Good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system. Keeping the body well nourished during the winter can be difficult, but it’s crucial to prevent weight gain and ward off those pesky germs. While nothing can completely stop a cold in its tracks, a healthy immune system can help ward off the germs that cause colds and flu. A healthy immune system can even minimize a colds duration. Protein, vitamins A, C and E, zinc, selenium, and probiotics have all been linked with immune response.
- Protein is an essential part of your body’s defence system. Sources of protein include lean meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, soy products and unsalted nuts and seeds.
- Vitamin A helps prevent infections by keeping the skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, lungs and intestines healthy. This nutrient, found in sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach and red bell peppers, also helps the body regulate the immune system.
- Zinc is important for a healthy immune system and proper growth. Find zinc in lean red meat, fish and poultry as well as wholegrain cereals, legumes, reduced-fat dairy foods and nuts.
- Selenium is an antioxidant that works with vitamin E to keep you healthy. Find it in seafood, whole-grain cereal, wheat germ to oatmeal, lean meats, Brazil nuts. People who want to get more vitamin E in their diet should eat sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower or safflower oil, hazelnuts, peanut butter or spinach.
- Include yoghurt in your diet. Regularly eating probiotics or “good bacteria” found in foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, may help your immune system work better and improve digestion. Kefir (a yogurt-like beverage) is also a good bet.
- Vitamin C has been shown to help fight infection by enhancing immune function, and can be sourced from a myriad of fruits and vegetables. The most obvious sources are citrus fruits (oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and lemons), which are in season in winter. But if you’re looking for sources beyond those, consider bell peppers, broccoli and kiwifruit, which also high levels of Vitamin C.
- Be sure to start the day with a healthy breakfast. Missing breakfast can be linked to susceptibility to illnesses. Try oats porridge with low fat milk, or poached or boiled eggs on wholegrain toast, and some fruit.
- Healthy eating and energy intake can impact the immune system and function. Very low calorie or very high calorie diets can decrease our immune function and impact rates of infection and illness. It is important to keep track of what they eat as well as how much they eat and drink.
It’s important to keep in mind that foods contain a synergy of nutrients that work in unison to provide health benefits versus supplements, which only provide one or two nutrients. The best approach for fostering a healthy immune system is to eat a nutritious diet that meets all your body’s needs – even more reason to make every bite count, with delicious, whole foods bursting with nutrients.
If you get ill, the expert advice boils down to fluids, rest and eating a variety of healthy food. There is unfortunately no magic bullet to make you feel better as quickly as possible. Some food-based remedies to try:
- Tumeric is a rich, flavorful spice. Its golden colour is the result of curcumin, a polyphenol with strong cold and flu-fighting properties. Curcumin prevents some immune cells from responding to stimulants and so has modulating and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Garlic contains both sulphur-containing compounds and allicin – effective against bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic infections.
- Ginger contains a compound called gingerol, a relative of capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their zing and heat. When it is dried, ginger contains less gingerol and more shoagol, an anti-inflammatory agent. Ginger has also been shown to reduce nausea and vomiting, making it a very useful food to have around when you have the flu.
- Chicken Soup: hot chicken soup has been shown to be more effective than hot or cold water at making noses run—a good thing since nasal secretions help rid the body of pathogenic viruses and bacteria. Like any hot liquid, soup also helps you to stay hydrated and raises the temperature of the airways, both of which are important for loosening secretions.
- Green Tea: Polyphenols, especially catechins – potent plant antioxidants, are what’s believed to give green tea its immune-boosting effects. To maximize benefits and minimize bitterness, use just-below-boiling water and steep green tea no more than a minute or two. A little lemon and honey can also help blunt the bitterness. But don’t add milk, because the proteins will bind to the polyphenols, making them ineffective.