Schools are about to close and many of you will soon be off on their well deserved annual holiday in the sunshine. Here are my top tips on how to stay healthy on holiday:
Before you go
The best defence against catching a viral or bacterial infection on your holiday - or at any other time, of course - is a strong immune system, and your diet plays a crucial role in how resilient you are. Make sure to eat real, natural food (rather than junk and processed foods): lots of fresh fruit and vegetables – much of it raw -, good quality protein, and good fats from nuts, seeds, olives and oily fish. Sugar and alcohol are immune suppressants and their consumption can profoundly diminish your defences. The longer you eat well, the stronger you will be, but it is never too late to start.
Zinc is a powerful antioxidant and antiviral nutrient. How zinc helps protect from colds is not entirely known yet, but it may prevent viruses from replicating or from attaching to mucous membranes. Zinc is also required for the production of adequate amounts of stomach acid, and stomach acid serves as a barrier for bad bacteria. Foods richest in zinc include oysters, seafood, sea vegetables (seaweed), meat and poultry, nuts and seeds, and unsweetened chocolate (cacao). Diets high in grains impair zinc absorption, so if you eat a fair amount of grain-based foods, you may be zinc deficient.
Astaxanthin is an important phytonutrient from the family of carotenoids. It is best known for protecting the eyes from macular degeneration, but it is also thought to help protect the skin from damaging UV rays. Food sources of astaxanthin are salmon, salmon roe, lobster, crab, arctic crab and red seaweed. To benefit from its protective properties, you will need 4 – 8 mg of astaxanthin per day for at least three weeks before and during your holiday. You are not going to be able to get this much from food, so you may want to consider a supplement (e. g. Higher Nature Astaxanthin and Blackcurrant, 2 – 4 capsules/day). Astaxanthin can be safely supplemented. There are no known side effects or interactions. However, if you are on any medication it is still advisable to first check with your doctor whether you can take it. While astaxanthin is thought to protect from sunburn and peeling skin, it is not a replacement for sun protection!
Start taking a good quality probiotic supplement. Probiotics are good bacteria that also help strengthen your immune system and may give some extra protection from microbial infections, e. g. from food or water contamination. Good bacteria can help prevent both constipation and diarrhoea on holiday. Probiotics, too, are safe supplements, with no known side effects and no negative drug interactions. However, if you are on any medication please check with your doctor first.
Motion Sickness – journeys in a car, on a bus, a plane or boat are not for everyone. It is not entirely clear why some people get motion sickness when others do not seem to have any problems at all. One possible explanation is the discrepancy between the information your brain is receiving from the motion sensors in your inner ear (you're stationary) and your eyes (you are moving fast). Whatever the reason, if you are prone to motion sickness carry some fresh ginger root with you and chew it when feeling nauseous. Ginger is a great natural remedy for nausea - regardless of the cause.
Air Travel – It is common for people to catch a cold or flu when travelling on planes. Many people think that this is because of the ‘recycled air’ that is circulated and that might spread germs around the plane, but research doesn't seem to confirm this. Most likely the source of infection is the same as on the ground, and that is the transmission of germs from surfaces to the mucosal linings. Your best protection is a strong immune system (see above) and to wash your hands frequently. It may be a good idea to carry anti-bacterial wipes and use them to wipe down the area around you (armrests, tray) and to clean your hands when you do not have access to soap and water.
Stick to your habits – If you have established some good, healthy habits at home, then sticking to them while on holiday will make it a whole lot easier to get back to normal on your return. So, if you go to the gym three times a week at home, use the gym at your hotel or in your holiday complex at least three times a week, too. If there is no gym, swim in the sea or the pool or do some basic exercises – requiring nothing but your own bodyweight – in your hotel room or on the lawn of your holiday home. Check out YouTube for suggestions. If you do a morning run at home, do a morning run on holiday. If you follow a low-GL diet at home, do it on holiday. Every cuisine has options for low-GL eating, think soups (without the bread or roll), salads (without croutons), seafood, eggs, with lots and lots of exciting vegetables side dishes. If you go to bed at 10 pm at home, go to bed at 10 pm on holiday. If you apply the 80:20 rule at home, apply it on holiday.
A word of caution: If you are travelling to a hot country, be very careful when exercising outdoors. Make sure to always carry plenty of water or have access to water at all times, especially when you are hiking or cycling. Click here for some tips on how to prevent heat exhaustion - which is serious - and heat stroke - which can be lethal.
Hopefully you will not experience food poisoning and are taking all the known precautions to avoid it. If you are affected despite all your diligence, go see a local doctor, just to be on the safe side. Unfortunately, often there is not much that can be done other than let the infection run its course. It is important that you top up your fluids on a regular basis – drink (bottled!) water, not fizzy drinks. Continue to take your probiotic supplement! If you are travelling to a hot country and are not sure about the facilities in your room or holiday home, it may be best to get a supplement that does not require refrigeration, such as Bionutri Ecodophilus, which is freeze-dried and blister-packed.
If you haveslipped up on holiday, make sure to not let it become a slippery slope. It is all too easy to lose a habit you thought you had firmly established, such as exercising on a regular basis. According to American writer Gretchen Rubin, the best way to do this is to take precautions and to schedule your next gym visit before you even leave. Put it in the diary for week 1 after your holiday, better still: book a session with a personal trainer as well to make sure that you are going. This works, too, if you are not using a gym, but run (for example) or exercise in the park. Independent personal trainers will be just as happy to exercise with you away from a gym.