Updated: Jul 3
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
We are blissfully unaware of the barrage of viruses, bacteria, and other opportunistic pathogens bombarding us every day. Our heroic immune systems are extremely clever, quietly getting on with the job of protecting us against the daily onslaught.
What you eat and how you live your life day-to-day can help boost and support this system or it can seriously hinder it.
Here are some tips on what you can do to help and what cut out/reduce for healthy immunity.
There are three main strategies to consider: diet, lifestyle and supplements.
Foods to strengthen the immune system
Our immune system is basically made up of cells and proteins working together. We need protein from food to make these and a diet deficient in this important macro-nutrient impacts immunity.
The best protein sources include:
· beans and lentils
· and tofu.
You can also use natural protein powders such as whey, rice, pea or hemp. Make sure you read the ingredients and avoid powders that contain artificial flavours and other additives.
I would recommend a combination fermented pea and rice protein, such as Amazonia Raw Protein Isolate that is easy to digest and less acidic than animal-based proteins.
Gut health plays a role in immunity for two reasons I will explain here.
· Firstly, think of your digestive system as one long tube, open at both ends for obvious reasons. This means your gut is exposed to the outside environment and we need a good defense system to prevent bacteria and other pathogens from taking hold and making us sick.
An estimated 70% of our immune system tissue and cells are located in our gut and this exposure to the outside world is partly the reason why it is the hub of our defense system.
Compromised gut health inevitably effects how well this defense system works.
· Secondly, our gut flora is not just a load of bacteria that sits in your gut doing nothing. They are hugely important to us, especially in terms of immunity.
Helpful bacteria act a bit like bouncers in a nightclub. They produce chemicals that create a gut environment inhospitable to less desirable pathogens, making them less likely to take hold and grow.
The interaction between gut flora and the immune system is very complex and not fully understood. But as an example of the amazingly important work bacteria do to support the immune system, these friendly little microbes produce chemicals which influence the development and function of our immune cells.
Eating fermented foods daily is a great way to encourage the growth of good bacteria and keep the gut healthy. The use of these foods dates back hundreds of years and just goes to show that daily input of natural probiotics has always been a part of our way of life.
The best fermented foods include:
· Apple cider vinegar
It sounds over-simplified to recommend eating more fruits and vegetables but the truth is that plant foods are very powerful allies for boosting and maintaining immunity.
Certain foods are considered super foods because of their exceptionally high nutrient content. But these don’t have to be exotic, expensive imports. Broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms are all fantastic immune boosters that are inexpensive and easy to incorporate into your daily diet.
Plant foods are naturally high in vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.
One of the main properties of these foods is also their antioxidant content. Antioxidants help:
· protect cells and keep them healthy
· boost production of immune cells including natural killer cells that zap viruses
· balance immunity by reducing inflammation
· suppress tumour growth
Top 12 best natural immunity boosting foods
1. Extra virgin olive oil
2. Stewed apple
3. Cocoa or good quality dark chocolate (yes chocolate!) of at least 70% cocoa content
4. Anything from the Brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussel sprouts…). Check out my easy kale salad recipe here.
5. Nuts, particularly walnuts and almonds
6. Good butter from pasture-fed cows (good source of antioxidant vitamins A, D and E.
7. Cooked tomatoes (e.g spaghetti sauce). Cooked contains higher amounts of the antioxidant, lycopene, than raw tomatoes.
8. Spices including turmeric, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. For a cracking spicy chai comfort drink see my recipe here.
9. Herbs, fresh and dried including parsley, basil, oregano, thyme.
10. Seeds, especially pumpkin seeds, which are high in zinc.
11. Berries of any kind, fresh or frozen, ideally organic.
Choose to live well
Amazingly exercise actually encourages your body to make its own antioxidants, perfect for promoting your defence system.
Every time you reach for a biscuit, sweets etc (you get the picture), your body has to release insulin to drive sugar from the bloodstream into the cells.
Sustained elevations of insulin can increase inflammation in the body (i.e the natural release of inflammatory chemicals). Long term, this can damage cells and increase risk of chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes, as well as cancer.
As a side note, insulin makes you hang onto fat, something you might want to consider if you need to lose weight.
Stress messes with your immunity and reduces your defences to infection. So learn good stress management practices, find what works for you and incorporate it as part of your daily routine.
By the way, sugary foods will also cause stress hormones to increase, and impact immunity.
STOP BURNING THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS
Lack of sleep will affect your ability to fight infection.
Don’t be ashamed of having a little ‘nanna nap’ (I prefer to call them power naps); if you’re tired and have the opportunity go and have a lie-down. According to the National Sleep Foundation, two short naps (less than 30 minutes) in a day will bring your immune system back up to par.
If you’re having trouble unwinding and getting quality sleep, try a good magnesium supplement. Go for one without vitamin Bs added as these might perk you up too much if you take it at night.
Also, have a read of my blog on how to raise your melatonin levels naturally and get a good night’s sleep.