Foods to boost your immune system

Debbie Anderson:

“We are what we eat” is the age-old saying …. and in fact it probably couldn’t be more appropriate or necessary for us to really focus on what we’re eating to ensure we stay fit and healthy. It’s always a great idea to think about the best ways we can support our body’s immune system, but this is never more important than in the light of the current Coronavirus situation. Making sure you eat well can be hugely beneficial in helping ward off illness and eating foods full of key vitamins and minerals can really help your immune system fight off illness and disease. So, what foods should you be eating and how can they help give a real boost to your immune system? Vitamin C Probably one of the biggest and best immune system boosters of all, daily intake of this vitamin is essential since your body does not produce or store it. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient found in many fruit and vegetables and plays many key roles: • It’s a powerful antioxidant that can strengthen your body’s natural defenses – antioxidants are molecules that boost the immune system, by protecting cells from harmful molecules, often called ‘free radicals’. If not addressed, these free radicals can accumulate, creating stresses in the body which have been linked to chronic disease. • It encourages and stimulates the production of white blood cells (lymphocytes and phagocytes), which help protect the body against infection, as well as helping these white blood cells function more effectively. • It helps to produce important antibodies (proteins that bind invading microbes to neutralize them). • It’s also an essential part of the skin’s defense system and acts as an antioxidant, helping to strengthen the skin’s barriers to infection. • Additionally it’s necessary to make collagen, the main component of connective tissue within the body (think tendons, ligaments, bones, cartilage, blood vessels, etc.) as well as being required to help wounds heal. For adults, the recommended daily amount for Vitamin C is 75mg for women and 90mg a day for men, however you shouldn’t need to take a supplement unless your GP advises it, because it’s found in so many foods already. Foods rich in Vitamin C include: • Oranges, grapefruit, strawberries, blackcurrants, kiwis, red, green & yellow peppers, tomatoes, spinach, kale & broccoli, potatoes, brussels sprouts Note that heat and cooking in water can destroy some of the Vitamin C content, so eating raw will always be better. Vitamin D Generally from late March to the end of September, you should be able to get all the vitamin D you need from sunlight, since the body creates this vitamin from direct sunlight onto the skin when you’re outside. Trying to get a good amount of Vitamin D is essential to allow your body’s immune system to work well. Deficiency in this vitamin, especially during the winter months, is often associated with a decreased immune system and therefore an increased risk in picking up infections and illness, so aim to increase your intake with foods rich in this key vitamin. Vitamin D also helps regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body, which is needed to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy and a lack of vitamin D can lead to bone deformities. Vitamin D is found in a small number of foods including: • Fish such as trout, salmon, sardines and mackerel along with tinned tuna, eggs, pork, portobello or other wild mushrooms, cod liver oil, soya milk and other fortified foods If you’re regularly coming down with a cold or have low moods during the winter months, perhaps it’s worth getting your levels checked to see if you need a supplement. The NHS recommend 10 micrograms per day should be enough for the majority of people. Vitamin A Vitamin A is the generic term for a group of fat-soluble compounds which are hugely important for your general health and essential for the normal function of your immune system and organs. Commonly called the ‘anti-inflammation vitamin’, it has a crucial role in enhancing your body’s immunity and functions, such as: • Ensuring the functioning of your body's natural defence against illness and infection. • Helping you to see in dim light. • Ensuring your skin and the lining of some parts of the body (such as the nose) stay healthy. If you’re low in Vitamin A, your immune response will be significantly impaired leaving you more prone to upper respiratory tract infections, so that’s why you’ll be at a much greater risk of this type of infection If you work in an office, if you have children at school or in daycare or if you train intensely and especially through the winter months. Enjoy these foods rich in Vitamin A to keep your immune system robust: • Turkey and beef liver, cheese, eggs, oily fish, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, black-eyed peas, spinach, broccoli, cod liver oil You can also get significant quantities of beta-caretene (which converts to vitamin A) from yellow and red fruits and veggies, such as: • Yellow, red and green peppers, carrots, mango, papaya and apricots, grapefruit and cantaloupe melon The recommended amount of Vitamin A for adults is 0.7mg a day for men and 0.6mg a day for women and you should be able to get all the Vitamin A you need naturally from your diet. Any vitamin A that your body doesn't need or use immediately is stored for future use, so this means you don't need to have it every day. Vitamin B6 It’s a water-soluble vitamin and is not stored by the body, but instead it’s excreted in the urine, so you do need to take it every day. A well-working immune system is key to preventing infections and inflammation and a deficiency in B6 can disrupt the immune system as there will be a decrease in the production of antibodies necessary to fight infections, and a decrease in white blood cells, which regulate the body’s immune function and response. So, if you don’t get enough B6, your body can’t make the antibodies (which blood cells need) needed to fight germs and ward off disease. You should be able to get Vitamin B6 from your daily diet, from foods such as: • chicken, cold water fish (e.g., salmon and tuna), pork, bread and wholegrain and fortified cereals (e.g., oatmeal, brown rice and wheatgerm), milk, peanuts, soya beans, eggs, potatoes, green vegetables, chickpeas and hummus. The amount of vitamin B6 adults (aged 19 to 64) need is: 1.4mg a day for men and 1.2mg a day for women. Zinc Zinc is one of the key essential nutrients necessary for your body to carry out vital functions, including aiding the immune system and helping to keep inflammation under control. Primarily, it activates enzymes that work to break-down proteins in viruses and bacteria, which means they are less able to spread throughout the body, but is also helps to increase the activation of cells responsible for fighting infection, so you can see why it’s one of the essential elements your body needs. Your body can’t make zinc so it therefore must come from your food, and if you find yourself low in zinc, any cuts or grazes will take longer to heal or you may find yourself being more susceptible to picking up an illness. Foods to focus on for good sources of Zine include: • Oysters, shellfish, beef, lamb, pork, ginger, beans, chickpeas, lentils and beans, seeds & nuts, cheese & dairy products, bread, whole grains … and the very good news is you can also find it in dark chocolate! … perfect but in moderation! You should be able to get enough Zinc from a varied diet, but note that the daily amount of Zinc you need for adults (aged 19 to 64) need is: 9.5mg a day for men and 7mg a day for women Probiotics Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast micro-organisms which are thought to have various health benefits for the body. They're often added to yoghurts, can be consumed through fermented foods or taken as a food supplement and are often described as "good" or "friendly" bacteria. They may help give your immune system a boost by inhibiting the growth of harmful gut bacteria as well as promoting the production of natural antibodies in the body. A wide range of clinical studies show that the imbalance of bacteria in your digestive system is linked to your overall health and Probiotics promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria linked to a wide range of health benefits, such as: • Inhibiting the growth of harmful gut bacteria • Restoring the natural balance of friendly bacteria in your gut, stomach and intestines when it’s been disrupted by illness or through taking antibiotics • Promote the production of natural antibodies in the body and provide a boost to immune cells • Reduce the symptoms of certain stomach, digestive, intestinal disorders Common fermented foods like kombucha tea, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, miso, kefir and kimchi along with fermented yoghurts and milk drinks are great options for increasing ‘good’ gut bacteria. In addition, the polyphenols found in green tea also promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. You can also take a daily probiotic in tablets, capsules and powders containing the bacteria in dried form. If you struggle with frequent or persistent colds or flu, you may want to add a probiotic supplement to add further immune support. So over the coming weeks and months, why not pay a real focus on trying to incorporate the foods richest in these key immune boosting nutrients, vitamins and minerals to increase your resilience to illness.

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