First and foremost, it's important to note that nutrition is only one of several factors which influence and improve your immune system.
Some of the the other factors, we'll explore in the coming weeks' blog posts. They will include:
But for this week, we'll focus on nutritional tips.
Ensuring that your body is full of healthy, nutritious food not only provides you with the
essential vitamins and minerals you need, but also helps to reduce stress. Stress is not only work and life pressures, but also what you put in your body. Just think about how crappy you feel after you've drunk too much the night before. That's stress!
There is no one vitamin, mineral or supplement which will fully protect you from illness. Rather a balanced and synergistic combination of them all. Supplementation might be advisable depending on your situation and life-style, but should only be done with the supervision of a nutritional therapist.
The first thing to have a look at is:
Vitamin C is one of the first things most people think of when they think about protecting
themselves against colds and flu. And for good reason! Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which if you have already checked out my blog post from last week (Click here to read it) you'll know that they make up the majority of your defense against microbial attacks (viruses, bacteria, fungus etc)
Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C and are these days available all year round. I don't know about you, but when I was a kid mandarins and kiwi fruit were a Christmas only treat?
Popular citrus fruits include:
grapefruit (make sure it doesn't interfere with any medications you might be taking)
We need to consume vitamin C daily because our bodies don't store it.
The recommended daily allowance is generally advised as:
75 mg for women
90 mg for men
But taking much more than that is perfectly OK. Some naturopaths even give it in mega-doses in the thousands of milligrams. However, do not attempt this yourself. A 'normal' over the counter supplement is perfectly fine to take at home.
You might only think of citrus fruits (or Kiwi fruit) when you think about vitamin C, but the humble, pretty, and tasty red pepper (capsicum/bell pepper) is absolutely loaded with it. Gram for gram there is around 3 times as much in red peppers than in an orange, as well as an added dose of beta carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A to keep your eyes and skin healthy.
So, chop it up raw into a salad, or just munch on it as a tasty snack. Combine it with hummus for some extra zinc and you're onto a winner!
Broccoli is pretty much now accepted as a super food. Packed with vitamins A, C and E, as
well as lots of lovely fibre to keep your gut healthy and many other antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate.
To retain as much of the goodness as you can, try not to cook it too much. Lightly steamed is the most it should be cooked, if you absolutely need to eat it warm. But if you can stand it, raw is even better.
An age old favourite of anyone who loves to cook, garlic cannot be passed over when we talk about the immune system. It has infection fighting properties, has been shown to slow down the hardening of the arteries and even some evidence that it may help to lower blood pressure.
Its immune boosting properties come from a heavy concentration of sulphur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
Roast up a whole head at the first sign of a cold and just squeeze the roasted cloves into your mouth, or just add a generous amount to your cooking.
Ginger helps to decrease inflammation, which may help if you have a sore throat. It can also help with nausea if you're feeling a little queasy. Adding ginger to your morning smoothie might just be the nutritional boost you need to keep those cold germs at bay.
Oh my goodness, do I love spinach! Creamy spinach pasta (made with blended, soaked cashew nuts, rather than heavy cream) is just to die for.
But did you know it's also very rich in vitamin C. It also has lots of lovely antioxidants and beta carotene, which both help increase your immune systems' infection-fighting ability.
The lowly vitamin E tends to come second best to vitamin C when it comes to fighting off colds, but this powerful antioxidant is key to a healthy immune system. It's a fat soluble vitamin, which means it needs fat to be able to be absorbed properly, which all comes bundled up in the almond itself. How clever is that! And to top it off, it's a health fat. Double whammy! The good thing is, adults only need about 15mg of vitamin E every day and around half a cup, or about 45ish whole almonds, provides 100% of that vitamin E. So grab yourself a handful a day.
Again, sunflower seeds are full of vitamin E, as well as phosphorus, magnesium and vitamin B6 (especially beneficial for ladies of a certain age). Sunflower seeds are also extremely high in selenium, something that is mega important for combating viral infections and even cancer.
Being English, I absolutely adore a good curry. The multicultural landscape of the UK ensures that we have many and varied foods from almost every country on earth. And with those amazing curries, comes turmeric. This bright yellow, bitter spice has been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in beating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. High concentrations of the compound curcumin, which gives the spice it's lovely colour, can help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage (think reducing stress in relation to your immune system) and has shown promise as an anti viral.
Again, being English, there is nothing I love more of a morning than a cup of tea. And a good quality green tea, is pretty hard to beat. Packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant, it absolutely blows the roof off antioxidants with its levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Long name, great results! This powerful antioxidant enhances immune function. But beware, black tea doesn't have quite the same effect due to the fermentation process, which destroys a lot of the EGCG.
Green tea also contains the amino acid L-theanine, which is shown to aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your white blood cells.
This delicious, creamy and nourishing fruit is loaded with vitamin C. In fact, the
recommended daily allowance is in just one single, medium sized fruit. They also contain a digestive enzyme called papain, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
They also have pretty decent amounts of potassium, magnesium and folate which are all essential for overall health.
Ah the sweet, little kiwi. Small in stature, big on nutrition. As i mentioned further up, when I was a wee nipper, kiwi fruits were a Christmas time luxury only, but these days you can find them in the supermarkets all year round. It made total sense that they were only available in the winter, as that's really the time you need an extra vitamin boost with there traditionally being less fruit available then.
Just like papayas, kiwis are full of loads of essential nutrients, including folate, potassium, vitamin K and, you guessed it, vitamin C.
And last, but by no means least, zinc. You might immediately think of meat and shellfish when you think of zinc, but it's just as easy to get from vegetable sources. Animal proteins, while seemingly healthy, can cause inflammation, which in turn is a stress on the body systems, therefore negating their nutritional affect.
Zinc is needed for lots of different functions, including fighting infection, growth and speeding up reactions, and can easily be found in beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, walnuts, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, wholemeal bread and quinoa.
Having a varied and balanced diet, incorporating all of the foods mentioned above, plus lots more fruits and vegetables is key to using nutrition as part of your plan for better immunity. Eating just one or two of the above in isolation is not enough.
As the amazing Michael Pollan says, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants"
As well as being a homeopath and nutritional therapist, I am also a positive and understanding Well-being Therapist who empowers those affected by suicide in a lighthearted - but extremely effective way, so they are able to pivot into more joyful lives without shame, blame or guilt.