Some people simply radiate wellness, and Sandra Millward is one of them.
I first encountered Sandra on a film set in rural British Columbia. She exuded warmth as she served a hearty breakfast to the crew. With golden curls and sapphire eyes, she looked more like a fairy godmother than a caterer. There was also something magical about her food! Despite a string of 12-hour days in the snow, I felt light and energetic throughout the entire shoot.
As it turns out, the secret sauce was Sandra. Sandra is an Orthomolecular Holistic Nutritionist. Her mission is to introduce wellness to the lives of others and transform them into beacons of health in turn. Sandra provides one-on-one consultation and writes for several wellness columns. She has also travelled as a Nutritionist/Chef with the Canadian Olympic Men’s Field hockey team and various athletic clubs.
Film catering is Sandra’s latest venture. She embraced the challenge of feeding an overworked and sleep-deprived crew working in the elements at the start of the flu season. Her approach? Nourishment through immunity-boosting food.
With COVID-19 still ever-present, I asked Sandra how to eat towards a stronger immune system. What I learned was equal parts actionable and inspiring.
What does it mean to boost your immune system?
It means to enhance or deepen your ability to ward off viruses. It’s your body’s coping mechanism and protection plan. When attacked or under threat, you want your immune system to be resilient to outside invaders like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and toxins.
How can you tell if your immune system needs a boost?
Your body gives signs when your immunity is compromised. These include:
- Recurring or long-lasting colds that don’t seem to go away.
- Frequent infections needing more than two antibiotic courses per year, such as ear infections, pneumonia, and sinusitis.
- Slow wound healing or cuts that take a long time to heal.
- Low energy levels could mean that your body is constantly fighting infection and uses a lot of energy to do so.
- Chronic gut issues such as diarrhea, gas, constipation. Gut issues are a great indicator of low immune function. I tend to look more closely at the gut when working with my clients. Nutrition and gut issues are a personal journey and very unique to each client.
What causes a weak immune system?
Common causes of a weak immune system can be excessive stress and lifestyle choices that constantly call on the immune system to be in “fight mode.” Some lifestyle choices that challenge the immune systems are smoking, drinking, lack of nutrition, and inadequate sleep. If our immune system is compromised due to lifestyle, we weaken our chances of fighting outside threats like viruses and diseases.
How can we boost our immune systems?
The best way to support a robust immune system is through a positive attitude, regular physical activity, and a healthy diet. So it’s essential to have this trifecta of body, mind, and spirit.
With that said, nutrition is a powerful way to give your immune system a boost. When I explain it to my athletes, I say it’s like having a fancy car and putting top gasoline in it. The fuel you choose will affect your performance. Likewise, nutrition means giving your body the tools to thrive at an optimal level.
How fast does the body respond to a shift in diet?
I have seen virtual miracles with some of my clients who have turned around their health in as little as three weeks with nutrition and vitamins. I almost cry when I see such great results with these folks. Even one or two tips from a nutritionist can make a significant impact on long-term health.
I have also seen diet changes and awareness change both men’s and women’s lives. Through this process, people reverse disease, reduce or eliminate mental health medication, lose significant amounts of weight, and even increase libido.
Are there other benefits?
YOUR MOOD IMPROVES! I have seen the grumpiest and least tolerant clients improve in body, mind, and spirit with new, improved, and healthy eating. Eating well truly translates to feeling well.
What can we consume to boost our immune system?
Let me break it down into key foods and vitamins with examples of where to find them.
The most commonly used vitamins to ramp up the immune system are vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin E.
- Vitamin A contains beta carotene, which converts and mops up damaging free radicals. Vitamin A is excellent for anti-ageing too! Carrots, pumpkin, red pepper, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe are good sources.
- Vitamin C can be found in bell peppers (which have three times the vitamin C as an orange!), citrus fruits, broccoli, and spinach.
- Vitamin D is found in fish, mushrooms, grass-fed butter, egg yolks.
- Vitamin E regulates immune function. It’s found in almonds, avocados, and dark leafy greens.
These vitamins are all antioxidants that fight free radicals in your body. Antioxidants are also found in beverages like green tea (which also helps with weight loss), white tea, and black tea.
Other common immune-boosters include zinc, carnosine, and fermented foods.
- Zinc has virus-fighting powers. It is commonly found in seafood such as oysters, crab, mussels, lobster.
- Carnosine protects from the flu virus and is found in many immune-boosting classics. Carnosine-rich foods include garlic, ginger, broccoli, and chicken soup.
- Fermented foods increase the gut biome with healthy probiotics that boost your immune system and increase your digestion rate. Examples include miso soup, kimchi, sauerkraut, and kombucha.
There are also lesser-known immune boosters that are not to be overlooked!
- Selenium decreases your likelihood of severe flu. Eggs, baked beans, and button mushrooms offer selenium as well as B vitamins.
- B6 is a specific B Vitamin that produces white blood cells and T cells. These guys are your first responders to infection. B6 also helps white blood cells get delivered to the part of the body they are needed most. Carrots, spinach, squash are all rich in B6.
- Elderberry has been used for centuries in Europe and is rising in popularity around the world. Research for medicinal benefits remains folklore, but I suggest you consider introducing this superfood for its antioxidants and plant sterols (immune boosters).
- Quercetin is something I consider to be a “master antioxidant” due to its anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. It is a regular and frequently-studied flavonoid found in apples, green peppers, red leaf lettuce, asparagus, and broccoli, to name a few. I would encourage readers to dive deep into researching this vitamin or contacting me for more information.
- Curcumin lowers inflammation and increases immunity-boosting antioxidants. The active ingredient in turmeric, the spice that gives curry its yellow colour, is curcumin. I often use supplementation here for quick results.
- Probiotics increase your healthy gut flora, therefore increasing function and vitamin/mineral absorption and improving immunity. Probiotic flourishing foods include tempeh, kefir, yogurt, and pickles.
Is a shift in diet enough on its own?
A shift in diet is an excellent place to start and often makes a perceptible difference, but a dietary shift sometimes needs support.
One limiting factor is how well you digest and utilize your food. Some clients that I see eat organic, well-balanced diets and follow all of the ‘rules,’ yet optimal health eludes them. This is when I dig around and look at the gut’s innate ability to properly utilize the nutrients from food and distribute that nutrition. I often recommend supplements to re-inoculate the gut with friendly bacteria and repair it.
I also recommend vitamin supplements if a client has a highly compromised immune system, wishes to boost weight loss, or wants to support their mental health. Personally, I use supplements as an orthomolecular practice for graceful ageing.
It is important to remember that we can supplement each vitamin or mineral, but, as with food, bioavailability is stronger when vitamins are used together. Food doesn’t just contain one vitamin or mineral; it provides several, and they must work in harmony to be effective. (High vitamin doses should be recommended by a professional.)
Does organic food make a difference?
Absolutely, not only for taste but for nutritional value. The quality of the food itself is an essential factor to consider concerning nutrition and boosting immunity. Why mess with nature? It’s perfect in its natural state. Due to things like pesticides and monoculture, conventional mass-produced food has diminished in nutritional value. Seek out resources that can help you make informed choices about organic options, like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce or this academic article in the Alternative Medicine Review.
Does shopping locally make a difference?
Remember that the fuel you choose matters. Sourcing food locally whenever possible can provide choice ingredients with high nutritional value and minimize negative environmental impacts. I recommend getting to know your local growers, farmers, and health food store owners or planting your own garden.
I don’t have a large garden to feed my family, so I source the best food that I can. When I travel around the world as a Chef/Nutritionist, I try my best to buy from growers in the immediate area.
Recently, I worked on a film production and travelled to the small town of Cawston, which is located in a rural area of British Columbia. There, I had the pleasure of working directly with local organic farmers. It not only gave my crew the best food possible, but I also felt great knowing the folks that my food came from. It was the added spice to long days on set!
How can we adapt to seasonal food availability?
I believe in eating according to your season, depending on your gut’s health and your location on planet Earth. Unfortunately, not all immunity-boosting foods are available all year long.
For fall and winter in North America, I recommend foods rich in:
- Quercetin: apples, onions, green peppers, red leaf lettuce, asparagus, broccoli, grapes, beans, and tomatoes (late summer). Black and green teas are also excellent and easy-to-find sources.
- Selenium: brazil nuts, turkey, button mushrooms, chicken, fish, eggs, brown rice, baked beans, and whole grains.
- B6: carrots, spinach, squash, avocados, chickpeas, salmon, tuna, and eggs.
What additional non-food-related holistic practices or methods can we adopt to boost our immune systems?
- Sleep. Get to deep REM sleep. This is when your body repairs itself best.
- Breathe deeply. We often take shallow breaths. Mindful breath offers a lower heart rate, more oxygen to our cells, and an overall calming effect.
- Manage stress. Do what you can to reduce stress in your life. Supplement with vitamins to support your endocrine system and mental health through challenging times.
- Exercise. Regular exercise works out stress, releases endorphins, and improves your mood. It also gives your body the strength to fight off threats.
You can also adopt alternative immune-boosting practices such as homeopathy, acupuncture, mental therapy, yoga, or qi gong.
What are some tips or insights to support those wishing to adopt this practice?
Work with a qualified holistic nutritionist that you feel comfortable with and trusting to help you transition from old patterns.
Secondly, although it seems easy to make these changes, be open to the fact that you may need some coaching. Ensure that this person is the perfect fit for you because making changes brings up many personal things. You need to trust that this person can help you to learn while feeling supported, pushed, or cared for – whatever you need to get you to optimal health. We, practitioners, are all unique and not every nutritionist is going to work for you.
Third, I think a roadmap is always excellent. If you are an “I’ve got this” kind of person, request a health assessment. You can start by incorporating data from a personal nutrition test into your daily routine. Presto!
As for a solid first step?
I like to say that there are “50 shades of green” in Phyto (plant) nutrients to remind that diversity is vital. So keep this in mind and start boosting immunity with your next meal. As for a first step, try incorporating three different coloured vegetables and a few shades of green!
Learn more from Sandra at www.radiatewellness.ca and contact her for a complimentary 15-minute consultation.