Pack those snacks, says the nutritionist

Travelers have a host of pathogens to fend off this winter, including the “tripletemia” of infections caused by Covid-19, influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).

But there are steps people can take to reduce their chances of getting sick, say health specialists at Spain’s SHA Wellness Clinic.

The key is to develop “a resilient immune system that can defend itself against attacks by viruses and bacteria,” said Dr. Vicente Mera, head of genomic medicine at SHA.

what to eat

“The biggest thing is nutrition,” Mera said.

But a drastic diet is not necessary, he added. Rather, travelers can simply eat whole plant-based foods, which can help decrease inflammation, he said.

Fiber in plant-based foods also helps the gut microbiome “fight pathogens that enter or become active through the digestive tract,” he said.

Dr. Vicente Mera, Melanie Waxman and Philippa Harvey from SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain.

Source: SHA Wellness Clinic

Eating a nutrient-dense diet is the top recommendation from Melanie Waxman, integrative nutrition specialist and nutrition coach at the SHA Wellness Clinic.

That means eating “lots of vegetables, whole grains, fresh herbs, beans, sea vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and fermented foods,” she said.

What to pack on a plane

Waxman said travelers should snack on alkaline foods to combat heartburn that is often caused by air travel. She recommended these easy-to-pack foods:

  • Toasted Nori Snacks: “Ideal for travelling, as they are light and easy to carry in small packages. Nori is alkaline and provides a good source of vitamin C, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, protein and minerals.”
  • Instant miso soup: “Contains all the essential amino acids…and restores beneficial probiotics to the gut…ideal for flights and hotel rooms as you just need to add boiling water to the sachet.”
  • Spirulina powder: “Full of calcium and protein. High in chlorophyll… especially beneficial after spending hours in airplane cabins. The flavor can be strong, so add it to a refreshing vegetable juice.. . [or take] like a capsule.”
  • Plum balls: “A wonderful travel companion as they are extremely alkaline, full of minerals that help boost energy, aid digestion, boost immunity and improve liver function… the balls come in a container and are easy to ‘pack in a cabin bag’.

A fermented plum, called umeboshi in Japanese, can be added to a cup of tea in one flight. It’s a “very sour plum that’s been fermented for at least three years,” said Melanie Waxman of SHA Wellness Clinic.

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To have breakfast

Waxman recommends drinking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with a glass of water before breakfast. Vinegar is “a powerful immune booster … full of probiotics,” he said.

For breakfast, a “wonderful” option is oatmeal topped with berries, chia seeds and flax seeds, she said.

“Oats help the body produce more melatonin naturally,” she said. “Oats contain amino acids, potassium, B vitamins, magnesium and complex carbohydrates…the berries contain some vitamin C and the seeds provide omega-3s and extra protein.”

Jet lag

To combat jet lag, Waxman recommends taking more vitamin C.

She recommends eating sauerkraut, both before and after flying. “Fermenting the cabbage causes vitamin C and antioxidant levels to skyrocket,” he said.

Juicing fresh vegetables is also great for immunity and jet lag recovery, he said.

get enough sleep

Sleep and immunity are closely related, Mera said.

“Restful sleep strengthens nature’s immunity,” he said, adding that poor quality, or quantity, of sleep increases the chances of falling ill.

People who sleep an average of less than six hours a night, or 40 hours a week, are “at a serious risk of disease,” he said.

Exercise, but don’t overdo it

Moderate exercise strengthens the immune system, Mera said.

But “30 minutes a day is more than enough,” he said. “Prolonged intense exercise can suppress the immune system.”

To avoid suppressing the immune system, travelers should not exercise to the point of exhaustion, said Dr. Vicente Mera, head of genomic medicine at SHA Wellness Clinic.

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Examples of beneficial exercise include running, walking, swimming and cycling, he said.

Supplements, for some

Studies indicate that certain supplements, such as vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, garlic, echinacea and green tea, can strengthen the body’s immune response, Mera said.

But, he said, they are not necessary for everyone.

“It just compensates for nutrient deficiencies, which usually occur when nutrition is inadequate or the immune system is severely depressed,” he said.

Other recommendations

To strengthen the immune system, Waxman also suggests Epsom salt baths (“magnesium is easily absorbed through the skin”), using essential oils (“especially lavender, eucalyptus or tree oil”), drinking plenty water and reducing alcohol, caffeine and sugar.

Mera added that relieving stress and anxiety is critical to immune health. He recommends meditation, yoga, tai chi and mindfulness to better manage emotions.

Philippa Harvey, head of SHA’s traditional Chinese medicine department, said travelers should start taking steps to strengthen their immune system about a week before traveling.

“In TCM, when someone is healthy and happy, we say they have good qi, it’s pronounced ‘chee,'” he said.

She recommends eating seasonal foods, especially garlic and ginger in the fall and winter.

He also recommends exercise and acupressure to stay healthy.

“Before you travel, a nice brisk walk in the fresh air is the easiest solution,” he said.

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