Pack those snacks, says a nutritionist

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

But there are steps people can take to reduce their risk of getting sick, say health experts at the SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain.

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

what to eat

“The most important thing is nutrition,” Mera said.

But a drastic diet is not necessary, he added. Instead, travelers can just eat whole, plant-based foods, which can help reduce inflammation, he said.

The fiber in plant-based foods also helps the gut microbiome “fight pathogens that enter or are activated through the digestive tract,” he said.

Dr Vicente Mera, Melanie Waxman and Philippa Harvey from the 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 diet coach at SHA Wellness Clinic.

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

What to put on a plane

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

  • Grilled nori snacks: “Ideal for traveling 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 essential amino acids…and restores beneficial probiotics to the intestines…ideal for flights and in hotel rooms as just add boiling water to the sachet.”
  • Spirulina powder: “Packed with calcium and protein. It has a high chlorophyll content…is especially beneficial after spending hours in airplane cabins. The flavor can be strong so add it to a refreshing vegetable juice… [or take] in capsule form.
  • Plum balls: “A wonderful travel companion as they are extremely alkaline, full of minerals that help increase energy, aid digestion, boost immunity and improve liver function…the balls come in a container and are easy to be stored in a carry-on bag.

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

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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,” she said.

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

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

Jet lag

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

She recommends eating sauerkraut, before and after the flight. “Cabbage fermentation causes vitamin C and antioxidant levels to skyrocket,” she said.

Fresh vegetable juice is also great for immunity and jet lag recovery, she said.

get enough sleep

Sleep and immunity are closely linked, Mera said.

“Restful sleep boosts natural immunity,” he said, adding that poor quality or quantity of sleep increases the risk of getting sick.

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

Exercise, but don’t overdo it

Moderate exercise boosts 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 exhaustion, said Dr. Vicente Mera, head of genomic medicine at the 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 boost the body’s immune response, Mera said.

But, he says, they aren’t necessary for everyone.

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

Other Recommendations

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

Mera added that relieving stress and anxiety is essential for 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 boost their immune systems about a week before travelling.

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

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

She also recommends exercise and acupressure to stay healthy.

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

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