When it comes to getting sick, there’s always a degree of bad luck involved. And unfortunately in Winter, we spend more time indoors so it’s that much easier for viruses to spread.
Whilst your exposure to certain viruses may be beyond your control, the way you take care of yourself is not. And this is where good, consistent nutrition can make such a difference to your ability to ward off an attack.
Our immune system is designed to protect us from illness caused by bacteria, viruses, toxins, foreign bodies and malignant cells. It is also responsible for our responses to external triggers which can be linked to allergies or autoimmune disorders. Scientists consider nutrition to be the most important determinant of immune responses. Malnutrition in the form of under-nutrition or over-nutrition (overweight and obesity) represses the immune system and lowers our defences.
Luckily there are some specific nutrients that have been proven to enhance immune responses, so these are the ones to arm yourself with as we head into Winter.
10 Nutrients that boost your immune system
- Vitamin C is the obvious one, it’s an antioxidant that stimulates the formation of antibodies to bolster your immunity. You’ll get Vitamin C from a wide range of fruits and vegetables such as capsicum, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, beetroot, kale, cabbage, grapefruit, guava, kiwi and strawberries.
- Protein is a key macronutrient for our body’s defence as it’s used in so many building and repair mechanisms. High protein foods include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.
- Vitamin A is an antioxidant that helps strengthen the immune system against infection, particularly as it’s involved in keeping skin healthy, including the tissues in our mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system. You’ll find plenty of Vitamin A in colourful foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, kale, spinach, apricots and eggs.
- Vitamin E, another antioxidant, works to neutralises free radicals. Harness Vitamin E’s power by including almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, spinach and broccoli in your diet.
- Zinc deficiency is all too common these days, which is a challenge when it comes to Winter as zinc is vital for wound healing and immune system defence. Good sources of zinc are oysters, seafood, lean meat, poultry, lentils, quinoa, spinach, eggs, mushrooms, nuts and seeds.
- Vitamin B6 is involved in around 200 biochemical reactions in your body, including many immune functions. Foods high in vitamin B6 include bananas, chicken breast, tuna, chickpeas and potatoes.
- Folate is found in green leafy vegetables, beans and peas as well as fortified breads.
- Selenium has the potential to slow down any over- reactive immune responses. It can be found in broccoli, garlic, tuna, sardines and brazil nuts.
- Iron helps your body carry oxygen to cells via your blood. You’ll find it in abundance in red meat, poultry and seafood. Non meat eaters should look to beans and lentils, kale and broccoli.
- Vitamin D is important in the fight against many forms of disease, because it supports the function of our T cells. Get your dose by exposing skin to sunlight as it’s hard to obtain enough Vitamin D from foods though moderate amounts are found in salmon, tuna, sardines, fortified cereals and juice.
The simple truth about immunity – what to eat & what to avoid
The ins and outs of specific vitamins and minerals can be hard to take in, so I’ve simplified it for you. Good immunity in Winter (and good health overall for that matter) boils down to these two takeaways.
Eat a rainbow of healthy foods every day. Choose a wide range of colourful foods from all the food groups and try to get your recommended 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of veges each day. This will give you the best chance of obtaining the vitamins and minerals your body needs to support your immune system in the fight against colds and flu.
Eat real food (minimally processed) as close to its natural state as possible. Avoid processed and sugar-laden foods as they suppress the immune system.
Many people fall back on a supplement at this time of year, which can be effective if your diet is severely lacking but researchers now agree that the best nutrition comes directly from eating unprocessed, healthy foods. That’s because food comprises so many tiny elements that work in synergy in the body to support wellness, many of which scientists are still unravelling. Food is not just made up of discrete vitamins and minerals packaged together like a pill.
What else can you do to support your immune function?
Here are my additional 7 top tips to have you staying well this Winter!
- Cleanse. Wash your hands regularly to flush away potential invaders before they have a chance to strike.
- Spice things up. Cook with onions, garlic, ginger, turmeric, black peppercorn, cayenne pepper, curry and allspice as they contain components that help to boost your immune system.
- When you can’t eat fresh, eat frozen. Depending on the time of year and where you live, you can’t always get your hands on high quality fresh produce. Fruit and veg are frozen at their peak, so they are equal or nutritionally superior to fresh. The same goes for meals made from fresh produce, like those from Dietlicious – they are fresh made from 100% healthy ingredients and snap frozen to lock in vital nutrients.
- Drink plenty of water. Hydration is important for movement of lymph, which carries immune cells around the body.
- Be kind to your gut. It’s known that about 80% of our immune system is located in our digestive system so keeping your gut happy and healthy is paramount. Opt for probiotic foods such as raw sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, kefir and kimchi and eat lots of fibre, which helps the good bacteria to thrive.
- Get some fresh air. Spending time outside increases the diversity of your microbiome by exposing you to new types of bacteria.
- Minimise stress on your body. Stress isn’t just mental, it can include sleeping poorly or partying too much, which lowers our defences.
If you want to eat well but don’t always have time to prep and cook yourself, opt for a 100% healthy meal provider such as Dietlicious. Their delicious chef-made meals contain only natural, wholefood ingredients and no additives or preservatives. They are nutritionally balanced and portion sized. Delivered to your door, they are the ultimate in convenience. I keep a stash in my freezer to fall back on when I don’t have the time or inclination to be creative in the kitchen.