zinc and selenium are also essential for good immunity. You can really boost you selenium intake by eating just 4-5 Brazil nuts, which supply well over the recommended intake for this mineral. Zinc can be found in red meat, shellfish and seeds such as sunflower. Studies have shown people who take zinc in the form of lozenges recover more quickly from colds and flu.
Low levels of vitamin D have been shown to increase the chances of developing upper respiratory tract infections and whilst sunlight may be lacking at this time of year you could consider taking a supplement during the winter months.
Look after your gut health
Keeping your gut bacteria healthy has also been shown to benefit the immune system. If you have been prescribed and antibiotic for your illness then it's likely the balance of bacteria in your gut may have been affected as these drugs that can destroy them.
When getting yourself back to good health, supplements may help to bridge the nutrition gap whilst you get your diet back on track. A combination of multivitamin and probiotic such as Healthspan's Mltivitality Pro (www.healthspan.co.uk) will help restore the balance of gut bacteria and micronutrient levels in the body.
Gently get back to exercise
Once your symptoms have gone, try a gentle 10-minutes of exercise that you would normally do and see how it feels. If that's OK, gradually increase the challenge the next day, and again the day after. If you're still feeling fine, you can gradually work your way back to where you were. Don't try to make up for lost time. Push too hard, too soon, and you might end up back where you started and remember not to linger in damp clothing after a work out.
About the author
Rob Hobson is Head of Nutrition at Healthspan. He is a registered nutritionist and qualified trainer for the Royal Society of Public Health. With over 15 years food and nutrition experience he has a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Public Health Nutrition. He has also worked for the NHS promoting healthy eating and has specialised in helping government organisations meet nutritional standards and legislation.Last modified: June 10, 2021