10 healthy eating tips for better gut health and immunity

One of the secrets to better immunity is to look after your gut. A huge percentage of your immune system is in your digestive system and it’s part of your first line of defence.

Eat live foods in your diet such as bioyoghurts, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and other fermented foods.  Your gut flora needs the right nourishment to survive and eating natural fibres are important fuel for your gut bacteria.  Eat plenty of healthy root veg, wholegrains, nuts and seeds and avoid chemical additives and artificial sweeteners to keep your healthy bacteria in tip top fighting condition.

Eat plenty of sulfur-rich foods such as onions, garlic, leeks and shallots. Not only will these help to boost glutathione, which is a potent anti-oxidant that supports healthy liver function, but they also have an expectorant and antiseptic effect in the lungs, especially garlic, which we all know can affect our breath.  It does that because the volatile compounds are excreted through the lung tissue and as it passes through the lungs it works as a potent antiseptic, helping to fight infection.

Cook with plenty of aromatic herbs such thyme, sage, marjoram and oregano. These “pot” herbs not only taste great but they are also incredibly antiseptic.  Sage is used Medical Herbalists to treat sore throats, oregano to treat fungal infections and thyme to treat respiratory infections.  Adding them into your cooking will give your dishes that extra immune edge as well as tasting great.

Drink herbal teas made with caraway, aniseed and fennel.  These are great digestive herbs and help reduce bloating and cramping, but they also have another important medicinal effect, they stimulate the cilia of the lungs to keep mucus moving.  Mucus is there to shift out toxins, viruses and bacteria and the cilia play an essential role in lung health.  Keeping them primed with these three aromatics might just help keep your lungs cleaner and more resilient.

Use black cumin seed in your diet to help reduce inflammation. Nigella Sativa seeds contain a pungent aromatic oil called thymoquinone which can be harnessed in a number of inflammatory conditions, including lung problems.  Supplements of black seed oil are prescribed by Medical Herbalists in a number of conditions including COPD and asthma.  You can add black cumin seeds to your cooking, using them in curries or spicy dishes, throw some into your bread or add into a smoothie to harness some of the health benefits.

Eat plenty of mushrooms and even better sit them on your windowsill for a few hours to help them release extra vitamin D, which science shows has many benefits for our immune systems. There are an array of medicinal mushroom supplements available in health food shops, but even communal garden button mushrooms can boost immunity.  Mushrooms contain beta glutans, which help to boost our innate immune response and also help keep our microbiome in good shape.  So add a few mushrooms into your favourite dishes and if you can get them try some shitake, oyster or enoki mushrooms for a bit of variety.

Boost your vitamin C intake by adding fresh berries into your diet. Colourful berries contain anti-oxidants which support our immune system by helping to reduce inflammation.  The best berry of all is elderberry, which you will either need to harvest yourself in the autumn or take as a liquid extract.  Elderberries have been shown to reduce viral replication by inhibiting the ability of viruses to adhere to and penetrate cell walls in the body, thus shortening the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections.

Give your zinc levels a top up. Zinc is an essential nutrient for immune health and deficiency of this essential mineral can leave you more susceptible to disease and illness.  Your body needs zinc to activate fighter cells in your immune system so it’s an important nutrient to get in adequate quantities.  Include pumpkin seeds in your diet to give you a healthy boost, with the added benefit that they will also give you essential fatty acids and dietary fibre.

Eat plenty of healthy fats in your diet. Whether you choose fish, nuts, seeds or eggs make sure and boost your healthy omegas.  Sea buckthorn berries are a rich source of beta carotenes and essential fatty acids and are a natural source of omega 7 which is important for the health of the mucus membranes.  If we lack good fats, we tend to dehydrate and dryness of the skin and mucus membranes makes us more susceptible to infection.  Keep moist and keep those mucus membranes in tip top health.

Drink plenty of clean, fresh fluids to stay well hydrated. We all know what happens to our plants if they don’t drink enough, they lose their vitality and become more susceptible to diseases.  The same thing happens in our bodies if we don’t take on enough fluids.  There’s nothing wrong with tea or coffee, both can be good for you in moderation, especially if they are organic and plastic free! But add in some green tea, herbal teas and diluted fresh fruit and vegetable juices to boost up trace minerals and antioxidants.

5 health-boosting herbal teas to help ease anxiety

Drinking herbal tea is one of the simplest and most effective ways to benefit from the medicinal and healing properties of plants. It’s an ancient practice which dates back to the dawn of time and long before the post-war introduction of the NHS.

Resident medical herbalist Wendy Kelly MNIMH shares some of her favourite health-boosting blends for anxiety…

Chamomile – This calming tea is soothing to the nervous system, as well as the stomach. It’s particularly useful for anxiety, including in children. Enjoy it at any time of the day either on its own or accompanied by a peppermint teabag, grate of fresh ginger or teaspoon of honey.

Lemon balm – This beautifully citrus scented member of the mint family might already be growing in your garden. It boosts GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels in the brain, calming anxiety and raising your mood. The fresh leaves of lemon balm make a soothing tea which is good for anxiety that goes for your stomach.

Green tea – This tea contains amino acid l-theanine, which gives it a GABA-promoting effect. It’s also thought to boost alpha wave production in the brain, which promotes focus and relaxation without a sedative effect. It can be particularly useful for people working at home who need to concentrate. It’s also rich in antioxidants which boost the immune system and is a great, healthy all-rounder.

Oats – Herbalists use tinctures and tea of oat straw for anxiety and the chronically stressed because it’s rich in the phytonutrients which nourish and restore the nervous system.

To boost your resilience against colds, flu and other viruses, you could also incorporate an echinacea blend into your daily routine to keep your immune system strong.

Echinacea – native to North America, this herb has proved beneficial for treating colds and flu and can even reduce the duration of infections. It works by increasing the number of white blood cells that help to fight infection.

Medical herbalists are medically trained and well equipped to choose the appropriate and safest blend for your individual needs.

If you are on medication, have any medical conditions or are unsure which herbs would be the most appropriate, consult your local, independent health store, many of which are either staying open or offering online services to support the nation at this time. Or click here to find a medical herbalist near you.


How herbal medicine can boost your natural immunity

While we are all doing our bit to stem the spread of Covid-19, such as staying home, self-isolating and socially distancing ourselves, there are other ways we can invest in and help to protect our own health.

As the medical world races to develop a vaccine, it’s essential that we look to preventative health care and take simple measures to support our own wellbeing.

By eating well, getting plenty of sleep and ultimately staying healthy, we can boost our natural immunity and take steps to reduce the frequency and severity of viral and bacterial infections.

By taking a preventative approach to health and wellbeing, we may be able to avoid infection from viruses and harmful antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which have become a major problem in the 21st century.

Plant remedies could hold the key to our long-term immunity and may even have the edge over conventional chemical drugs when it comes to resilience thanks, in part, to their complex and multi-functional make up.

While herbal medicine isn’t a substitute for orthodox medical care, it can help to support our immunity and may even help us avoid infection.

The main medical strategy for tackling viral infections is immunisation but vaccines aren’t quick to develop. There are also very few anti-viral pharmaceutical medications – making treatment very difficult.

There are many immuno-suppressive therapies within conventional medicine, yet there are very few which can boost the immune system.

But herbal medicine is different. Lots of plants have both strong anecdotal and clinical evidence for their immune enhancing benefits. There are lots of well researched, natural remedies proven to help fight infection, enhance immunity, increase resilience and reduce the severity and longevity of viruses such as colds and flu.

It would be wrong to claim that these herbs can prevent or cure COVID-19 since we don’t have enough information yet, but their track record for being able to treat other viral infections means they could potentially be beneficial.”

3 herbs to boost immunity and increase resilience 

Echinacea – this go-to immune herb has become a bit of a household name in recent years. Native to North America, it has been extensively researched for treating colds and flu.

Not only has it proved effective in preventing colds, but it can reduce the duration of infections too. It works by increasing the number of white blood cells that help to fight infection.

Since coronaviruses are also responsible for the common cold and pneumonia, echinacea may have the potential to increase resistance against other emerging viral strains.

Elderberry – Scotland’s native elderberry has come under the spotlight in recent years after several positive studies showing that it can lessen the severity and longevity of viral infections.

Unlike echinacea which stimulates host immunity, elderberry has been shown to reduce viral replication by inhibiting its ability to adhere to and penetrate cell walls in the body, thus shortening the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections.

Nigella sativa – another notable antiviral, otherwise dubbed the aromatic Black Seed, which was written about in the book of Isaiah in the OId Testament.

This ancient remedy, which has been used for over 4,000 years has seen a dramatic revival in recent years, because of the potent effects of its main chemical constituent, an aromatic compound called Thymoquinone which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and hepatoprotective properties.

It’s known to inhibit leukotriene synthesis and histamine release, two inflammatory mediators associated with lung infection.

But good immune health is down to much more than taking medicines, regardless whether they’re natural or synthetic. Getting enough vitamin D, taking probiotics and eating healthily are just a few of the key foundations to building healthy immunity.

We can’t change our genes, but we can influence our immune health through our diets and gut microbiome – both of which have a significant impact on us staying well. By boosting our immunity and improving the condition of the ‘soil’ where viruses or bacteria can take hold, we may be able to increase our resilience against new viral strains and antibiotic resistant bacteria to avoid contracting them in the first place.”

This information should not replace medical advice or preventative strategies such as hand washing. If you are concerned you may have contracted COVID-19, follow NHS guidelines, self-isolate and phone for medical guidance.

Also please remember that not all treatments, including natural remedies, are suitable for everyone. Always consult a professional.

To find a medical herbalist near you, visit the National Institute of Medical Herbalists.

Health Food and More shortlisted for a national award

Health Food and More has become one of nine Fife businesses to reach the finals of the first ever Holistic Scotland Magazine Awards.

Our store is in the running for the Independent Health Retailer of the Year award, sponsored by herbal remedies specialist A.Vogel.

We have fended off competition from nearly 200 other entrants and nominees from across Scotland to make it through to the final round of the awards, which have been launched to to celebrate excellence in natural and holistic health and wellbeing.

Our fellow Fife finalists are The Ecology Centre in Kinghorn, Amanda’s Podiatry in Burntisland, Inspirational Therapies and The Little Fox Soapery in Glenrothes, Simply Scentered Holistic Therapies in Leslie, Enlighten Cupar, Flora Fusion in Leven and Happy Earth Place in Dunfermline, as well as Linda Tremble, who is the founder of Glenrothes-based eating disorder charity The Linda Tremble Foundation.

We will find out who the overall winners are at the official awards ceremony to be held at the Apex Grassmarket Hotel in Edinburgh later this year.

In the meantime, we’d like to extend a big ‘thank you’ to everyone who nominated us. We received nominations in four different categories – Independent Health Retailer of the Year, Best Clinic/Practice, Outstanding Innovation, and Team of the Year – and are chuffed to bits that our customers love what we do.

We’d also like to wish everyone else who has been shortlisted the best of luck.