With cool weather and winter season looming, it’s an ideal time to consider giving your immune system some additional support. The chance of seasons can put extra stress on the body. This, combined with less exercise (especially outdoors), and a shift to more comforting carb-rich foods, can weaken our immune response making us more vulnerable to winter ills. A healthy immune system is dependent on an optimal intake of the right nutrients and yes, you have guessed it, the best way to boost these is through your diet! Here are some top immune supporting foods to include every day.
Research published in journal Nature Immunology in 2012 demonstrated that eating leafy greens may help stimulate the production of a special type of immune cell known as an innate lymphoid cell. This cell helps protect the body from invading pathogens and also provides a balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in the intestine. Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, and broccoli are also rich in glucosinolates known for their anti-cancer properties.
This popular grain is rich in immune supporting nutrients such as selenium and beta-glucans, which have been shown to enhance the action of neutrophil, a type of immune cell. Oats also act as a prebiotic stimulating the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut, which helps support immune function.
Fungi, in particular, shiitake, maitake, and reishi, contain immune-boosting polysaccharides including beta-glucans, which can enhance our body’s defenses, protect against cancer and also possess anti-viral properties.
Research published in the journal Immunology Letters has shown that the active polyphenol found in green tea (EGCG) has the ability to increase the number of regulatory immune support T-cells, improving immune function and reducing inflammation in the body.
Yoghurt and Kefir
Your digestive tract contains the largest number of immune cells of your whole body, making up around 60 percent of your entire immune system. Including various fermented foods like yogurt and kefir can help maintain healthy bacteria to crowd out harmful microbes and stimulate immune-cell production. Kefir is also a useful source of vitamin-K and vitamin-D, both important vitamins for maximising immune health.
Butternut squash and sweet potato
Orange flesh fruit and vegetables are packed with healthy giving carotenoids, vitamin A and vitamin C essential nutrients for immune function. Vitamin A has antiviral properties and is vital for supporting the cells of the skin, gastrointestinal tract, and lungs – the main barriers between you and the outside world.
Salmon and other oily fish
Essential fatty acids found in oily fish are important for maintaining the cells in the gut. Plus, research from Michigan State University and East Carolina University suggests that an omega-3 fat known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) appears to increase the activity of immune system cells, especially ‘B’ white blood cells. Salmon is also a source of vitamin D, which is essential for a healthy immune system, so keeping your levels high could stave off the flu this winter.
Quality whey protein powder provides all the key amino acids your body needs to support the production of glutathione, an immune-boosting antioxidant that preserves levels of glutamine, an important fuel for your system’s cells. It also contains immune-enhancing constituents such as immunoglobulins and lactoferrin needed for tissue repair and maintaining a healthy gut barrier.
Citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C, which makes immune cells stronger and helps the immune system identify and attack invaders. It also helps make interferon – which is part of the body’s own natural defense system enabling you to fight off infection. During the winter it is worth increasing your intake as high levels can help prevent the flu. Other good sources include berries, kiwi fruit, and red pepper.
Nuts and Seeds
Alongside their other benefits, nuts and seeds, especially sunflower seeds and almonds, are good sources of vitamin E. This important antioxidant protects our fatty tissues and cell membranes from damage while fighting infections. Just 35g of sunflower seeds contains 12mg of vitamin E, which meets your daily recommended needs.
Honey and Bee Propolis
Honey-lemon tea is commonly used for sore throats. Not only does the honey help coat irritated membranes and soothe coughs but also it has antimicrobial properties, especially if it’s manuka or raw honey. Bee propolis is also known for its antimicrobial and immune enhancing properties.
Great news for chocolate lovers! But you can’t just munch on any type of chocolate. Raw cacao powder is rich in flavonoids, antioxidants that help combat free radicals – the troublesome unstable atoms that prevent the immune system from working optimally. It is also packed with zinc, an antiviral nutrient. Research has shown zinc can lessen the cold duration and crease its severity if taken within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms, so keep this flu-fighting food on hand! Other good sources of zinc include nuts, seeds, oysters, and meat.
the pungent bulb is a fabulous immune supportive spice – it’s antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal. For optimal benefits, the garlic should be fresh and crushed which helps convert the chemical allicin at its active form.
Research has shown elderberry extracts have anti-viral properties and help tackle the flu virus, reducing recovery time. Elderberry extracts are available as a liquid supplement known as sambucol.
This healthier saturated fat contains monolaurin made from lauric acid, a type of medium chain triglyceride, which has been widely researched for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties. It is also effective against viruses including herpes. Use it in cooking or add to protein shakes.