Eat better for life series: no. 3 - immunity.
The immune system is the bodily system that protects us from foreign substances, cells, and diseases by producing the immune response. Keeping it healthy helps us resist infections and aids our healing processes. Your diet can play a huge role in naturally supporting our immune system.
In principle, the more plant-based your diet, the more you will improve your immune system. Fruits and vegetables are full of micronutrients which play a vital part in keeping our immune system (and our whole bodies) healthy.
Our gut and our immune system
Gut health has now been proven to strengthen the immune response to infection as 70% of our immune system is present in our gut and this is formed from a early age. Gut bacteria health, which we can feed through our diet, can be maintained so that it functions as efficiently as possible. Gut-friendly foods are high fibre foods (and specific vegetables like garlic and onions) and live, fermented foods (like kefir) - try a number to find something you like. Our fibre intake should be 30g a day - it's quite a challenge but it is possible.
Together with antioxidants and zinc, Vitamin C is also key and because we do not make or store it, our diet is crucial to providing enough Vitamin C for our immune system to function properly. Try to eat high Vitamin C foods as raw as possible, since high heat can destroy this precious vitamin. Lastly, make sure you eat plenty of iron-rich foods (leafy green veg, lentils, liver, eggs etc.) to help the absorption of Vitamin C. Selenium (Brazil nuts are great for this) has also recently been linked to improving our resistance to infection. In addition to improving our gut health as above, there are several immunity foods which can help us find invading germs and diseases and encouraging our bodies to create essential antibodies - I've listed them below. Make sure you pack your diet full of these beauties!
Here are a dozen fantastic immune supporting foods:
1. Red peppers - ounce for ounce more Vitamin C than citrus fruits.
2. All citrus fruits and kiwis for Vitamin C and production of white blood cells.
3. Broccoli – contains Vitamin A, C & E and antioxidants.
4. Garlic - heavy concentration of sulphur-containing compounds which can boost the immune system.
5. Ginger – a naturally anti-inflammatory food.
6. Spinach - rich in Vitamin C, antioxidants and beta-carotene which may increase infection fighting ability.
7. Live yogurt may stimulate the immune system, as well as provide Vitamin D.
8. Almonds – contain Vitamin E, also key to a healthy immune system.
9. Turmeric - an anti-inflammatory spice with much trendy comment.
10. Green tea - contains the antioxidant EGCG which can boost immune function.
11. Sunflower seeds - full of minerals and particularly Vitamin E and all its powerful antioxidant properties.
12. Shellfish - packed with zinc, this mineral is essential for our immune cell function.
A diverse diet is a healthy diet!
Try to keep your stress levels managed, hydrate yourself and get plenty of sleep. All the usual self-care principles will help keep your immune system healthy.
Supplemental info :)
Not forgetting the value of Vitamin D in our fight against getting ill. Research* shows that it has a vital part to play in reducing inflammation and disease. In the winter it's difficult to get sufficient Vitamin D, with sunlight less strong and less frequent. I'd recommend looking into taking a supplement to build up your vitamin D levels, especially when sunlight levels are low.
If you think you might be deficient in any essential nutrients or you'd simply like a check on how your diet is working for you, I can offer a full nutritional analysis. This service costs £87 which includes a full report and a consultation to talk through my findings. It'll inform you how you can eat differently to have a healthier nutritional profile and support your body's processes in the best way possible.
Hope you can take positive steps to keeping yourself well this winter (and all year round). xx
* Cynthia Aranow, MD. Vitamin D and the Immune System. March 2, 2011 (amongst others)