With another winter upon us and the different Covid-19 variants making many of us more aware of our health than ever before, I’ve shared some tips on how you can eat to support your immune system.
Throughout the pandemic, I feel a very important message has been missing from the Government’s directions – how we can support our immune system and improve the state of our overall health for the long term.
While we wait for boosters to be rolled out to those who want it and for the speed of viral transmission to slow (again), there are things we can be doing everyday to help build a strong, resilient immune system and support how our bodies fight and recover from illness.
I’ve written the following tips to provide you with simple nutrition and lifestyle steps that will support your immune system and boost your overall health.
Eat the rainbow to increase your nutrient intake and antioxidant status
The immune system needs vitamins and minerals to give it energy and fighting power to tackle bacteria and viruses. Fruits and vegetables are the most densely packed foods for getting your vitamins and minerals. To ensure you’re getting a good variety, aim to eat a rainbow of colours each day. For example; green broccoli, red pepper, orange carrots, purple aubergine, blue blueberries, white cauliflower.
Eating two different pieces of fruit and a minimum of five different vegetables each day will also give you antioxidants. Antioxidants mop-up free radicals and protect the cells and tissues throughout our body.
Don’t forget the colours that are often seen as boring and dull. Take mushrooms, for example. They are packed with immune-supporting nutrients (think vitamin D, zinc and B vitamins) and their star player, beta-glucans, which help activate your immune response.
Feed your gut bacteria with a daily dose of fibre
Gut health has a big impact on the immune system – 80% of our immune system’s fighting power is made in our gut. Our microbiome (the bacteria that live in our intestines and support good gut and immune function) need fibre to grow and thrive.
However, even though the recommended daily amount is 30g, the average intake in the UK is only 17g! How can you up your fibre intake? Think rolled porridge oats, beans, pulses, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Fibre is also required for healthy bowel movement (yes, we’re talking #2) which is vital for clearing toxins from our bodies. A stagnant bowel increases the likelihood of toxins being reabsorbed, which is something we all want to avoid.
Boost immune support with omega-3 fats
Omega-3 is often lacking in the average Western diet but it’s essential to helping the immune system do its job. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, rainbow trout and herring, are a great source of omega-3. Three portions a week will give you a good amount.
Oily fish also contains vitamin D and zinc, which helps the immune system function properly.
Chia, flax and hemp oil are great vegetarian sources of omega-3 and mushrooms contain vitamin D.
Keep an eye out for the winter seasonal produce blog for more on mushrooms. In the mean time, here’s a mushroom recipe to try!
Season with herbs and spices for antiviral power
Have fun with flavours. Add herbs and spices to your meals for their antioxidants and anti-viral powers! Ginger, turmeric, garlic, onions, horseradish, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, peppermint, dandelion, liquorice, oregano and basil are all good options.
If you like herbal teas, try Pukka Herbs flavours Active Turmeric, Three Ginger, Liquorice and Peppermint. Or steep the fresh herbs and spices in some hot water and enjoy.
Herbal teas have another immune-loving benefit – hydration. This supports the lymphatic system and the removal of bacteria and toxins that can cause illness. If you’re dehydrated, it’s much harder to detox effectively so don’t skimp on fluids!
Drinking water can be a much bigger challenge when it’s cold. Herbal teas are the best of both worlds here. They provide all-important hydration and the health benefits of herbs and spices. Isn’t that a good reason to boil the kettle for herbal tea?
Reduce your stress levels and strengthen your body
The body produces cortisol in a state of stress. Although there are a lot of negative connotations around cortisol, it is a vital hormone for memory function, metabolism regulation and to activate our ‘fight and flight’ response in necessary situations.
However, long-term cortisol demand, due to continued stress, does have an inhibitory effect on your immune system – preventing pathogen fighting cells from doing their job effectively. Try meditating, walking in nature, breathing exercises, yoga or an extra sleep to strengthen your ‘rest and digest’ response.
Intense exercise is also a stressor on the body and will impact your immune system while you recover. Consider taking it down a notch – daily movement is still beneficial, so enjoy walking or cycling for a while instead.
Sleep more to improve your health
We all know sleep is important but the majority of us still put it low on the priority list and let other tasks eat into our dreaming hours. Aim for 8-10 hours every night to let your body repair itself and prepare for another day. The immune system needs those hours to release infection-fighting antibodies and cells while we sleep — these are reduced during periods of insufficient sleep. To improve sleep hygiene, try going to bed and waking up at the same time each day — our bodies love routine!
Also, be sure to turn off the laptops, mobiles, TV’s and bright lights at least one hour before bed. Instead, enjoy a good book, meditate or take a bath with Epsom salts to wind down and help your body relax and prepare for sleep.
Check out my tips for a good night’s sleep so you can get more quality zzzz’s every night.