With winter approaching and Covid still circulating among us, you may be wondering how to boost your immunity and reduce the risk of getting ill. We asked local nutritionist Ella Gale for some top tips on what to eat to help keep the bugs at bay and to recover if we do become unwell.
You may well have heard that Vitamin C boosts our immune system. There is some science behind recommending eating an orange to warn off a cold, but it is unfortunately not quite that simple. As a Nutritionist and Health Coach, I work with clients to take a holistic, wholefood approach to optimise their health and wellbeing. Where possible, I recommend clients get the full spectrum of nutrients they need for optimal health from food, as well as adopting healthier lifestyle habits in order to reduce stress, improve sleep and feel their best in both body and mind.
Whilst vitamin C is a key part of the picture, below I have outlined other key nutrients involved in immune function, and the food sources richest in each nutrient. Many of the B vitamins play a vital role in immune function. In particular, vitamin B5, B6 and B9. These can be found widely in foods, including whole wheat, fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.
It is true! Vitamin C plays a key function in immunity. Both fresh fruit and fresh vegetables contain vitamin C - aim to eat a rainbow of colours and as much variety in fresh produce as possible. Sprouted beans and grains also contain considerable amounts of vitamin C.
Vitamin E is another essential nutrient found in seeds and nuts, as well as wheat-germ and oats, that contributes to immune function. There are also small amounts of Vitamin E in oily fish. Examples of oily fish include small fish such as herring, sardines and anchovies, and larger fish such as trout, salmon, tuna, mackerel and swordfish. Aim for at least two portions of oily fish per week, or increase intake of plant sources if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Another nutrient essential to immune function is Vitamin D. Whilst small amounts occur in a few foods such as mushrooms, oily fish, eggs and fortified milk, the main source of vitamin D is from sunlight exposure on skin. Exposure during summer months (May to September) is ideal - think light tan, not burning! For this reason, many people opt for a Vitamin D supplement in winter months (October to April) to ensure vitamin D levels are topped-up - ask your pharmacist about a high quality vitamin D supplement.
Dietary iron exists in two forms, both of which are important to immune function. Haem iron is found in red meat, chicken, seafood and other animal products, whilst non-haem iron is found in dark-green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, dried fruit and other plant foods. Many flour-based products are also iron-fortified. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, it is important to increase non-haem iron sources, as the iron is less readily available than in haem (animal) sources, and supplementation may be necessary if your iron levels are low.
Selenium is another nutrient beneficial to immune function. It can be found in Brazil nuts, whole grains, garlic, eggs, mushrooms, lean meat and seafood.
In addition to the above, zinc - which is found in lean meat, seafood and oysters, eggs, cheese, soybeans, peanuts, wheat bran, seeds, bone meal and brewer's yeast - will contribute to the optimal functioning of your immune system.
Immune boosting foods are best taken at first signs of cold or flu in order to prevent the worsening of symptoms, and to shorten recovery time.
Immunity is strongly determined by your overall diet. Immune system function can be weakened by a number of factors, including nutrient depleted staple foods, excess sugar consumption, insufficient protein, lack of sleep, unrecognised food intolerances and chronic stress.
Nutrition and Health Coaching can help you adopt modest changes in diet and lifestyle tailored to your needs. This can stop the worsening of, or prevent, long term, progressive illness, as well as help manage conditions with less reliance on medication.
Get in touch for a free consultation.