At the weekend I got to go through yet another round with stomach flu…eurgh. Anyone who has young children knows the perils winter brings. Flu, colds, sickness, norovirus. From November through to February can feel like a string of illnesses that spread through the house like wildfire.
Sadly, when this hits, the classic remedies tend to involve sugar, and plenty of it. Throat lozenges, sugary medicines with questionable flavourings, and lots and lots of honey. Healthy foods tend to go out the window and are replaced with refined carbs for quick energy.
Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes there is a place for these things. A spoonful of homemade elderberry syrup made from fresh elderberries, raw organic honey (or rice syrup) and water can go a long way. Sometimes only a Strepsil will do. Honey and lemon is a classic for a reason, as long as the honey is raw and organic to ensure it retains its antimicrobial properties and all of its nutrients.
But since reducing our sugar intake a few years ago, we have discovered a string of really great remedies for prevention of illnesses or for helping speed up recovery and deal better with symptoms, none of which include sugar in any form. We can get sick without honey in the house and cope just fine. In fact, we fare better since there isn’t the inevitable sugar crash that leaves us feeling even worse every few hours with these solutions!
So as we enter the zone of preschool notices and constant runny noses, here are my top home remedies for preventing and dealing with cold & flu symptoms as a family this winter:
Chamomile & Gelatin Tea – sounds weird doesn’t it? But believe it or not, this sore throat remedy has become my go-to since I discovered it while on the I Quit Sugar 8-Week Program a few years ago. I was only willing to switch from my beloved honey & lemon if I found something that worked just as well. Instead, I found something that works a million times better! Simply pour boiling water over a chamomile teabag (or loose leaf chamomile flowers that you steep and strain), and stir in 1 teaspoon of free range gelatin (Great Lakes is perfect for this) and 1 teaspoon of coconut oil, then feel it literally coat your throat in goodness and watch your cough disappear. But make sure you only drink it warm – once it cools it will solidify!
Eat Complex Carbs and Wholegrains – we instinctively reach for refined carbs and sugar when we are sick in order to get energy quickly, but the truth is, these foods often leave us feeling worse as within a few hours we crash and need more and get locked into a vicious cycle. Swapping white bread and biscuits for wholemeal toast and porridge are far more likely to keep us going in the best way possible, offering energy that is long-term and beneficial.
Chicken Stock – whether it’s in a soup or sipped warm from a cup (which is far far tastier than it sounds, trust me!), a genuine homemade bone broth can warm and heal the body like nothing else. I make chicken stock whenever I have chicken bones leftover from a meal (which is usually once every week or two) and I freeze it so we nearly always have it on hand. Since it contains none of the additives, salt & sugar of the supermarket stock cubes, and all of the goodness that comes from fresh, organic or free range chicken bones, this stuff is like magic. Read more about why it has been dubbed by some as the world’s most nutritious food and is notorious for healing colds (as well as how to make it) here. For an excellent vegan alternative that offers many similar properties, check out Wallflower Kitchen’s gut-healing vegan broth here.
Eat Whole Fruit – many people turn to fruit juice when sick to gain the all-important immune-boosting vitamin C, but the truth is, fruit juice is mostly sugar and will leave you crashing soon after. On the other hand, eating a whole fresh orange or clementine will give you the boost you are looking for that will actually last and contain more benefits than downsides, rather than the other way around. Fresh or frozen berries, high in antioxidants, are also an excellent choice while sick. And bananas are easy to digest and blandly sweet enough to keep down when feeling nauseous.
Sugar Free Green Smoothies or Vegetable-Packed Soups – we all know how good greens are for us. They are high in iron and rich in vitamins – perfect for dealing with colds and flus. But seriously, who wants to eat greens when you are struggling to even keep bland dry toast down? The best way is to turn it into a drinkable meal. Blend greens with bananas, fruit and liquid as in my sugar free green smoothie recipe to make a far more pallatable sick day food that will still have you reaping the benefits! Similarly, blitzing broccoli or vitamin A packed squash with stock to make a yummy soup can make a traditional sick day food truly great for getting your body back on track. Not to mention the intensely comforting feeling soup offers when you are feeling under the weather!
Magnesium in any form – magnesium helps combat fatigue and helps to relax and soothe achey muscles. This stuff is life-changing. Taking a magnesium supplement can be a decent solution, but personally on sick days I find two options far superior: Epsom salts in a hot bath or magnesium spray spritzed and massaged into sore muscles. They are truly miraculous! Magnesium was a key supplement (along with B-vitamins) to help me with insomnia in pregnancy, and I haven’t looked back since. As I combat fatigue and sore muscles almost daily, I always ensure I have some of it on hand, especially when sickness causes these things to be far worse.
Sugar Free Hot (or Cold) Cacao – packed with antioxidants and containing essential minerals like magnesium, cacao powder (raw cocoa) is a perfect food for flu-ey days. If your tummy is upset, swapping the milk in my sugar free chocolate milk recipe or low sugar hot chocolate recipe for coconut milk or another unsweetened non-dairy milk might be a good choice, but this drink is a perfect pre-bed pick-me-up that will soothe you to sleep and help heal your body. Plus, it’s delicious!
Ginger in any form – if you are feeling nausea in any way, ginger is your very best friend. Whether it is simply a piece of fresh ginger in a cup of hot water (with or without a slice of lemon) or a triple ginger tea or sugar free pumpkin & ginger muffins, having fresh and ground ginger in the house is a perfect way to deal with feeling sick.
Eat Protein – meat and fish may be the last things you want when sick, but try to find some form of protein to keep your body healthy and fighting. Chicken stock, as mentioned above, is a great one, but you can also get protein from beans, legumes, dairy or more palatable sources like quinoa, nuts & seeds, and eggs. These low sugar cereal bars contain quinoa, nuts & seeds and peanut butter, and are easy to make and freeze in bars so you can have them on hand when you need a little easy-to-eat protein boost on flu-ey days. I am not usually a fan of protein powders, even sugar free ones, as I feel we should get our protein from our diet as much as possible, but if you feel you need the boost on sick days and cannot face protein-rich foods, a little scoop of sugar free protein powder in a smoothie or low sugar bake might help you navigate through the sickness more easily!
I hope all of these little tips and ideas help you and your family get through the winter cold & flu season in one piece. Of course, CBeebies and Netflix, dark chocolate and hot toddies can be helpful, too! 😉