Interested in gaining a little advantage over all those nasty viruses this cold and flu season? Here’s a great way to bolster your defenses: with food! Bring this list to the grocery store and fill your shopping cart with immune-boosting yummies.
Good for fighting vampires and colds, garlic has been used as a traditional remedy for generations. And now there’s research to back it up. For example, in a British study, people given garlic extract for 12 weeks were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold than those given placebo.
Berries are loaded with vitamin C and other phytonutrients that help improve white blood cell function. My favourites are strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries, but blueberries are wonderful too. And don’t forget cranberries—added bonus: cranberries help fight urinary tract infections.
Yogurt contains a beautiful thing: probiotics. The benefits of probiotics are many: decreased yeast infections, improved symptoms due to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), and rebalanced gut flora after a course of antibiotics. And now, to boot, studies show that probiotics may help prevent colds and the flu. Children in daycare who were given daily probiotics had fewer fevers, coughing episodes, and nasal congestion.
Citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C, a known virus-fighter. Grapefruit is also a great source of the antioxidant lycopene—especially the pink and red varieties.
Mushrooms are high in selenium, which is an important mineral for a fully-functioning immune system. The humble mushroom is also full of B vitamins, and zinc—a key weapon against infection.
You might think of watermelon as a summer treat only, but there’s good reason to enjoy a slice during the winter, too. Watermelon is a great source of glutathione—a potent antioxidant that improves immune function. Other sources of glutathione: asparagus, cabbage and cauliflower.
Spinach is rich in folate (which helps repair DNA and produce new cells), vitamin C and other antioxidants. Don’t stop at spinach, though—include other green leafies, like kale and broccoli.
Both green and black tea are rich in polyphenols and flavonoids, fabulous antioxidants. Tea also contains L-theanine, a substance that was shown to boost white blood cell function in a 2009 Harvard study.
Not just an aphrodisiac, oysters are one of the best dietary sources of zinc…and zinc is an important mineral for fighting colds and the flu. If oysters aren’t your thing, try these other zinc-rich foods: wheat germ and eggs.
Eat, drink, and be healthy.
“Self-care does not mean selfish.”
These were the words of Rona Maynard, former editor of Chatelaine magazine, in her keynote address to the audience at Breathe Now. And for me, that became the unofficial theme of the weekend-long conference for women.
Breathe Now, organized by four fabulous women (pictured above), happened this past weekend in Victoria, BC, and I had the good fortune, and privilege, of attending.
It was a weekend away from our regular routines, to nurture and nourish ourselves, to breathe…and to share our stories. We celebrated all the best parts of being a 21st century female: the fun, lighthearted stuff as well as the deep and the meaningful. There were too many workshops and events to detail here, but here were some of the highlights, for me:
As part of a panel on health, Sandy Ibrahim, a personal trainer & fitness professional (and mom), told a powerful story about her own decision to choose a healthy life, even though it meant essentially turning her back on her family of origin. A wonderful, natural speaker with a self-deprecating sense of humor , she admitted: “I’m lazy,”—which is a refreshingly awesome thing to hear from a fitness professional.
Bliss Prema spoke about her own journey, away from the fast-paced life as a film/TV agent in Vancouver to become a spiritual healer, yogi, and Indian Head massage practitioner. I loved Bliss’s talk and her presence and energy so much, I approached her immediately afterwards to learn how I could book an appointment for an Indian Head Massage with her.
We took one step closer to breaking down the stigma of mental health during a session called “It’s OK to Talk About It.” Airdrie Miller gave a compelling presentation about her struggle with—and ultimate success over—postpartum depression and the trial of losing her husband in his 30s to cancer.
We also celebrated the lighter side of being female. There were fabulous workshops on fashion, and beauty, and knitting….and did I mention the massage station? Plus, the cocktail party at funky/atmospheric Temple bar in Victoria on Saturday night was ridiculously fun. Between the fashion show and yummy nibbles, and the signature cocktail crafted by one of the conference founders, Janice…it was a fantastic opportunity to relax and make merry.
Rona Maynard’s keynote was a major highlight for me. Besides her encouragement about “self-care,” she shared wonderful stories about being a woman, and a mother, in the high-power world of magazine publishing in Toronto. She is a highly accomplished woman and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to absorb a little of her wisdom. Her talk was funny, wise, and down-to-earth. She encouraged us all to embrace the word no, and avoid stretching ourselves too thin: “NO protects your emotional ecosystem.”
Connecting with fellow attendees is always a fun aspect of a conference. The whole vibe was warm and supportive. I met tons of wonderful women and was happy to finally meet fellow yummy mummy Karen Humphrey, our food editor here at YMC. Karen also gave a wonderful, personal, and uplifting talk about her own journey towards building community.
The most memorable part, for me, was the final keynote address by Bif Naked. Her talk was truly breathtaking. She chronicled her life’s journey…beginning as an orphan in India to a childhood as a beloved adopted daughter/sister/class clown, to breast cancer patient, to her most recent challenge—heart surgery survivor—a mere 15 days prior to Breathe Now. She spoke from the heart about cancer. But she didn’t dwell on it—because, clearly, it’s not all there is to this fascinating woman. She spoke with an unbelievably compelling presence; the entire room was riveted. If you are ever lucky enough to have an opportunity to hear her speak: take it.
Through the weekend there were big belly laughs and, yes, there were tears. We moved, connected, ate, drank, cheered…
The central thread woven throughout the conference was the sharing of stories. Because, truly, every woman has a story to tell.
And it was this tapestry of stories that made Breathe Now such a wonderful experience.
*photos courtesy of Derek Ford Photography
When I was a kid, my mother refused to allow me or my sisters to chew gum. This was an incredible injustice in my eyes. Chewing gum was cool! But she stayed firm: she couldn't stand seeing little girls chomping away on gum. To her, it looked cheap, stupid, and classless. Now, as an adult? I have to admit...she was right about that. Chewing gum is probably not your best way to appear intelligent and grown-up.
However, while it may not look great, recent research suggests that chewing gum has some rather interesting effects. In fact, it’s been shown to improve mood, reduce stress, and boost alertness and cognitive function.
In several studies, chewing gum has been associated with improved attention, greater alertness and a more positive mood. Reaction times were quicker when research subjects were chewing gum, and this effect became more pronounced as the task became more difficult.
Not all studies have shown completely consistent results, of course, as is always the way with research. But after reviewing the literature, I'm pretty convinced there's something about chewing gum that gives us a brain and mood boost.
And...if you like your Wrigley’s, here are some other reasons why chewing gum is good for you:
It’s helps keep your teeth healthy. Chewing gum after meals stimulates extra saliva production, which helps to neutralize acid that breaks down enamel and causes cavities. (And while we’re on the topic of dental hygiene, here’s a surprising health reason why flossing just might save your life.)
One final bonus to chewing gum: it can help you lose a little weight. Some studies have found that chewing gum curbs your appetite. I certainly find it nixes dessert cravings, in particular. Right after a meal, the powerful mint flavour (sugarfree, of course) helps sidestep the need for something sweet. (Want more sneaky weight loss tricks? See this.)
So, as long as you can be somewhat subtle about it (no open-mouthed chomping please, ladies!) chewing gum can be a health boon—giving you brain power, a better mood, a trimmer shape, and a gorgeous smile. Totally calorie-free, and without any time investment at all.
Not bad for the humble chiclet.