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Fighting Flu with the Power of Nature

Did you manage to escape the flu epidemic in the Netherlands this year? If so, congratulations! You must have a very strong immune system! If, like me, you were floored by the virus (and twice in my case!) you might be wondering what simple steps you can take to get your system back up to optimal health, especially considering that typically, the after effects of flu can leave you feeling tired and lethargic for many weeks.

What is a flu epidemic?

An official influenza epidemic (or ‘griepepidemie’ to give it its proper Dutch name) is declared when, for two weeks in a row, more than 51 people in every 100,000 visit their doctor because of flu-like symptoms. Last week saw 454 people out of every 100,000 people in Nederland visit their doctor complaining of flu. And of course, the official number would have been much higher, as many people choose not to visit the doctor (what can the doctor really do anyway except tell you to take a paracetamol and rest?).

Well into March, the epidemie is nog niet ten einde! Oh lord! Check out this cool infographic designed by The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment of the Netherlands, (RIVM) depicting the flu epidemic for winter 2014-2015. Did you know that 1,9 million people were affected?!

Prevention better than cure

While we certainly can’t avoid the overcrowding on trains and public transport, which become ideal playgrounds for the virus (that’s a whole other battle against our NS friends), I’m certainly not prepared to undergo round three with the bug (neither is my boss going to let me!). So I’ve been stocking up on a whole bunch of ammo to help fight these vicious little microbes. And with some really excellent health food stores in Haarlem, it’s not difficult to get hold of nature’s helping hands.

Here are five top tips to get your immune system back to optimum health so you can enjoy the warmer spring terrace weather that’s just around the corner!

1) Zinc

Zinc is a great all-rounder, keeping the immune system strong, fighting infections, helping heal wounds, and supporting growth. You can get enough zinc if you eat a healthy balanced diet, but some people are more likely to have zinc deficiencies, for example strict vegetarians, breastfeeding women, and those who drink a little too much alcohol. Excellent natural sources of zinc include: seafood, beef, lamb, wheatgerm, spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, cocoa powder, chickpeas and mushrooms. De Tuinen in Haarlem sells a range of zinc tablets to supplement your diet if you need a boost.

2) Ginger

Any reason to add more ginger to your diet should be celebrated; it is one of nature’s absolute wonders. Apart from being a strong antioxidant, ginger has antimicrobial, antiseptic, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. And it tastes amazing when freshly grated into tea! Check out the whole list of health benefits derived from ginger here.

3) Vitamin C

Did you know that when you’re stressed and your body produces adrenaline, this adrenaline actually strips your body of vitamin C? To get your levels back up, the best natural sources of the C vit include bell peppers, kale, broccoli, and kiwi (more so than the traditional orange!). It’s also not a bad idea to take an extra supplement when you feel a cold coming on- studies have shown that increasing your vitamin C can reduce the length of time for which you’re actually sick.

There’s a fantastic vegetarian recipe bursting with vitamin C which is well worth trying: Sweet potato, kale and broccoli stir fry. It’s so simple and tastes incredible! Check out the recipe here.

4) Green Tea

Aside from being delicious, green tea introduces a type of flavonoid called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) into the body that helps fight bacteria and prevent viruses from multiplying. It also has many powerful antioxidants that help protect against viruses, bacteria and other micro-organisms that can cause health problems. Check out the cute (and amazingly diverse) tea store on Grote Houtstraat: The art of…Tea, Spices & Herbs to stock up your tea in style!

5. Turmeric

Packed with antioxidants, turmeric helps neutralize all those free radicals, which keeps your immune system in tip top shape. Often a key ingredient in Indian cuisine, if you’re not partial to a curry every night, you can also make your own milk drink by adding a teaspoon of turmeric powder to boiling milk, adding honey to taste. Just don’t forget to brush your yellow teeth afterwards!

Include these natural boosters into your diet and you’ll be well on your way back to normal health in no time. While you’re recovering from flu you’ll need more sleep than normal, so try to allow up to an extra hour each night if at all possible. And try to stay off the wine until your body is fully recovered! Plenty of time for that when the weathers warms up a bit! Beterschap allemaal!

Sarah Fencott