5 Things You Can Do to Keep Yourself (& Your Family) Healthy This Winter

Let's face it -- we're all swamped.  None of us have time to take days off of work, either to rest our own weary bones or to take care of a sick child.  And maybe it was just in my house, but whenever my kids were sick, it was always either a holiday or the first day of a family vacation.  Very inconvenient.  But, fevers, aches and pains, runny noses and sore throats can all be kept to a minimum by taking a few, simple preventative measures.

1.  Catch your zzz's.  Most of us don't pay enough attention to our sleep.  Adequate sleep is crazy important.  If you are getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night, you are not getting enough sleep.  And lots of people need more than 7 hours.  My body prefers 9 hours per night, but I can get by with 8.  Any less than that for more than a day or two, and I can expect a cold.

2.  Take Vitamin D.  Studies show that most of us are deficient in this essential vitamin.  But this should never be the case as it is such an easy fix.  I'm not usually in favor of just popping a pill, but this is one of the times I make an exception -- during the cold, New England winter.  If you live in a warm climate, make it a priority to get 15-20 minutes of sunblock-free  time in the sun as often as you can.  If you live in the northeast like I do, you may need to supplement in the winter months.  I take the Vitamin D/K2 drops by Thorne (Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 should always be taken together, and Thorne has them already combined in the proper ratio) and shoot for about 5,000 iu per day.

3.  Limit the sugar.  We all know that sugar isn't great for us, but it's just so darn tasty (and ubiquitous).  The snag with sugar is, it weakens our immune system so that our bodies essentially have to fight it off.  I always tell my kids that our bodies can only fight one thing at a time -- if you've just eaten a pile of cookies when a flu germ comes a-knockin', your body will be too busy fighting the sugar to get rid of it.  And sugar comes in many forms.  Refined white carbohydrates are the first thing to come to mind -- and even non-"sweet" refined carbs (Goldfish crackers, pretzels, waffles, etc.) all turn right to sugar in our bodies.

4.  Wash up!  This is especially important for kids, who are surrounded by germs at school all day.  What do they do as soon as they get home?  Eat a snack.  With their (dirty) hands.  Try to get them in the habit of washing their hands the minute they walk in the door so that their hands are clean when they grab their snacks.  Adults, of course, should also wash their hands before they eat anything, especially during cold and flu season.  Just wash with plain old soap -- not antibacterial soap or Purell -- as anything anti-bacterial will also kill off any good bacteria that happens to be hanging out on us.  And that good bacteria is what helps us fight off the bad.

5.  Eat your greens!  Green, leafy vegetables contain tons of valuable micronutrients that our immune systems need to function properly.  Everyone knows greens are healthy, but if you think of them as cold-fighting agents, it might serve as a reminder to eat a bunch every day.  All fruits and vegetables are good for you, obviously, and eating a variety of them is ideal -- but greens do pack an antioxidant punch that's helpful in keeping the immune system strong.

If it's too late and you already have a cold, try the following recipe from Chris Kresser at chriskresser.com to shorten its duration (it's spicy but if you can get it down, your immune system will thank you!):

  • Juice (or grate on a fine setting) 1–2 pounds of ginger; place juice in a jar and refrigerate
  • Place 2–4 ounces of ginger juice in a mug with the juice of one-half lemon and a large tablespoon of honey (honey is also anti-viral). Add 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 6 ounces of hot water. 
  • Drink 2–6 cups of this a day, sipping slowly throughout the day


5 Dietary Changes You Can Make to Help Your Child Heal from a Concussion

 According to the CDC, about 250,000 children (aged 19 or younger) were treated in an ER for concussion in 2009 (1).  This number does not even count those children who did not go to the ER for their injuries.  An injury to a developing brain is an enormous concern and, with concussion rates rising every year, it is an issue that needs our attention. 

 Parents are typically told is to make sure their children rest their injured brains by refraining from TV and video games, avoiding bright light and, of course, staying out of sports until the symptoms subside.  But diet is not usually addressed.

It might sound like a stretch to say that diet can affect the brain, but recent research has shown a clear connection between the gut and the brain via the vagus nerve (2).  In fact, the brain and the gut develop from the same lump of embryonic tissue in utero, and then divide and form the Central Nervous System (the brain and spinal cord) and the Enteric Nervous System (which is in the lining of our GI tract) as the fetus develops (3). 

Here are 5 dietary changes you can make to help your child recover from a concussion:

1.    AVOID GLUTEN – Gluten causes inflammation in the body and can create little holes in the lining of the intestines, causing undesirable particles to leak into the bloodstream (4).  If your body is busy fighting THAT off, it will have precious fewer reserves available to heal the concussion.

2.    EAT YOUR OMEGA-3s – cold water, fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for the brain.  Shoot for 2-3 servings per week.  Or you can take extra-virgin cod liver oil as long as it’s from a trusted brand like NutraPro International.

3.    CUT OUT THE SEED OILS – this is in part to balance the omega-3 intake and part for the overall health benefits.  An improper balance of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is damaging to the brain so if you are increasing your omega-3 intake, you want to make sure not to overdo it on omega-6s at the same time.  The best way to do this is to cut out processed seed oils like sunflower, cottonseed, soybean, vegetable and canola (5).

4.    ADD A LITTLE TURMERIC – into soups and stews, in rice or on veggies.  Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory herb.

5.    TAKE A PROBIOTIC – if your gut is happy, your brain will be happy.  Prescript-Assist, which contains soil-based organisms, is well-tolerated by most people.

I would also like to put in a plug for sleep here, and lots of it.  Our bodies heal when we sleep and injured brains need even more TLC.  Most children don’t get enough sleep as it is, so if your child has a concussion, this must become a top priority!  OK, so that was sort of a 6th thing but I thought I could sneak it in since it wasn’t exactly diet-related.

I wish that dietary suggestions were given to parents of children with concussions and will work on making that happen!  In the meantime, I hope this helps your child recover!


(1)         http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/get_the_facts.html

(2)         https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201405/how-does-the-vagus-nerve-convey-gut-instincts-the-brain

(3)         http://www.connectwc.org/what-is-the-gut-brain-connection.html

(4)         http://authoritynutrition.com/6-shocking-reasons-why-gluten-is-bad/

(5)         http://chriskresser.com/how-much-omega-3-is-enough-that-depends-on-omega-6/


Nutrition Statement

My basic philosophy is as follows:

1.  Eat real, whole foods from happy (grass-fed, pasture-raised) animals and clean soil -- these foods should make up at least 80% of your diet (more if you have a chronic illness).

2.  Clean up any underlying health issues or system imbalances.

3.  Learn and keep track of your Vitamin D level, your Total Cholesterol:HDL ratio, your Triglycerides and your blood sugar level.

4.  Move around as often as you can (by exercising, playing with your kids, gardening or even just NOT SITTING DOWN ALL DAY).

5.  Find ways to help deal with your stress (deep breathing, meditation, walking in nature, etc.)

6.  Sleep as much as your lifestyle allows.  If you have room in your schedule for 9 hours of sleep per night, get 9 hours of sleep per night.

7.  Have a (gluten-free) cocktail or two if you tolerate them.  

If we can get those 7 things pretty much nailed down (OK, 6 -- the cocktails are just fun, not necessary), I don't think the rest will matter nearly as much.  You don't have to be PERFECT, but everyone can be a little BetterFed.