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How to keep your immune system healthy

Today we’re in the middle of a pandemic.  A new coronavirus has passed from animals into humans and countries worldwide are fighting to limit the number of people infected with the virus which causes COVID-19.  It goes without saying that the most important aspect of fighting infections such as COVID-19 is to maintain strict hygiene and to reduce the chance of the virus entering the body. The fewer viruses enter your body the better chance your immune system has.

A healthy lifestyle is the second most important aspect of preventing or reducing the impact of infections.  A healthy lifestyle reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer and the evidence shows us that people with chronic diseases are more at risk of dying when they develop infections such as COVID-19.

What is a whole plant food diet?

smoothies
Image by silviarita from Pixabay

A varied diet with a strong emphasis on whole plant foods is important and it’s the overall quality of the diet that matters rather than individual components.  Try to emphasise whole plant foods such as lots of brightly coloured and green vegetables and fruit (aim for up to 10 portions a day), whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.  A whole food diet helps us to maintain a healthy weight but also provides the essential nutrients we need to reduce our risk of both long term diseases and short term infections. See the Vegan Approach for more information about a balanced vegan diet.

A healthy diet gives us a healthy microbiome which means keeping all those gut bacteria happy. The most important thing is to eat plenty of fibre, which is found only in plant foods as this feeds the gut bacteria. A healthy microbiome is important for a healthy immune system but we still don’t know exactly how this works. We do know that most people in the UK don’t eat enough fibre so increase your whole plant foods, such as legumes, vegetables and flax.

What lifestyle choices affect the immune system?

Not smoking is vital for a healthy immune system. Smoking compromises the immune response because of the chemicals associated with it, such as cadmium, carbon monoxide, nicotine, and nitrogen. It also aggravates bacterial and viral pulmonary infections and rheumatoid arthritis.

thirsty
Image by Farhan M Shujon from Pixabay 

Good hydration keeps the body functioning properly. Water is great but different types of teas and some coffee are also healthy.  Try to limit alcohol as despite being a depressant (which isn’t good for stress) it’s also linked to some chronic diseases such as cancer.

Exercise has been shown to improve the immune system and to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. Exercise also boosts the presence of endorphins (the pleasure hormone) which makes it a good way of managing stress. Try to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week and strength building exercises twice a week.

Sleep is the time when your immune system kicks into action fighting infections and when we’re ill we tend to sleep more – it’s the body’s way of telling us what we need to do.  If we lack sleep we’re more likely to become susceptible to viruses. Try to get at least seven hours a night of good quality sleep.  Turn off electronic devices at least an hour before going to bed and sleep in a cool and dark room. Try not to eat for a couple of hours before going to bed.

What about society and the environment?

Stress promotes inflammation and reduces a body’s defence against infection. Long term stress can lead to high levels of cortisol which impairs the immune system. Stress reduction is easier said than done but there are ways of reducing stress such as breathing exercises, journalling, mindfulness, yoga or other ways that work for you.

blue-zones-cropped
Image: Blue Zones

Maintaining social contacts even if you can’t meet up with people is important as part of a healthy lifestyle.  The Blue Zones are areas in the world where people live longer and healthier lives than elsewhere in the world. They differ in many ways but they all have in common having a purpose, living amongst people they are happy with and having social contacts with other people they like.

Reducing our exposure to environmental toxins could affect our immune system but the jury’s still out on this one. There are indications that the increasing amount of pollutants we’re exposed to both in and outside our homes could impair both our own and our children’s immune system.  Cutting down on chemicals in the home and garden is easy. It’s not quite so easy to avoid air pollution but simply follow some of the tips from the BBC to cut your exposure.

What specific nutrients can help?

veg-1 multivitamin capsules
Veg1 (Image: the Vegan Approach)

Once you’ve considered the guidance above and thought about how you can improve your general health, there is some evidence that points to specific nutrients that can help to support a healthy immune system.

  • Vitamin D has been shown to reduce the risk of acute respiratory tract infections and everyone in the UK is advised to supplement in the winter. It’s also a good idea to supplement if you stay indoors a lot, are older or cover up your body.  Veg1 from The Vegan Society provides a vegan source of this vitamin.

Antioxidants may help to boost the immune system and some that have been found to be beneficial are:

  • Flavonoids found in many plant foods are shown to help the immune system and have been found to significantly reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections. Eat and drink plenty of the following: apples, green tea, grapes, berries and dark chocolate (more than 70% cocoa content).
  • Vitamin C is easily provided by the diet but lots of people don’t get enough. Eat plenty of fruits such as citrus (oranges, grapefruit), pepper, kiwi fruit and broccoli.
  • Beta carotene which is also used to form vitamin A, and is found in brightly coloured fruits and vegetables such as carrots, red peppers, dark greens such as kale and apricots.
  • Zinc is important for the immune system and can be found in nuts, seeds and pulses. Sprouting pulses and nuts helps to improve the amount of zinc available to the body.
  • Selenium can be lacking in the UK diet but a day’s supply is found in one or two brazil nuts. Don’t overdo selenium though as it can be toxic in large doses.
  • Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-infective and some laboratory studies have shown it can fight viruses. It’s found in turmeric which is one of many healthy spices. It’s easy to incorporate it in all sorts of foods such as tagine, curry, scrambled tofu, even in pasta.

It’s important to remember that all of the above are best eaten in the form of food rather than as supplements (apart from vitamin D) as there is so much we don’t know about how food works synergistically. Again, it’s the quality of the overall diet that’s important.

To find out more about how to maintain a healthy immune system in these challenging times visit Plant Based Health Professionals.

 

By Elizabeth King MSc, Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition

Coronavirus: The 3 Valley Vegans guide to safe, vegan-friendly eating and shopping in Calderdale

As you know, many local and national businesses are closed or otherwise disrupted at the moment. We recommend you check with individual shops for their opening and availability, while following government advice to stay indoors except for essential permitted purposes. In addition, we would like to highlight a few places that, at the time of writing, were still open.

Is your business still serving food, perhaps just for key workers? Please get in touch to appear here, or post to our Facebook Group up to once a week.

Your 6-step approach for Veganuary 2020

An amazing quarter of a million people took part in Veganuary 2019.  January 2020 is set to see even more people trying vegan for a month, as we become ever-more aware of the benefits of following a vegan diet for animals, the environment and human health.

If you are thinking of going vegan, January is the perfect time to try.  It’s easier than ever, and by taking part in Veganuary you’ll be joining thousands of others gaining support as part of an international community of like-minded people.  

Chrissy Leyland from The Vegan Approach says,

“We are super-excited about Veganuary, as our mission is to help others to go, stay and enjoy being vegan.  Our 10 minute video 6 steps to going vegan, shows you how to do this the easy way.”  

The Vegan Approach’s experienced vegan volunteers include 3 Valley Vegans’ very own Elizabeth King, who delivers the 6 steps to going vegan talk at festivals around the north.  After being awarded a university certificate in plant-based nutrition, Elizabeth is now also offering talks on vegan nutrition, where she will share her expert knowledge and passion on how to be a healthy vegan.

People attending a Vegan Approach presentation
Photos from Northern Vegan Festival via Facebook

After years of experience of supporting others to go vegan, The Vegan Approach have devised these 6 steps showing you how to go vegan the easy way.  

    1. Find your motivation – working out why you want to be vegan and researching the many benefits will keep you on track.
    2. Decide what to eat – there’s so much choice on a plant-based diet.  To help you make the transition, The Vegan Approach give handy hints on menu ideas, recipes, food swaps and where to shop.
    3. Find out about nutrition – there are many benefits to a plant-based diet but you may be concerned about meeting your nutritional needs.  Follow The Vegan Approach nutrition tips to make sure your diet is balanced.
    4. Find vegan friendly restaurants – you’ll soon find being vegan at home is easy, but may wonder where to eat out.  The Vegan Approach guide will point you in the right direction.
    5. Veganise your life – during Veganuary you may just want to eat a plant-based diet, but once you have this sussed you might choose to follow a vegan lifestyle, avoiding animal products in clothing, cosmetics and household products.
    6. Think about friends and family – before starting your vegan journey you may think that the hardest part will be missing certain foods, such as cheese.  However, people often discover that the most difficulties come from being vegan in a non-vegan world. Meeting other vegans can really help, and  the great news is that 3 Valley Vegans are hosting an event in February for local Veganuary, where you can meet like-minded people and find out even more about how to go and stay vegan.

So that’s The Vegan Approach 6 steps in a nutshell.  Visit www.theveganapproach.co.uk and follow them on social media for more tips on how to go vegan the easy way.  

Good luck with your vegan journey and if you are already vegan please share their video and help us create thousands more vegans!

Animal Rebellion at Smithfield Market: Reflections of a Day Tripper

Words and photos by Myra James

7th October 2019 isn’t a day I’ll forget in a hurry. In the run-up to the Rebellion I was struggling to know what to do. I felt pretty sure I wasn’t up for camping in the street or being arrested. But how could I ignore this important movement, calling for the changes closest to my heart – a world in which animals are treated with respect and all of us are kept safe from the worst impacts of climate and ecosystem breakdown?

I decided to book a train ticket and get myself to London for the day. I feel privileged to have been part of the day that set up the first fruit and veg market at Smithfield. Will we one day see only plant products on sale in the famous old market? I hope so.

fruit and veg market

I arrived in London, travelling from West Yorkshire, in time to join the rebels gathering in Russell Square. There I met up with Sara and Kerri from Manchester Animal Rebellion – very happy to have found them in the large crowd there. I also bumped into someone wearing the same boots as me, from Will’s Vegan Shoes (other brands of vegan footwear are available)!

After a couple of short speeches, some practical advice and singing practice, we set off on our march to Smithfield Market. Along the way we sang and chanted while people in office buildings stopped work to watch and take photos.

As we approached the market I began to feel quite emotional. I wasn’t sure whether we were about to enter a place where we would be surrounded by meat, but that wasn’t the case. No meat was evident that afternoon. We took up our place in the arcade that runs through the building. Work began on setting up the market stalls, and later stocking them supplies of beautiful fruit and veg. Meanwhile at the other end, live music was played. It was an international event. I met people from Croatia and from Italy. There were some very young children there, a reminder of why we are doing this – to try to ensure a safe future for their generation.

I was so busy helping to pile vegetables on the market stalls that I missed the start of George Monbiot’s speech – I’m afraid I abandoned the task when I realised he was speaking. I’d heard him speak before and knew we could expect something special from him, and he didn’t disappoint. He spoke of the centuries and millennia of conditioning we have to unlearn in order to accept the necessity for a world which is not shaped by animal agriculture. From classical and renaissance literature through Romantic poetry to children’s books, we have grown up in a culture which presents the rural idyll as something to yearn for. The innocent picture of people and farm animals living in harmony. The truth of animal agriculture, we now all understand, is very different. Examples of the disastrous nature of livestock agriculture and fishing came thick and fast in a fact-filled and inspirational talk. 

George reminded us of the damaging environmental impact of livestock, whether farmed indoors, or in free range systems. Run-off from free-range farming causes harmful algal bloom in rivers. Sheep farming uses twice as much land as the UK’s entire built environment while producing just 1% of the nation’s food. Meat products from local farms may well come from animals fed soya from Argentina. Blue Planet 2 alerted us to the horrifying impact of plastic in the oceans without pointing out that most of that plastic comes from the fishing industry.

We know about the Sixth Mass Extinction that we are in the midst of. George has renamed it the First Mass Extermination, because extinction sounds like something that just happens. What is happening now is something we have done.

Monbiot was followed by Dominic Dyer, CEO of the Badger Trust, who spoke passionately about the cruelty and obscene ineffectiveness of the badger cull.

Later came a talk by another icon of our movement, Chris Packham. I’m sad to say that I had left before he spoke but his talk, as well and George Monbiot’s and Dominic Dyer’s, can be found on Animal Rebellion’s Facebook page.

Animal Rebellion Smithfield banner

There was just one arrest during Animal Rebellion’s day at Smithfield Market – of the person who scaled the market building to fly the banner heralding the arrival of Smithfield Fruit and Vegetable Market. Although it all happened in a place where the bodies of innocent victims of the agriculture industry are taken for sale, it was nonetheless a joyful day, looking toward a better future. 

Events became more sombre during the night, long after I had left, as the deliveries of meat began to arrive. A funeral procession was held in memory of the animals, and this can also be seen on the Facebook page.

My thoughts now, in the comfort of my Yorkshire home, is with the brave rebels who have taken up their positions at Westminster. The police have warned that anyone protesting other than in Trafalgar Square risk arrest, so it remains to be seen how long this rebellion will hold its ground.

With the news dominated by Brexit this vital act of rebellion for the future of our planet is not receiving the coverage it deserves but with right on our side we have to remain hopeful that people in power will hear and act in time.

Encouraging activities for all in the IPCC report on food, land and climate

Recently, we wrote about the UN’s special report on climate change. More specifically, the group responsible is called the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Today, we would like to share an encouraging excerpt:

“Consumption of healthy and sustainable diets presents major
opportunities for reducing GHG emissions from food systems and improving health outcomes (high confidence). Examples of healthy and sustainable diets are high in coarse grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds; low in energy-intensive animal-sourced and discretionary foods (such as sugary beverages);  and with a carbohydrate threshold.”

The best way to achieve this healthy and sustainable diet is adopt a partly or fully vegan lifestyle. 3 Valley Vegans helps people in the upper Calder valley with our continued events, newsletters, social media and web pages.

Source: IPCC SRCCL final government draft (chapter 5 food security, pages 5-6). Accessed 14 September 2019.

The food security challenge

The global food system is under pressure. Over the next 35 years, the growing global population will demand more food than has ever been produced in human history!

Animation by Zedem Media via Global Food Security.

Burning down the Amazon: meat and dairy at the root of it

Few will have missed the recent news reports about the awful spate of fires burning down vast areas of the Amazon rainforest, the generator of 20% of the world’s oxygen and home to 10% of the world’s known biodiversity.  However, the media were less willing to attribute the cause to anything more than the Trumpian antics of Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro.   What they rarely reported was that 91% of Amazonian land deforested since 1970 has been used for livestock (sic) pasture or that Brazil is the world’s largest beef exporter.

Brazil is also the world’s second largest producer of soybeans on land that has previously been used for cattle ranching.  90% of that crop is exported worldwide as animal feed for cattle, pigs and chickens and a third of all British soy imports are for that purpose.  Your tofu and tempeh are not blameless in the Brazilian fires but meat and dairy consumption is many times worse, especially due to the inefficiency in feeding the soy to animals rather than to humans directly.  More at Vegan Sustainability.

Also, Brazilian beef is being used as a Brexit negotiating ploy.

Even though few media outlets linked the Amazon fires to meat and dairy consumption, a recent YouGov poll of more than 2,000 people showed that over half of the British public believe that reducing meat consumption should be prioritised as a key way to slow down climate change.  Reduction doesn’t mean elimination but at least this poll shows that people are making the link between meat and climate change even if Government ministers are less willing to advocate dietary change for the climate.  Sadly, the poll also found that 37% of the population is unwilling to cut their meat intake at all.  More from Edie.

Image: Amazon Fires seen from space. Credit: NASA Worldview.