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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Vitamin C: How Much and Which Sources Are Best for Boosting Immunity?

GettyImages-993119894During cold and flu season, we try to do all we can to prevent illness or speed up how fast we recover from illness. One such strategy many employ is the use of Vitamin C for a natural remedy. Several products are marketed as immune system boosters because they contain large amounts of Vitamin C. Do these products really work? We set out to investigate!

What Vitamin C Can Do for You

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is not made by our bodies. We must take in this vitamin in our diet. It is needed for not only immune function but also for these uses:

  • Form collagen (skin, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels),
  • Repair and maintain bones and teeth
  • Heal wounds and form scar tissue
  • Aid in iron absorption

It can also help prevent cancer as an antioxidant by blocking damage that we are exposed to from air pollution, cigarettes, and UV rays from the sun.

Vitamin C deficiency is extremely rare today, but in the mid-1700s scurvy in sailors was very prevalent. Those at risk of low vitamin C intake are smokers, those with medical conditions that affect absorption (cancer cachexia), and individuals with little variety in their diets.

How Much Vitamin C Do You Need?

The recommended Dietary Allowance for men is 90 milligrams per day and 75 milligrams per day for women. Fruits and veggies are the best source of vitamin C—especially citrus fruits. It can be destroyed by heat, so cooking slightly reduces your intake. However, most of our best sources of vitamin C are consumed raw naturally, and we usually do not have to worry about this. To get a better idea of how to meet your daily requirement with food, here are the vitamin C contents of some common fruits and vegetables that are good sources:

  • Red bell pepper (½ cup, raw): 95mg
  • Orange, 1 medium: 70mg
  • Green bell pepper, ½ cup raw: 60mg
  • Broccoli, ½ cup cooked: 51mg
  • Cantaloupe, ½ cup: 29mg

In short, you can skip the megadoses of Vitamin C at the pharmacy.

Can Vitamin C Treat or Prevent the Common Cold?

In the 1970s, research was released that suggested Vitamin C could successfully treat or prevent the common cold. Several studies since then have been inconsistent and have resulted in some confusion and controversy. To date, the most compelling evidence comes from a 2007 study that showed preventative treatment in the general population did not affect cold duration or symptom severity. However, in the trials involving marathon runners, skiers, and soldiers exposed to extreme physical exercise or cold environments daily as well as the elderly and smokers, there could be somewhat of a beneficial effect. It was concluded that taking Vitamin C after the onset of illness did not appear to be beneficial. Furthermore, at doses above 400mg, Vitamin C is excreted in the urine. A daily dose in the 1000–2000mg range can cause upset stomach and diarrhea.

If you want the benefits of Vitamin C, it is best to consume the recommended Dietary Allowance daily, before the start of symptoms. Ideally, you will get Vitamin C from your food instead of a supplement; you will also get several other important nutrients in addition to your Vitamin C. Remember to make half of your plate fruits and veggies at every meal or blend up a quick smoothie for an easy on-the-go snack, slice up peppers and dip in hummus, or ask for extra veggies on that sandwich, pizza, or salad.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

 

Topics: nutrition healthy eating immunity vitamins supplements fruits and vegetables viruses Vitamin C

Gut Check: Digestive Health Boosts Your Immune System

GettyImages-997808980Fall is here and winter is nearly upon us, and that means that cold and flu season have also arrived. Have you noticed that some people just don’t get sick no matter what? Or maybe you have wondered why after being exposed to the same virus, one person gets sick while the other doesn’t.

The answer to that lies in your immune system and how strong it is. When you are exposed to bad bacteria or viruses, it’s up to your immune system to protect you from being infected. If your immune system is strong, your body will fight off the threat of sickness. If you have a weak or compromised immune system, you may end up sick. What you might be surprised to learn is this: The strength of your immune system is highly dependent on the condition of your digestive system.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Let’s Talk Microbes

Microbes live inside your digestive system. They are living organisms that affect your overall health. The protection that some of these organisms provide is beneficial to your immune system. The good bacteria recognize when illness-producing intruders enter your body; the organisms attack the intruders so that you don’t get sick. If you don’t have enough of the good bacteria in your gut, you will be more susceptible to viruses like colds and stomach viruses. You also may be at more risk for autoimmune diseases such as colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.

Although there is a large supply of these good microbes living in your gut, they can easily become diminished. If you have recently taken antibiotics, you have not only wiped out the bad bacteria, but also the good bacteria. Antibiotics are not selective in their destruction.

With that being said, antibiotics are not the only way that good bacteria becomes exhausted in your digestive system. For example, the chlorine in your drinking water can destroy them, as can the pesticide residue on the food that you eat.

Once the supply of helpful microbes in your intestines dwindles, bad microbes such as yeast, fungi, and disease-causing bacteria begin to take over. Immune systems become compromised when the bad takes over the good.

Cue the Probiotics

If you think that your good microbes might be minimal, it is not difficult to remedy the problem. The solution is to take probiotics. These are the good microbes that you can consume in your diet. Once they have entered into your body, they settle in your digestive system and get to work protecting you from sickness and destroying the bad bacteria that might reside there.

The option of consuming probiotics in a capsule form is there, but you can also replenish the good microbes by eating yogurt. Check the label to be sure that the yogurt you buy says that it contains active cultures, which is the good bacteria that you need to eat.

It is important to act now and get a jump on this year’s cold and flu season. Improve your gut function and fight off illnesses by getting ahead of the game.

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition disease prevention immunity digestion gut health wellness viruses probiotics bacteria

Better Sleep = Healthier Living

GettyImages-820818020How often is it that you hear someone say, “Man, that was a great night’s sleep!” or “I slept like a baby!”? Not as often as we would like to hear, I would say! Being tired and feeling sluggish seems to be the new normal. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most Americans are sleep-deprived. Not getting enough sleep might be causing a lot more trouble than just that sleepy feeling. In fact, it could be seriously harming your health.

Why Aren’t We Sleeping?

Centuries ago, it was common for people to sleep anywhere from 8 to 9 hours each night. But now only about 25 percent of Americans get 8 or more hours of sleep. There are various reasons why we aren’t sleeping. We live in a society that is constantly on the go, 24/7. From fitness centers being open 24 hours to pharmacies and department stores being open later, around-the-clock convenience is there.

So many activities go on during a 24-hour period. From working long hours, transporting kids to their activities, trying to make time for friends, not to mention enjoying a little bit of entertainment—oh, and can’t forget about making time for our health and fitness goals. Sleep is typically the first thing to disappear from our lives, so it becomes second nature to not get enough of it.

Here’s the thing though: even when we do end up finally getting into bed, it doesn’t exactly mean we go right to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60 parent of Americans have sleep problems. You heard it right—more than half of us struggle to sleep, and we are starting to pay for it.

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

“The foundations of good health are good diet, good exercise, and good sleep, but two out of the three doesn’t get you there.” —Dr. Anne Calhoun, neurology professor, University of North Carolina (source: CBC)

The three components that are needed to make up a healthy lifestyle are exercise, eating healthy, and sleep. Exercise and nutrition aren’t enough to make up for the danger that sleep deprivation poses to your health, however. Some studies indicate that adults can get as little as 7 hours of sleep a night and that can be sufficient. But shooting more for 8 hours would make a world of difference. And getting less than 7 can cause some serious consequences:

Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

If you get less than 6 hours of sleep each night and have disrupted sleep, you have a 48 percent greater risk of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15 percent greater risk of developing or dying from a stroke. Not to mention, lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure, blocked arteries, stroke, kidney disease, and dementia.

Obesity

Sleep shortage is directly linked to obesity. When you don’t get enough sleep, two very powerful hormones that control hunger are disrupted, resulting in you feeling hungrier and having fewer sensations of fullness.

Not getting enough will also cause you to feel more stressed, which boosts the production of the hormone cortisol in your body. The cortisol hormone causes you to crave high-carbohydrate foods such as chips and brownies, which then turn into the fat around your belly, which is the most dangerous place to store fat.

Another reason sleep is important is that the risk of pre-diabetes goes up. When trying to make it on less than 6 hours of sleep per night, your glucose tolerance becomes impaired.

Immune System Becomes Depleted

Ever wonder how two people can be exposed to the same germs, but only one of them gets sick? The answer: their immune systems. When you have a well-functioning immune system, you are capable of warding off many illnesses. But when something is causing your immune system to not function the right way, like sleep deprivation, you become vulnerable to infections, bacteria, viruses, and even some autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and asthma.

Less sleep = more stress and a compromised immune system

Low Exercise Performance

As if the threat of heart disease, obesity, and immune suppression isn’t enough to deal with, lack of sleep can negatively impact your fitness regimen as well. A recent study in Lipids in Health and Disease came to the conclusion that exercise can help increase insulin sensitivity and sleep quality while decreasing body fat.

***

At the end of the day, lack of sleep does far more harm to your health than you might realize. Although it might take some rearranging of your schedule, putting sleep first means that you don’t have to worry about making time for illness—because, let’s be honest, who has time to get sick?

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: disease prevention sleep immunity cardiovascular obesity sleep deprivation heart health

Flu Fighting Foods: Boost Your Immunity This Winter

GettyImages-928034704The 2017–2018 flu season was one of the worst on record. It was the first time that flu had been classified as high severity across all age groups and led to more than 80,000 deaths. If you are like most people, the dreaded winter flu season can be scary. However, certain foods can help you fight off the flu or lower your chances of catching that nasty bug.

Immunity-Boosting Foods

Here are some foods (and drinks) to fill up on to help fight the flu:

  • Green tea: Green tea is packed with antioxidants; sip it hot or cold throughout the day to help keep the flu away.
  • Sweet potatoes: This bright orange food is packed with Vitamin A to help keep those free radicals at bay that can threaten to weaken your immune system. Pop a sweet potato in the microwave for 7 minutes for a quick and easy addition to lunch or dinner.
  • Yogurt: Yogurt naturally contains probiotics that help keep your immune system healthy and strong. It's such an easy and filling snack to grab or use as a substitute for sour cream, mayonnaise, or cream in high-fat recipes.
  • Tuna: Tuna is an excellent source of selenium and Vitamin D, which helps protect cells from free radicals and improve your immune system. Try mixing a pouch of tuna with some plain Greek yogurt and serve it atop a bed of leafy greens.
  • Mushrooms: Mushrooms are rich in selenium, low body levels of which have been found to increase your chance of getting the flu. Chop them up and add them to a pasta dish, salad, or soup.
  • Peanuts: This tasty snack is full of zinc, which helps keep your immune system working properly. A handful is the perfect amount to grab for an afternoon snack or to throw in a stir-fry at dinner.
  • Water: This essential nutrient keeps the body running efficiently. Getting fluids in various forms is vital. Tea, 100% juice, coffee (preferably decaffeinated), and water-filled foods such as fruits and vegetables all count toward your hydration needs.

A Yummy Flu-Fighting Recipe

Try this recipe that incorporates a couple of these flu-fighting foods:

Sweet Potato Tuna Melt

1 large sweet potato (halved)
¾ cup canned tuna
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
½ tsp garlic seasoning
½ tsp onion seasoning
Lemon pepper to taste
½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place potatoes, cut side down, on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 30 minutes.
  2. Remove potatoes and allow to cool. Meanwhile, combine tuna, Greek yogurt, and spices in a bowl.
  3. Top potatoes with tuna and sprinkle with cheese. Place under the broiler for 1 minute or until the cheese has melted.

Enjoy with a glass of green tea!

Nutritional Balance Is the Key

As with most things, a balanced diet is the key. A diet high in a variety of produce, lean meats, whole grains, and low-fat dairy, along with moderate exercise, adequate sleep, and minimal stress, contributes the most to a well-functioning immune system and faster healing if the flu does strike. Incorporate these foods, but also continue to work on overall balance to your life.

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition winter immunity whole foods wellness fruits and vegetables flu

Benefits of Biking for Exercise and Fitness

ThinkstockPhotos-103584987-1Biking can have significant benefits to your overall health and fitness! If you are looking for something to try this summer that maybe you haven’t done before, consider hopping onto your bike…remember that’s that thing stashed in the back corner of the garage with flat tires and cobwebs hanging off the back of it!

I often find myself wondering what different things I can do for a workout, and since I began to incorporate biking into my routine, I have found some benefits it adds to my other workouts. Let’s take a look at what some of those are.

  • Good for your cardiovascular health. Most people consider cardio exercise as running, using the elliptical, or power walking, but throwing in some biking is proven to increase your cardiovascular fitness.
  • Helps to build muscle. Biking helps to both tone and build muscle fibers, specifically in the lower extremities targeting the calves, thighs, and buttocks. It’s also a great low-impact exercise and takes the pressure off the hip, knee, and ankle joints. If you are recovering from injuries, biking can help keep you fit and active.
  • Burns calories. As with many cardio exercises, you can burn a good amount of calories while cycling, and it will increase your metabolism once the workout is finished. To be most efficient, you want to ride faster than a leisurely pace and work through some hills or intervals when possible.
  • Helps with coordination. When you cycle you use every part of your body, which forces you to work on coordination skills. As you go, you move both feet simultaneously as well as use your body weight to shift the bike through turns, using both arms at the same time to turn, brake, and change gears. It takes some mental focus to think about all those steps, even while you’re just cruising.
  • Aids your psyche. Biking, like all exercise, is good for your overall mental health. Exercise helps to release endorphins, which keep you relaxed and reduce your levels of stress.
  • Helps with longevity. According to an article put out by the Environmental Health Perspective, the benefits of biking outweigh the risks for increasing your lifespan. Cycling, as discussed before, increases your cardiovascular health, which directly correlates to lifespan.
  • Strengthens your immune system. All exercise, including biking, helps to strengthen your immune system to fight off sickness and infection.

You can see that more than being an enjoyable leisure activity, biking can significantly add to your overall health. I encourage you to give it a try outdoors at some of these local places: 

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This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, Fitness Center Manager. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: cardio calories attitude balance immunity biking muscle building

Thomas’s Corner: Nuts About the Nutrition in Nuts

ThinkstockPhotos-178017024Nuts, basically one of the original food groups and predating even the most basic diet, have been a part of human existence since the beginning, and there is good reason. They taste good and are loaded with nutrients. The properties and benefits of nuts vary based on each individual nut, with some options being a little healthier than others.

Nuts Are Healthiest Without Embellishment

There are some ground rules that I would like to set regarding healthy nuts. 

Try not to add chocolate to the equation. Although chocolate has its good qualities, we also know that added calories would diminish our gains from the nuts.

Salt, like chocolate, has added value in taste but is not recommended for individuals who are heart conscious. For that matter, I don’t recommend added anything, whether it be chocolate, salt, sugar, etc.

Health Benefits of Nuts

“Now wait a minute, this sounds like a lot of work,” you may say. This is where you are mistaken. Eating nuts can be an enjoyable way to get variety in your diet and healthful nutrition. For instance, almonds, cashews, pecans, brazil nuts, macadamias, pistachios, hazelnuts, and walnuts boast tons of benefits, including but not limited to fighting inflammation, improving digestion, raising immunity, lowering LDL, fighting cancer, and even making coffee taste better.

Nutritional Information About Nuts

Nuts can differ in size, shape, texture, and taste, but overall, they are fairly similar in calories per ounce and fat. The pistachio weighs in pretty light on the calorie scale at about 160 calories and 14 grams of fat per 50 nuts, while the Brazil nut is 185 calories and 18 grams of fat for 5 to 6 nuts. The healthy properties of the Brazil nut, though, outweigh the difference in that they contain a fair amount of selenium (which, in recommended doses, has been linked to fighting certain cancers).

With all the benefits nuts pose for our health, it is easy to see why they belong in the Mount Rushmore of edibles. Do yourself a favor and accentuate your diet… because nuts are taking over!

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This blog was written by Thomas Livengood. For more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition Thomas' Corner healthy eating disease prevention immunity protein heart disease

Should You Work Out When You’re Sick?

482395581This is the time of year when everyone seems to be getting sick. A head cold, the flu, a constant cough, a sore throat, chest cold, sinus infection…you name it, it’s around. I know when I am under the weather, one question that comes to my mind is, “Should I work out, or should I just let my body rest for a few days?”

For the avid exerciser, a few days may seem like months taken off your performance. There are lots of ways to look at this topic, and truly I think it depends on what type of illness you have. But let’s take a look at a few things to help you determine whether working out while you are ill is a good idea or a bad one.

Definite No:

  • If you have a fever, you should definitely skip the workout. When you have a fever, raising your internal body temperature through working out can make you even sicker, so stay home and lay low. Typically, you are contagious for 5 to 7 days when you have a fever, so steer clear of the gym.
  • If you are vomiting or have diarrhea, do not work out. This is the time that it’s most important to stay in bed and rest.
  • According to an article in Men’s Fitness, if you are starting to feel sick and end up feeling worse after you complete your workout, cut back and take a break.

Possibly Yes:

  • If you have a runny nose or just a sniffle, it’s most likely okay to work out. The Mayo Clinic says exercise may even make you feel better by opening up your nasal passages and help relieve nasal congestion.
  • Dr. Neil Schachter, a physician from Mt. Sinai Medical Center, has a good method to help determine whether you can work out. It’s called the Neck Check. If your symptoms are above the neck, including a sore throat, nasal congestion, sneezing, and watery eyes, you are okay to exercise. Exercise does raise the body’s immune system, helping to defend it and fight off illness.

The most important thing to do is listen to your body. If you cannot do something, then it is important to stop and don’t try to force yourself to keep going. Know that it is okay to not work out for a few days if you are sick; sometimes resting the body is the answer. Oftentimes the human body gets run down, lowering the immune system, and causing you to get sick in the first place.

If you do choose to work out, just play it smart. Maybe consider a walk instead of a hard run, or a light bike instead of heavy weightlifting. The most important thing is to get healthy again so you can get back to your routine, so do what your body is asking you to do!

This blog was written by Amanda Bireline, Health Fitness Specialist. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

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Topics: healthy habits workouts illness immunity