Immunity is a key component of health and in order to strengthen our immune systems fully we need an abundance of immune boosting nutrients in our diets.
There is a consistent undercurrent of fear and panic that we are all dealing with at the moment over the Coronavirus pandemic. For some of us, especially those that spend too long following the mainstream media, this stress will be negatively impacting our immune systems.
Some of this fear will be fuelled by a lot of misinformation. We are all jumping on social media and watching the news waiting to find updates of what is happening and in amongst that not all the advice is scientifically accurate plus the science on this virus is still evolving and will be months if not years before we know the details fully.
I have heard advice from experts saying there is little that can done for your immune system, it doesn’t change quickly. I have also heard that the virus doesn’t respect those that go to the gym, adding to the popular belief that there is little you can do to protect yourself by trying to be healthy and just except you need to stay in doors and wash your hands.
However when it comes to preventing illness, most people do know their immune system is vital, but might be confused about how to support it.
I really don’t believe swallowing buckets of vitamin C is all you can do as much as some of us really do need vitamin C and in some cases it is a bucket load. We need food first, getting your self healthy is always about food first and in this time of high stress and the focus on our bodies being under attack from a virus we are far from helpless if we put our focus on getting healthy and with a food first approach.
It’s not easy navigating the sea of unrealistic marketing claims for pills, potions, and powders to “boost” your immune system. My advice would be to focus on healthy food and at this time that food should be rich in immune boosting nutrients.
What foods can help prevent you from getting sick?
Your body is mega complicated and not surprisingly it needs a host of nutrients to build health and support immunity. Thankfully, the nutrients that have been shown to be used in higher amounts to support the immune system can be found in specific foods. It could be argued that there are six key immune boosting nutrients, plus probiotics, that are a natural part of the diet:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a powerful anti-oxidant with a critical role in enhancing immune function. This micronutrient is involved in cellular immune response and provides enhanced defence against multiple infectious diseases.
Vitamin A is found in bright orange and yellow foods like;
- sweet potato,
- bell peppers,
- dark leafy greens; kale, spinach, broccoli.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is probably the most well-known anti-oxidant, and thousands of people take high-dose supplements with hopes of “boosting” their immune system. However, research shows that vitamin C from food at a dose of 100 mg to 200 mg per day is effective at preventing respiratory infections. However if you do succumb to an infection some people especially those already deficient will need for a period much higher doses, so food first and then the extra, the supplement comes from mineral ascorbates and ascorbic acid – vitamin C supplements.
In my 7 Day Immune Boosting Menu Plan the recipes provide an average of 500 mg per day of vitamin C from whole food sources like;
- red bell peppers,
3. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is most famously responsible for bone health and protecting us from diseases such as osteoporosis, osteomalacia, brittle bones and from fractures. It also plays a role in protecting you from diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer and even depression. As well affecting your nervous system a lack of vitamin D can affect the function of your immune system.
For many people it takes a combination of sunlight, the best option, as well as supplements to go with food sources to get your levels of vitamin D up to speed. The better food sources are;
- Fatty fish; mackerel, salmon, tuna
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
4. Vitamin E
Vitamin E plays an important role in immune function and supplementation has even been shown to reduce respiratory infection in the elderly. Most typical diets do not provide adequate vitamin E, but deficiency symptoms can be subtle so individuals may not know if they are deficient.
Rather than relying on supplements, deficiency can be prevented through adequate dietary intake of foods like;
- nuts; almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios
- seeds; pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
- leafy greens; broccoli, Swiss chard
- plant-based oils; almond oil, avocado seed oil, coconut oil, flax seed oil
One of the reasons we see a significant decline in cellular immunity with aging could be due to inadequate intake of anti-oxidants like vitamin E. Diets high in vitamin E naturally improve cellular immunity, even without supplementation.
Selenium is an essential mineral that acts as a powerful anti-oxidant. Adequate dietary selenium is required for the function of almost every arm of the immune system, so falling short can have serious consequences when it comes to fighting infections.
Brazil nuts are extremely high in selenium, but can easily exceed the daily upper limit and cause toxicity if eaten frequently. Sardines are an excellent source of selenium that can be eaten more frequently and provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats which also have beneficial effects on the immune system.
My 7 Day Immune Boosting Menu Plan incorporates sardines as well as other foods high in selenium like eggs, beef, and oats.
Like selenium, zinc is an essential mineral critical for immune function. Even mild to moderate zinc deficiency can impair immune function and increase risk of respiratory infections, so adequate dietary zinc should be emphasised for anyone looking to protect their immune system.
Zinc is found in;
- whole grains; wheat, oats, bulgur, brown rice
- pulses; beans, lentils, peas
- nuts; cashews, pecans, pine nuts
- seeds; hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds
- meat; beef, lamb, pork.
So eating a diet high in whole foods is key to getting enough zinc. Like vitamin C, zinc supplements are popular for immunity, but helping your clients keep zinc levels adequate through diet means supplements won’t be needed to reverse a deficiency later on.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts, that are good for your digestive system and therefore you. With 80% of your immune system residing within your digestive system, probiotics are a well known support for your immune system. Out with direct supplementation they can be found in food sources such as:
If you found the Recipes For The Lockdown helpful then hopefully you will find the 7 Day Immune Boosting Menu Plan I have created even more helpful. I felt many people are struggling with things that we can all do to help ourselves in this stressful period so I have put together a series of recipes and organised them into a daily menu plan and provided a shopping list as well tips on how to use leftovers.
When we are stuck at home and not always going to the shops every day then leftovers are a great tool to use to make the most of the food you have as well as your time cooking. There is also a handy Prep Guide to cover how to get started using the menu plan effectively.
You can download my 7 Day Immune Boosting Menu Plan to help put all of this together and get loaded up on the key immune boosting nutrients.