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Immune Health 101

Immune Health 101

1. Adequate Protein

Adequate protein is crucial for optimal antibody production and low protein intake has been associated with an increased risk of infection. 

Amino acids have also been shown to improve intestinal barrier function which can enhance immune function.

 Choose high quality choices such as;

  • Free-Range Eggs
  • Wild-Caught Fish
  • Organic meats (e.g., poultry, grass-fed beef, wild game)
  • If tolerated, high quality dairy or grass-fed whey protein. 
  • Vegetarian/Vegan sources (organic tofu/tempeh, edamame, lentils or other legumes) 
  • Nuts/seeds (e.g., almonds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • High quality plant-based protein powder (such as pea or hemp protein)

2. Micronutrient Status

Many vitamins and minerals play a role in immune health and overall wellness, but I have highlighted a few specifics below that have particular research related to immunity. Key Takeaway – Eat a varied diet full of the colors of the rainbow.

Vitamin A – High in many orange and yellow fruits & vegetables (carrots, cantaloupe, mango), salmon & cod liver oil, eggs, and other beta-carotene rich foods such as dark green leafy vegetables.  

Vitamin C– More than just citrus! Vitamin C is also high in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, red/yellow/orange bell peppers, leafy greens, tomatoes and winter squash such as butternut or acorn squash! 

Vitamin D – High in fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), liver, eggs, high quality full fat dairy and sunshine! 

Vitamin E – Consume things like avocado, nuts/seeds (sunflower, almonds), some oils (such as grapeseed), dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, swiss chard, beet greens) and Atlantic salmon. 

B Vitamins– Found in animal proteins such as beef, wild game, poultry, eggs and fish as well as whole grains (brown rice, millet, etc). Other sources include nuts/seeds and green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli). 

Zinc – highest in oysters but other sources include beans, nuts, other types of shellfish (lobster and crab), whole grains 

…as well as other minerals such as Copper, Iron, Magnesium and Selenium 

 

  3. Phytochemicals

  • Carotenoids have antioxidant properties and are found in many of the same fruits and vegetables that are high in Vitamin A (think yellow/orange and dark-green leafy vegetables).Some examples include spinach, kale and cantaloupe.  Some are precursors for Vitamin A and also have a positive impact on the immune system as they are directly related to Vitamin A status. 

  • Polyphenols have been linked to both anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. They are in highest concentrations in our dark berries (blueberries, strawberries) and can have a positive impact on our gut microbiota. Other sources with high amounts include cocoa and teas (especially black and green tea). 

  • Quercetin (a type of flavonoid) has been studied for anti-viral properties and also can reduce potential histamine-mediated reactions in the body. Quercetin can be found in foods such as apples, blueberries olive oil and parsley.

4. Support Overall Gut Health

Incorporate pre and probiotic-rich food sources to stimulate short chain fatty acids in the gut, which have been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. 
  •  Prebiotics: asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, banana (on the greener side), apples, flax seed, jicama
  • Probiotics: fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt with live & active cultures

 

5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Fatty Acids have some of the most potent anti-inflammatory properties. Unfortunately, most people consuming a Standard American Diet have much more omega-6 fats in their diet compared to omega-3’s, putting them into a PRO-inflammatory state. Shift the ratio of omega-3:omega-6 but adding in some of the foods below; 

  • SMASH Fish (Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines and Herring) 
  • Olives and olive oil 
  • Walnuts, chia, hemp and flaxseeds 
  • Best sources for vegans/vegetarians include sea vegegtables and microalgae

6. Sleep & Exercise

  • Sleep – while sleep needs may differ from person-to-person, most adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Adequate QUALITY as well as QUANTITY is necessary for immune function.
    • Adequate sleep duration can improve infection outcomes and is associated with reduced infectious disease risk.
    • Many diseases are comorbid with sleep disturbances and proper sleep hygeine may have a beneficial effect on the severity and progression of the disease.
  • Exercise- Epidemiological evidence indicates that regular physical activity reduces the incidence of many chronic diseases (including viral, bacterial and non-non-communicable diseases such as cancer and chronic inflammatory disorders). 

Key Takeaways:

-Eat mostly nutrient-dense, whole foods
Avoid sugars and refined starches (like pastas, breads, sweets, crackers, etc.) 
Consume adequate protein, from organic animal protein or plant-based sources
Use lots of anti-inflammatory spices while cooking such as rosemary, thyme, cilantro, parsley, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, etc. 
Get plenty of color (eat the colors of the rainbow each day) – include fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin C, A, and foods high in Zinc and Vitamin D
-Incorporate pre and probiotic-rich food sources
  •  Prebiotics: asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, banana (on the greener side), apples, flax seed, jicama
  • Probiotics: fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt with live & active cultures

…AND I CAN’T STRESS ENOUGH – MOVE YOUR BODY DAILY AND PRACTICE GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE 

References:

Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The Sleep-Immune Crosstalk in Health and Disease. Physiol Rev. 2019;99(3):1325-1380. doi:10.1152/physrev.00010.2018

Campbell, J. P., & Turner, J. E. (2018). Debunking the Myth of Exercise-Induced Immune Suppression: Redefining the Impact of Exercise on Immunological Health Across the Lifespan. Frontiers in immunology9, 648. https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2018.00648

Iddir M, Brito A, Dingeo G, et al. Strengthening the Immune System and Reducing Inflammation and Oxidative Stress through Diet and Nutrition: Considerations during the COVID-19 Crisis. Nutrients. 2020;12(6):1562. Published 2020 May 27. doi:10.3390/nu12061562

Lange T, Dimitrov S, Born J. Effects of sleep and circadian rhythm on the human immune system. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010;1193:48-59. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05300.x

Easy Homemade Granola

Easy Homemade Granola

I like to call this the “whatever I have in my pantry” granola because you can literally throw it together with whatever you have and keep is as simple or complex as you like!

Servings

12 – 1/2 cup servings

Total Time:

35min

Ingredients

  • 4 cups gluten free old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup nuts & seeds (I used raw almonds, pepitas & sunflower seeds), 1/3 of each)
  • 1 tsp HImalayan sea salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil (can also use avocado oil or grapeseed oil)
  • 1/4-1/3 cup raw honey or local maple syrup
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • Optional Add Ins; 
    • Spices such as turmeric, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice
    • dried fruits with no added sugar 
    • chia seeds
    • dark chocolate chips

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350°F

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper 

3. In a mixing bowl, combine oats, nuts/seeds, sea salt and desired spices

4. In a separate bowl, combine melted coconut oil (or other healthy oil) with vanilla and honey/maple syrup

5. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and stir gently until well combined.

6. Spread evenly onto prepared baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. 

7. After 10 minutes, remove from oven, stir, and bake for additional 10 minutes or until lightly browned

8. Add coconut flakes and return to oven for about 2-5 minutes if you like the flakes toasted.

9. Mix in any additional add-ins or enjoy as is! Can be stored for several weeks in jar or sealed container. 

Nutrition

For a balanced breakfast or snack, boost protein by enjoying with a plant-based milk such as Ripple (8g protein) or grass-fed yogurt (8-11g protein). Also great on top of a smoothie bowl made with high quality protein powder (10-20g protein)

Protein

Healthy Fats

Carbohydrates

Food Tracking 101

Food Tracking 101 

Does the idea of food tracking give you anxiety? Do you like the idea of having control over knowing what you put into your body? With so much information floating around and the wide variety of food tracking apps to choose from to, it can be be hard for people to determine if food tracking will help or hinder their goals. 

Keep reading as I break down the pros and cons of food tracking and how to use it to reach your goals.

What is food tracking?

You may hear terms such as “counting macros” or “tracking calories”. Other words for food tracking include “food log” or “food diaries” which can be as simple as writing down meals and snacks in a good old fashioned journal using pen and paper or one can choose to use a fancy new app such as MyFitnessPal, Cron-o-meter, Lose It! which are among the most popular options.

Some people simply enjoy writing down foods for accountability (because let’s be honest, it’s less desirable to consume more junk food when you have to log it! Other individuals may be tracking carbohydrates (important for people with diabetes or those following a ketogenic diet), or tracking total calories to remain in a deficit for weight loss.

Regardless of your goals, food tracking may have benefits, at least short-term,  which I will break down in the following section.

Who may benefit from tracking?

In my personal experience, I believe that (almost) everyone can benefit from tracking food intake from time to time. If losing weight is your goal, research has shown that those who record their food intake will achieve greater weight loss than those who don’t.

I do NOT believe that it needs to be long-term for most people as it can be tedious or potentially lead to anxiety over mealtimes.

You may benefit from food tracking if you; 

  • want to “re-calibrate” your brain to remember what serving sizes actually look like
  • have a specific weight or body composition goal
  • are training for competition in sport and want to enhance athletic performance
  • want to optimize and ensure adequate nutrient intake for overall health and wellness
  • have diabetes or other health condition (such as epilepsy) which may require that you limit specific macronutrients such as carbohydrates
  • are having adverse symptoms that might be associated with foods you are eating and you want to narrow it down
  • are having trouble sleeping or feel exceptionally tired during the day and want to learn more about your eating patterns

Tracking food intake may not be for you if you; 

  • already have an overall healthy diet
  • have a history of an eating disorder or current tendencies towards disordered eating
  • feel overly anxious or find it too overwhelming

When should you track?

It depends. If someone is using food tracking as a way to understand portion control, have some accountability while trying to reach a specific goal, or to uncover a potential adverse food reaction or food sensitivity, it can be helpful to track for a short period of time until you feel confident with a consistent meal pattern, learn more about your body,  and develop healthy habits that can be sustained long-term.

For a habit to “stick”, it  takes about 21 days, so for anyone trying to sustain long-term change, I recommend trying it for at least 3-4 weeks. The first couple of days are usually the most challenging as you are trying to get into the routine of plugging foods into a new app or remembering to write it all down but after the initial first couple of days it becomes less tedious.

In order to see more dramatic changes in health biomarkers, it takes about 3 months of consistent dietary changes (such as in the case of hemoglobin A1c for blood sugar control or cholesterol levels).

For weight loss, many people want to see the number on the scale drop quickly but oftentimes dramatically reducing calories and making drastic dietary changes too quickly leads to frustration, unsustainable and often unhealthy patterns. A healthy rate of weight loss is about 1-2 pounds per week (some may loose more in the first few weeks due to reductions in inflammation, etc., especially if someone goes from eating a Standard American Diet to a more healthful diet right away). Depending on the weight goal, it may take several of months of planning and tracking.

Remember, SUSTAINABLE CHANGE is the name of the game, so tracking can be useful to learn more about types and amounts of foods to fuel your body appropriately as well as learn more about your overall dietary habits so that you can maintain this without being tied to a food tracking app or paper journal for the rest of your life.

    How to get started with food tracking?

    First, think about what method might work best for you (pen and paper or an app on your phone?) and start exploring options.

    Give yourself a few days to get into the routine. Some people use tracking as a planning tool. Especially if you have a very specific goal, entering in meals and snacks ahead of time can help with the meal planning process. Alternatively, others prefer to enter in foods after consuming. It is really a personal preference but I find that when someone is trying to learn more about their current diet, entering in afterwards works, but if someone is trying to stick to a specific macronutrient goal, planning ahead may be more effective.

    There are a variety of great food tracking apps available but I included a few of my favorites below that I have personally used if you need some ideas getting started;

    Cronometer

    Pros

    • Video tutorials for setting up your profile and entering foods
    • Consistent monitoring and updates to  food database
    • User-friendly and great for people new to food tracking

    Cons

    • Not very compatible for use with other trackers (FitBit, Garmin, etc.)
    • Sometimes the stats can be confusing and figuring out where to enter personalized macronutrient targets can be a bit of a learning curve 

    Cronometer Gold gives access to an increased number of features, such as:

    • Food suggestions based on remaining macro and micronutrient targets for the day
    • Customized biometrics
    • Ability to generate detailed reports
    • Feature that allows you to upload progress photos if that’s your thing
    • Food and recipe sharing

    MyFitnessPal

    Pros

    • Huge database of foods with over 3,282,000 different foods to choose from
    • Can add customized recipes
    • Foods can even be scanned into the app where the nutrition facts can be viewed
    • Can add personalized macronutrient targets
    • Easy-to-read pie charts analyzing macronutrient intake to assess how close you are to goal ranges

    Cons

    • Just like many apps, calorie recommendations may be lower than actual needs which can be unsustainable and frustrating
    • The app fails to highlight the importance of other important nutrients and is more heavily focused on calories 

    Lose It!

    Pros

    • There are a variety of challenges offered for motivation and accountability to acheive your goals  
    • This app helps you to find local restaurants and make an educated decision about where you eat
    • You can connect with other people, whether they are friends or strangers, who are trying to achieve similar nutritional goals 
    • This app doesn’t appear to be as calorie-restricting as some of the others which can lead to a healthier and more sustainable process
    • Using your location and movements of your phone you are able to keep track of your total steps

    Cons

    • It only separates consumed foods into protein, carbohydrates and fats, while other apps provide a further breakdown (i.e. fats broken down into saturated and trans. fats)

    RP (Renaissance Periodization) Diet App

    Pros

    • This app requires individuals to be much more precise for accurate macronutrients
    • Food quality is addressed. Vegetables, fruits, and high-fiber starches are usually encouraged at every meal and the app states to strive for “80% from whole food sources”

     Cons 

    • This plan is definitely for those who are more advanced with food tracking because it requires a lot of precision
    • Planning ahead is critical as the app recommends entering in foods for the week BEFOREhand 
    • Limited database of foods, especially if you don’t enter in foods exactly as they are listed
    • The guidelines are hard to follow at restaurants

    Consistency over Perfection: How Implementing Small Daily Habits Can Change Your Life

    How many times have you said, “I need to on a diet” or “I am going to eat healthy all week so I can indulge this weekend”? 

    How about thoughts such as “If I could lose this last 10 pounds, I would be happier” or “I am successful because my abs are showing”? 

    These are so common but I challenge you to think about how many times this has worked for you (on a long term basis) or are you stuck in a vicious cycle of destructive eating and behavioral habits? 

    The reality is that it is very hard and fairly unsustainable to stick to something 100% of the time (unless you are a robot, and even then, technical issues still happen)!

    We like the grand idea of a diet or program, especially when someone or something (such as an app, etc.) tells us exactly what to eat and how to exercise, but nobody really likes the idea of doing the hard work or feeling overly consumed by logging or tracking (although there are certain times where this can be helpful or necessary). 

    When we try to follow a strict diet, it rarely lasts because, let’s face it, we are not perfect (and shouldn’t expect to be)! 

    Unless you plan to never get busy, always be prepared, pass up every birthday party and dinner invite, skip vacations, and stick to a schedule all day every day – LIFE will get in the way of your “perfect” meal plan.

    When things get in the way, people often go back to their old way of eating because they don’t know what else to do when the are not on the plan. Or they begin a plan that was meant to be temporary and continue to follow it for too long – which can lead to deficiencies, disordered eating habits, or other health (mental, metabolic, hormonal) consequences.

    A lot of people may follow a strict plan for a while but won’t really enjoy it. This discontent can pose a serious challenge for a diet to be sustainable long term.

    So, instead of another diet, why not focus on lasting, sustainable changes that are unlikely to interrupt your daily life but have impactful results once we establish them as a habit?

    Focus on what is possible and doable and what you can do TODAY. 

    You can’t set a goal to lose 30 pounds and expect to lose 5 within the first day or PR our clean and jerk by 50 pounds each week. 

    Regardless of what your nutrition or fitness goals are, you need to make your plan a priority, set goals and do the hard work (yes, this is not easy!). Most importantly, you must stay consistent.

    You have to show up again and again and again… even when you want to quit.

    Let’s look ahead a month, a year, or even 5 years from now and you have made significant strides towards reaching your goal(s)… Chances are you won’t remember the small failures that seemed so big and important at the time. That Friday that you ate a piece of cake or slept through your workout is irrelevant.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t quit when the scale went up 5 pounds? Or when things got tough?

    What small choices can you make today to reach your goals?

     

    5 Tips to Revamp Your Healthy Lifestyle

    5 Tips to Revamp Your Healthy Lifestyle

    Has your normal daily routine changed in the past couple of months? There is no doubt that life as we know it looks a little different these days but our health and well-being is more important than ever right now. Read my top ten tips to get back into a healthy routine and jump-start your goals.

    1. Set a Schedule

    This includes regular meal times and planned physical activity.

    Eat meals away from your desk/computer if possible. 

    Use this time to take a quick walk or get outside for some sunshine. 
    Working from home? Set up your workspace away from the kitchen. 

    2. Meal Prep

    Wash, chop your vegetables, cook several clean protein options, and portion out healthy snacks. I recommend storing in clear containers so you are reminded! Make the healthy choice the easy choice.

    Working from home? Meal prep and pack yourself a lunch, set aside snacks for the day the same way you would if you were going to the office.

    Need Ideas? Check out my previous post Simple Tips for Simple & Sustainable Meal Prepping

    3. Think Balance:

    Even when dining or ordering out!
    Ensure each meal is balanced with a protein source, a healthy carbohydrate, and a serving of veggies.
    Choose options like grilled chicken or fish, sweet potato and a side salad instead of fried sides.
    Snacks should also provide a good source of healthy fats, proteins and fiber to sustain us until the next meal.
    A few examples may include; 
    -nuts/nut butter and fruit
    -hard boiled egg with an apple
    -veggies and hummus or guac

    4. Don’t Forget to Hydrate

    Keep a reusable water bottle with you so you can sip throughout the day. If it’s difficult to get into a habit of remembering, consider setting an alarm for every hour! On a normal day, you should drive for at least 1/2 of your body weight in non-caffeinated, non-sweetened & non-alcoholic beverages.

    Sick of plain ol’ water?

    Try infused water (with fruits/herbs – think strawberry mint or rosemary lemon) , sparkling water or herbal teas (hot or iced)

     

    5. Support Your Immune System

    -Eat mostly nutrient-dense, whole foods
    Avoid sugars and refined starches (like pastas, breads, sweets, crackers, etc.) 
    Consume adequate protein, from organic animal protein or plant-based sources
    Use lots of anti-inflammatory spices while cooking such as rosemary, thyme, cilantro, parsley, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, etc. 
    Get plenty of color (eat the colors of the rainbow each day) – include fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin C, A, and foods high in Zinc and Vitamin D
    -Incorporate pre and probiotic-rich food sources
    •  Prebiotics: asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, banana (on the greener side), apples, flax seed, jicama
    • Probiotics: fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt with live & active cultures

    …AND I CAN’T STRESS ENOUGH – MOVE YOUR BODY DAILY AND PRACTICE GOOD SLEEP HYGEINE