Eat well to feel well: How to prevent sick days and combat stress this winter

As we head towards winter the office sniffles are likely to be increasing, as are the number of sick days taken because of cold and flu viruses. In the fast-paced and stressful events and meetings environment especially, sick days can have a negative impact on team productivity. Wendy Martinson, Group Nutritionist at De Vere gives her five top tips on how to eat well to support the body’s defence against common illnesses and minimalise stress, keeping employees both motivated and energised.  

1. Don’t miss out on vital micronutrients

A balanced diet is key to ensuring that the body is in prime condition to ward off any viruses. Nutritional deficiencies can impair immune function; it’s especially important to ‘eat a rainbow’ of different coloured fruit and vegetables that provide essential micronutrients and antioxidants to help support immunity. To ensure delegates continue to stay engaged and productive, I’ve designed nutritionally balanced menus for meeting bookings as part of De Vere’s initiative, the Smart Space meetings concept which comprises of nine service functions to provide meeting organisers with memorable and successful events.

If you are active and planning on taking a brisk walk or jog around one of De Vere’s recommended jogging routes that enable delegates to explore the hundreds of acres of natural parkland attached to the mansion house estates, remember to include carbohydrate in your meal three to four hours before. Exercising with low amounts of carbohydrate in the system can increase stress hormone production, which in turn may suppress the body’s natural immunity.

2. Stay hydrated

Dehydration increases stress hormone response and so adversely affects immune function. Employees should keep a bottle of water with them throughout the day as it’s important to drink enough to prevent getting a dry mouth. Saliva contains proteins with antimicrobial properties, which help prevent illnesses such as viruses or bacteria getting into the body through the mouth.

3. Look after your gut

Probiotics (friendly bacteria) can have beneficial effects on gut microbial (bacteria present in the gut) balance and can enhance the immunity against illnesses such as the common cold. The human gut contains over 1kg of bacteria, which play key functions in supporting the immune system and producing certain vitamins such as vitamin K.

4. Include Omega 3 fats in your diet

Long chain omega 3 fats, found in oily fish – such as salmon, trout, and fresh tuna – can positively impact aspects of your immunity by acting as a fuel source for immune cells. Aim for at least one 140g portion of oily fish per week and no more than four portions per week.

5. Include a vitamin D source

Many different immune cells and functions are influenced by vitamin D. However, foods rich in vitamin D are limited, with the main sources being oily fish, egg yolk, meat, liver and kidney, wild mushrooms and fortified foods. As a result, most people get 80% to 100% of their vitamin D count via exposure of the skin to sunlight (of a certain wavelength).

In the UK, there is no sunlight of the appropriate wavelength to produce vitamin D from mid-October until the beginning of April, so the UK government now recommend taking a daily supplement from October to March from the age of 5 years old.


Other tips to help prevent illness:

  • Ensure you get enough sleep and rest and have relaxation strategies in place, such as mindfulness
  • Wash hands effectively with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand gel, especially before meals and after direct contact with potentially contagious people, animals, or places
  • Avoid drinking alcohol to excess as this impairs immune function for several hours

The above steps could help to support immune systems and may contribute to the body’s defense against common winter illnesses. With the events and meetings industry being by its nature fast-paced and potentially stress-inducing, employees will do well to implement these strategies to help protect themselves as much as possible, so they can continue to be productive and enjoy their working week.

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