Due to cold and flu season, chilly weather and holiday stress, it seems like we worry more about our health during the winter than at any other time of year. But do we really need to stress about our well-being this season? We spoke to the experts about the biggest winter health myths and found out the truth.
1. Drink healthy fluids
Sugary and caffeinated beverages can suppress immune-system function, not to mention cause weight gain and dehydration. Drinking six to eight glasses a day of water or herbal tea can keep your digestive system healthy, your weight down and your energy up. This is especially important over the winter months to help flush the system. Green and white teas are also wonderful antioxidant-rich options to keep you healthy throughout the season.
2. Get some z's
Sleeping is one of the most effective ways to refuel after a stressful day. Make sure to sleep in a dark room to ensure your body properly secretes the hormone melatonin, which is believed to help repair the immune system.
3. Avoid added sugars
In addition to causing weight gain, refined flours and sugars can suppress immune-system function. In other words, if there is a flu or cold circulating and you go a little crazy on the white sugar (cookies, pop, candy, etc.), you're creating the perfect environment for illness to strike. Turn to naturally occurring sugars found in fruit for some sweetness. If you crave chocolate, go for dark chocolate (minimum 70 per cent cocoa), which contains plant phenols that have been shown to lower blood pressure. Cut up squares and store them in your freezer. Grab one or two when you need a sweet treat.
4. Go for garlic
The sulfur-containing compounds in garlic help increase the potency of two important cells of the immune system, T-lymphocytes and macrophages, which in turn help battle colds. Eat garlic raw or cooked for an immune-system boost.
Zinc helps prevent a weakened immune system. Get adequate amounts by eating oysters, liver, lean beef, pork, turkey, lamb, lentils, pumpkin and sesame seeds, garbanzo beans and yogurt.
A recent study of more than 35,000 Canadians conducted by the Canadian Community Health Survey showed that the majority of us eat fewer than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day -- Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Eating recommends eating five to 10 servings per day. One serving is equal to:
• 1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh, frozen or canned vegetables or fruit
• 1 cup (250 mL) salad
• 1/2 cup (125 mL) juice
Don't succumb to inactivity this winter -- hit the yoga studio, run on the treadmill or suit up and head outdoors. A brisk walk burns calories, gets the blood flowing and increases energy.
Dr. Joey Shulman is author of bestselling book The Natural Makeover Diet (Wiley, 2005). For more information, please visit www.drjoey.com.