Nutrients to boost the immune system

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Feeding your body with right foods may help activate proper function of the immune system. If you’re looking for easy ways to reduce the risk or even prevent illnesses such as the common cold and other flu-like illnesses, your first step should be a visit to the local grocery store.

Some foods are better than others when it comes to priming the immune system. Here is a quick look at a few key nutrients that are critical for proper immune function and which foods you can find them.

Vitamin A
A fat soluble vitamin, vitamin A promotes good vision, gene replication, healthy immune function and proper skin health.

There are two ways in which vitamin A is available to humans:

  • preformed vitamin A;
  • carotenoids.

Preformed vitamin A is found predominantly in animal sources like liver and butter, while carotenoids are found in plant sources.

Vitamin A is essential for healthy mucous membranes, respiratory, urinary, and intestinal tracts, which all help the body to protect against infections. It regulates the immune system and plays a key role in producing white blood cells which fight off infections within the body.

Top foods for vitamin A

  • Lamb’s liver (735% RDA per 3oz)
  • Sweet potato (214% RDA per cup)
  • Carrot (148%)
  • Tuna (143% DV per 6oz)
  • Pumpkin (127% DV per cup)

Vitamin C
An essential nutrient, meaning that the body is unable to synthesize it on its own, humans must on rely on their diet for an adequate source of vitamin C.

Vitamin C performs a variety of functions  throughout the body. Primarily by donating electrons in biochemical reactions. It is required by the body for the development and maintenance of scar tissue, blood vessels, collagen synthesis and proper iron absorption. It’s also an antioxidant. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, a type of molecule known to damage and disrupt the immune system.

Studies have shown that high doses of vitamin C can boost immune function, and in turn reducing the severity and duration of cold and flu like symptoms.

Top foods for vitamin C:

  • Guava (419% DV per cup)
  • Red and green peppers (211%)
  • Kiwi fruit (185%)
  • Strawberries (108%)
  • Oranges (106%)

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it is required to be consumed with fatty acids to be absorbed by the body. Similar to vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is also important in proper heart function, protection against heart disease and a reduction in chronic inflammation.

Top foods for vitamin E:

  • Almonds & sunflower seeds (49% DV per oz)
  • Avocado (28% DV per avocado)
  • Spinach (25% DV per cup)
  • Pumpkin (18%)
  • Kiwi fruit (18%)

Zinc
Zinc is an extremely versatile mineral required as a cofactor by more than 300 enzymes. Virtually all cells contain zinc, with the highest concentrations being found in muscle and bone.

Zinc supports many functions including the production of certain immune cells, building proteins, wound healing, reproduction and creating DNA. Zinc is also essential for creation and activation of T-lymphocytes, which are the core of adaptive immunity, the system that tailors the body’s immune response to specific pathogens.

Several studies have shown that supplementing with zinc can protect against respiratory tract infections, such as the common cold. Similar to vitamin C, Zinc may also reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu like symptoms.

Top foods for zinc:

  • Oysters (327% DV per half dozen)
  • Beef chuck steak (140% DV per 5oz)
  • Chicken leg (49% DV per leg)
  • Tofu (36% DV per cup)
  • Pork chop (32% DV per 6oz)

 

The protein leverage hypothesis

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The protein leverage hypothesis states that homo sapiens, or modern humans will prioritise the protein content in food over all other dietary components, and will continue to eat until the body’s protein needs have been met, regardless of the energy content, leading to the over-consumption of food when the protein content is low.

Simply put, when there’s not enough protein in the diet, the body will crave more food until it has satisfied this requirement, regardless of the caloric content. This is likely an evolutionary adaption over millions of years, where getting enough dietary protein meant a greater chance of survival.

What does this actually mean?

Well, if you consider that if you eat 100g of steak, you will consume approx. 25g of protein. Similarly, 100g of lentils contain approx. 25g of protein.

In contrast, if you eat 100g of bread, you will only consume approx. 12g of protein, while 100g of potato chips provides approx. 7g of protein.

This would mean that you would have to eat two or three times the amount of bread or potato chips to acquire the same amount of protein, due to the lower protein content in those foods. Both items also have a much higher carbohydrate and unhealthy fat content, leading to a much higher caloric content without adding any real nutritional value.

If you don’t prioritise your protein intake, you’ll need to consume a greater amount of calories to reach your body’s protein and mineral requirements, ultimately leading to excessive or unwanted weight gain.

With so many hyper-palatable foods readily available today, this may not exactly be the ideal scenario for the large portion of society who are currently overweight or obese and constantly trying to lose excess body fat. This can incredibly confusing, especially with so many debates on what exactly is healthy or sustainable nutrition.

Currently, in Australia and New Zealand, the accepted range for dietary protein and other micronutrients is 15-25% of total energy consumed. If you’re eating mostly whole foods and are meeting these requirements, your body will be better equipped to self regulate its individual energy requirement.

This hypothesis has been studied in 2005 and again 2019 as a possible contributor to the obesity epidemic.

Cod liver oil and optimal health

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Cod liver oil is a fish oil supplement. It has a long history in medicine, dating back to the late 1700’s where is was first used to treat rheumatism and then rickets and a variety of other infections.

Similar to other fish oils, cod liver oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, which are linked to a variety of health benefits including reduced overall inflammation, improved brain function, heart health and lower blood pressure.

Cod liver oil also contains bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D, often deficient in the modern diet, provide many other health benefits contributing to optimal health and performance.

Typical nutritional profile of a 5 ml serving:

  • Calories: 45
  • Fat: 5g
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1000mg
  • Cholesterol: 25mg
  • Vitamin A: approx. 90% of RDI
  • Vitamin D: approx. 110% of RDI

Below are just some of the scientifically back health benefits of supplementing with cod liver oil:

Great source of vitamins A and D
Cod liver oil is incredibly nutritious food, providing approx. 90% of the daily requirement for vitamin A and over 100% of the daily vitamin D requirements.

Traditionally cod liver oil was given to children to support proper growth and brain development, stronger bones and a general protection from infection. It was also taken by mothers during pregnancy and breast-feeding to support the optimal development of their infant.

Vitamin A has many roles in the human body, including maintaining eye health, the immune system, brain function and healthy skin.

It is also one of the best food sources of vitamin D, which has many important roles in the body including brain health and maintaining bone homeostasis by regulating calcium absorption.

Reduced inflammation
Inflammation is a natural process that helps the body fight infections and heal injuries.

In some cases however, this inflammation may continue at low levels for extended periods of time. This is known as chronic inflammation, which is harmful and may increase the risk high blood pressure and several other health conditions.

The omega-3 fatty acids in cod liver oil may help suppress chronic inflammation.

Improved bone health
Having strong bones is incredibly important, especially as you enter advanced age. It is common for people to begin to have a reduction in bone density levels from about the age of 30 years. This can lead to fractures and breaks later in life, especially in women after menopause.

Cod liver oil is a great dietary source of vitamin D and may reduce age-related bone loss. That’s because it helps your body absorb and regulate calcium, which is a necessary mineral for strong and healthy bones.

Reduced joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by damage to the joints.

There is currently no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. This study however, suggests that cod liver oil may reduce joint pain and improve some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis like joint stiffness and swelling.

In fact, cod liver oil has been used to treat patients with rheumatism since the late 1700’s.

Supports eye health
Cod liver oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA and vitamin A, both of which may protect against vision loss from age related and inflammatory eye diseases.

To summarise
Cod liver oil is an incredibly nutritious food supplement. It is convent and contains high amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids, along with bioavailable forms of vitamins A and D which are important to optimal health and performance.

Traditionally used to support the proper growth and development of young children, it also has many other health promoting benefits.

Adding cod liver oil to your diet may provide health benefits such as improved bone density, an increased protection against general illness and a reduction in joint pain for those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

In general, dosing is usually between 1 and 2 teaspoons (5-10ml) per day. For those who can’t handle the taste it also comes in capsule form.

Alternatively, you can add your daily dose to a small glass of fresh juice or water.

Protein shakes before or after your workout

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Protein is necessary for muscle repair and growth. It is an essential macronutrient that is required for optimal function.

For this reason, many people consume protein supplements in the form of shakes along with their workouts.

However, the optimal time to have a protein shake is an often debated topic.

Some believe it’s best to drink a protein shake before a workout, whereas others argue that after a workout is ideal.

Myself personally, am a fan of the train fasted, compete fed philosophy.

How much protein do you require?
The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 g/kg of body weight.

The RDA is the estimated amount of a nutrient a person needs to avoid a deficiency. It doesn’t specify the amount needed to optimize body composition or health and performance.

Most research suggests that people who routinely strength train may need double the RDA, or 1.6 g/kg, to support muscle recovery and growth.

A protein shake is a good option between meals, either as a snack or around your workout. They typically contain 25–30 grams of protein per scoop.

The magical 30 minute window
Many people within the health and fitness industry believe that drinking a protein shake within 30 minutes of completing physical activity will maximize their results in the gym.

Previously, it was been thought that consuming protein within this window gave the athlete the best opportunity to build new muscle mass. More recent research however, suggests that this window is much longer than 30 minutes and may not be limited to the post-workout window.

Today, it has become widely accepted that total protein consumed throughout the day is probably as important to building lean muscle than the actual timing.

Whilst I am a fan of training in a fasted state, I do use branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) on occasion and my morning coffee is usually combined with some collagen. Whilst technically it breaks the fast, the collagen provides a small amino acid boost pre-workout, fuelling the muscles and generally resulting in improved physical performance.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who just don’t respond well to training without eating or drinking something beforehand. If you fall into this category then a protein shake post-workout will still contribute to muscle repair and growth.

That being said, here are some of the benefits of taking some protein during the pre-workout window.

Increased protein synthesis
Pre-workout protein, specifically BCAAs, will help fuel the muscles during physical activity. BCAAs do not need to be processed by the liver, so after being consumed, they head directly to the blood stream to be used by the muscles.

Taking protein prior to your workout primes the pump, starting protein synthesis during, rather than after your training session.

A pre-workout serve of BCAAs increases amino acid delivery to the muscles during physical activity. Taken alone or as part of a complete protein, such as whey protein powders, BCAAs inhibit muscle breakdown. The result is an even higher level of net protein synthesis.

Carryover effect post-workout
There is also a carryover effect of nutrients taken pre-workout. Protein synthesis can stay elevated for as long as 3 hours after consumption.

What does this mean? Consuming protein pre-workout will elevate amino acids within the blood both during and after your workout is over. This elevation of blood amino acids will not only trigger protein synthesis but help prevent excessive post-workout muscle breakdown.

Fat burning
Taking BCAAs along with some coffee pre-workout can be extremely beneficial during periods of low carbohydrate consumption. Adding BCCAs pre-workout, when glycogen stores are low (they will be if you eating a low carbohydrate diet), will increase fatty acid oxidation (aka fat burning) during periods of intense physical activity.

In summary
The nutrients consumed around your workout are critical to building and maintaining your physique.

While protein shakes around workouts and between meals are helpful, make sure you’re getting enough protein throughout the day. Consuming protein from quality food sources should be your primary goal.

Additional supplementation using protein shakes can help you meet your goals.

While the post-workout shake has long been the go-to for many bodybuilders and athletes, consuming some protein in the pre-workout window may be even more beneficial, by supporting intra-workout muscle growth.

If you are generally healthy and getting a good amount of quality protein throughout the day, then a serve of BCAAs pre-workout will provide an adequate boost during your workout.

Foods for heart health

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Heart disease accounts for nearly one third of all deaths worldwide.

Your diet plays a major role in heart health and can impact your overall risk of heart disease. In fact, certain foods can influence your blood glucose response, blood pressure, trigylerides and cholesterol levels along with total inflammation, all of which are risk factors in heart disease.

Here are some foods that can improve your overall heart health.

Salmon
One of the best sources of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids which can lower the risk of irregular heart beat as well as plaque build up in the arteries. Wild caught is preferred over farmed.

If you’re not a fan of salmon or seafood in general, then fish oil supplementation is another option. Fish oil supplements have been shown to reduce blood triglycerides, improve arterial function and decrease blood pressure.

Blueberries
Rich in antioxidants and flavonoids, blueberries can protect against oxidative stress, decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels.

Citrus
High in flavonoids that are linked with a reduced rate of ischemic stroke caused by blood clots, and rich in vitamin C which has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, like atherosclerosis.

Tomatoes
Cardio-protective functions provided by the nutrients in tomatoes may include the reduction of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.

Extra virgin olive oil
Rich in monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), extra virgin olive oil may help lower your risk of heart disease by improving related risk factors. For instance, MUFAs have been found to lower your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.

Avocados
Avocados are particularly rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, potassium and vitamins C and K. Regular consumption has been shown to reduce heart disease risk factors by improving cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels.

Butter
Butter is rich in fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, and other beneficial compounds like butyrate and conjugated linoleic acid. High-fat dairy products like butter have been linked to a reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants like flavonoids, which can help boost heart health. It has been associated with a lower risk of developing calcified plaque in the arteries and coronary heart disease.

Be sure to pick a high-quality dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70%, and moderate your intake to make the most of its heart-healthy benefits.

In summary
The link between nutrition and heart health is getting stronger each year. The foods that you put on your plate and ultimately into your mouth can influence just about every aspect of heart health, from blood glucose responses, blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol levels and overall systemic inflammation.

Including these heart-healthy foods as part of a nutritious, well-balanced whole food diet can help keep your heart in good shape and mitigate many of the risk factors associated with heart disease.

Why organ meats belong in your diet

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There a few foods that actually deserve the title of “superfood”. Liver, along with many other organ meats like kidneys and hearts are some of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. 

Our bodies evolved to eat these foods and to draw nourishment and energy from them. We didn’t spend millennia gulping down multivitamins and sports supplements.

Once a popular and treasured food source, liver, along with other organ meats, have fallen out of favour as nutritional staples.

The reality is that our palates and routines have evolved far from some of the foods we most need for optimal health. Instead, people are chasing the regular sugar highs that come with more modern, overly processed and hyper palatable “foods”.

Organ meats have an excellent nutrient profile. High in protein and low in calories, some of the key nutrients that are important to optimal human function are found in organ meats such as liver, include:

  • Retinol. The active form of vitamin A, which is crucial for healthy skin, fertility and pregnancy, vision, and immune health;
  • Choline. Critical for DNA synthesis, brain function, and a healthy nervous system;
  • Iron. Another essential nutrient that helps carry oxygen around the body. The iron in liver is heme iron, the kind most easily absorbed by the body;
  • B12 and folate. These nutrients are crucial for methylation, which affects everything from gene expression to the production of neurotransmitters to detoxification;
  • Zinc and copper. Zinc and copper work together to influence immune function, metabolism, and the nervous system. A single serving of liver provides enough copper for an entire week.

Sadly, most people today don’t like the taste of liver, and beef kidneys and heart aren’t high on the list either.

How to get more organ meats into your diet
Here are a few ways to get more organ meats onto your plate:

  • Pan fried. Liver goes well when fried with onions;
  • Bolognese sauces. Liver and other organ meats can be chopped or minced and then mixed with regular ground beef and added to pasta or vegetable dishes;
  • Burger patties. As with Bolognese sauces, chop or mince organ meats and mix it with ground beef to make highly nutritious burgers;
  • Adding lots of spices. By adding lots of herbs and spices, you can use strong flavours to help disguise its taste.
  • Soaked in lemon juice. Prior to cooking will reduce the strong flavour.

The bottom line is that liver and other organ meats like kidneys and hearts are a greatly underrated food source. Naturally nutrient dense and low in calories, they make a truely valuable addition to any nutritional strategy.

Using the evolutionary exercise template to boost performance

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What did our primal ancestors do for exercise? Well, for a start, exercise for them wasn’t anything they had to think about. It was life.

There were no gyms or running tracks. No spin rooms or Zumba classes. It was just the surrounding environment. Everyday. This meant moving and exercising to gather food, build shelter, or simply to survive.

An evolutionary exercise program can be defined as one that is similar in principle to what our ancestors did on a daily basis.

Move often at a slow pace
Early humans spent much of their day walking around hunting and gathering their food, along with seasonal migrations to new territories following food sources.

Low level aerobic activity throughout the day will build stronger blood vessels, bones, joints, and connective tissues.

Some easy ways to incorporate low level aerobic activity could look like this:

  • Walking or riding your bike to work;
  • Parking your car as far away from your destination as possible and walking the rest of the way;
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator;
  • Take frequent breaks at work to get up and walk around; or
  • Take a walk outside during your lunch break.

You may even want to try a standing desk if possible. On weekends or after work, try going for a hike or even a swim. The possibilities are infinite.

Find ways stay active every day, even on your rest days. The benefits of being mobile are endless, especially as you enter into older age.

Sprint every now and then
Our ancestors didn’t spend hours upon hours exercising, and neither should you. For early humans, life depended on being able to outrun animals, either in the form of hunting them (persistence hunting), or to avoid being hunted by them. They would only work hard when it was absolutely necessary.

These short bursts of high intensity physical effort increased the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH helps to maintain, build, and repair healthy tissue in the brain and other organs. This hormone can help to speed up healing after an injury and repair muscle tissue after exercise. This helps to build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and burn fat.

HGH is released in proportion to the intensity (not the duration) of the physical activity.

Lift heavy things… and carry them
Just like sprinting, early humans had to use quick bursts of energy to lift and move heavy objects. They would have to move large rocks or logs to build shelter, carry firewood or large animal kills back to their camps.

These types of high intensity workouts help release testosterone that boosts metabolism and improves muscle strength and size.

The best movements to mimic this type of activity are the basic movement patterns:

  • Loaded carry;
  • Hinge;
  • Squat;
  • Pull;
  • Press.

This includes exercises like the squat, deadlift, pull-ups, push-ups and farmers walks.

The biochemical signals created by these very brief, but intense muscle contractions generated a surge of HGH, prompting an increase in muscle size and power.

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Rest, relax and recover
Exercise is utterly pointless and even counterproductive without proper rest, relaxation, and sleep. You need to eat well and eat enough, let your muscles rest and recover, and have enough downtime to reap the benefits of exercise.

If you want a better quality of life, to be strong and have the ability to run fast and for distance so that life is generally easier for you. Then get your rest and recover well. You don’t need to be in the gym every day. Enjoy time socially with friends and family. Read a book. Visit a museum or art gallery. Give your body some time to physically recover.

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In summary
You don’t have to spend hours every day in the gym to be physically fit. It’s actually the opposite if you’re after general physical fitness. Depending on individual goals and competitions you may need to spend additional time completing sports specific training.

However, if you want to be healthy, strong and mobile into old age the basic template can be fairly simple to apply, follow and easy to achieve.