It’s 2024 and we’re kicking off the New Year by focusing on the immune system – what it is and how we can support it in order to lead healthier, happier lives.
The immune system—a complex network of cells, tissues, and organs—protects our bodies from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other harmful microbes that we encounter daily.
But how does immunity work, and what can you do to boost yours?
Typically, the human body carries out two types of immune response: innate and adaptive.
Innate immunity uses skin, mucus, and the enzymes found in sweat to create a protective barrier against the pathogens that try to enter our bodies.
On the other hand, adaptive immunity is a system that learns to recognise pathogens. When an unknown pathogen enters the body, our cells produce antibodies that label the harmful invader so that it can be recognised and destroyed. The immune response is a natural part of human physiology but can be further strengthened by key lifestyle factors such as ensuring good quality sleep, maintaining exercise, and good nutrition.
Contrary to the popular discussions on ‘superfoods’, one individual food is unlikely to support the immune system. This is because immune processes rely on the presence of many essential nutrients that cannot be accessed from just one food source. The best way to support your immune system is to eat a wide variety of fresh, healthy, unprocessed foods.
Nutrition and immunity are intricately linked; studies have shown that those who are poorly nourished are at greater risk of bacterial, viral, and other types of infections. To avoid these risks, a healthy diet should contain a range of nutrients that are critical for the growth and function of immune cells. Therefore, we should all aim to eat a range of superfoods containing vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein as a regular part of our diets.
Immune Boosting Foods
Make space in your diet to accommodate these 6 immune boosting ingredients for added
protection against nasty pathogens.
When facing a cold, most people immediately turn to vitamin C because it aids the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections. Citrus fruits are great to add to your diet as they contain particularly high quantities of vitamin C. Since it is not naturally produced or stored by the human body, daily consumption is vital for continued health. For adult men, the recommended daily amount of vitamin C is 90 mg. Meanwhile, women are recommended to consume 75 mg of vitamin C per day.
If there is any food that you should be adding to your plate, it’s this one! Broccoli is packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as plenty of fibre and antioxidants. An increased consumption of vegetables rich in immune-supporting ingredients (such as broccoli) can transform your health for the better. The best way to unlock the nutrients from this vegetable is to cook it for as little time as possible. This can be achieved through steaming, which research has proven to be the best way to retain nutrients while cooking.
Ginger can help with reducing inflammation, which could be useful for treating a sore throat or inflammatory illnesses and has frequently been proven as a natural method to reduce nausea and calm an upset stomach. In a recent study, experts have even suggested that ginger could be used to decrease chronic pain and possess cholesterol-lowering properties. Why not try adding a little fresh ginger to your smoothie or juice to add a zing and unleash these amazing qualities!
Yoghurt is not only packed with vitamins and protein, but is also a source of lactobacillus, a probiotic that helps fight off harmful bacteria and supports your immune system. Look for plain yoghurts that contain ‘live’ and ‘active’ cultures.
Yoghurt is also a great source of vitamin D, which helps to regulate the immune system and is believed to boost the body’s natural defences against diseases. Opt for brands that are fortified with vitamin D, and try topping it with your favourite healthy fruits for a delicious, immune-supporting treat!
Nuts & Seeds
Are nuts and seeds the nutrient powerhouses that are missing from your diet? Many people don’t eat them, either because they don’t like the taste, can’t tolerate them because of an allergy, or because they just don’t think about including them in their meals and snacks. Excluding nuts and seeds from your diet means that you’re missing out on an incredibly nutrient-rich food source. They can be enjoyed as a snack, dessert, or can be added as a topping to a bowl of cereal or yoghurt for a tasty, immune-boosting crunch. If you really don’t like the taste or texture of nuts and seeds, you can blend them into soups and smoothies.
Many nuts and seeds are high in vitamin E, which helps to regulate and maintain immune system function. Almonds are particularly rich in magnesium, potassium, and monounsaturated fatty acids that maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels.
Studies have shown that a healthy intake of selenium could have the potential to combat both viral and bacterial infections. Brazil nuts are known for both their high selenium content and other nutrients such as protein, fibre, magnesium, and iron. They also contain a high proportion of healthy monounsaturated fat. Despite their small size, sunflower seeds are also high in selenium.
It is recommended that men aged between 19-64 consume 75μg of selenium per day, whilst women of the same age should take 60μg per day.
Your coffee break could be a chance to boost your immune system! Try switching your ordinary cup of tea or coffee for a cup of immunity-supporting green tea. Traditionally, the Japanese, Chinese, and Indians utilised green tea in their medicine to boost the immune system and prevent various ailments. It wasn’t until relatively recently that the Western world discovered this tea and started reaping its health benefits.
Green tea is packed with flavonoids – a type of antioxidant that can help your body ward off toxins – which is great for both your mental and physical health. In addition to this, it contains high levels of epigallocatechin gallate (known as EGCG). EGCG is another powerful antioxidant that has been shown to positively enhance innate immune function. Unlike black tea, green tea is also steamed and not fermented, which preserves the levels of EGCG.
Supporting your immune system is vital for maintaining your health. So, endeavour to integrate these nutrient-rich ingredients and immune boosting foods into your everyday life, and boost your immune health to stay in tip-top condition and feel better every single day.