Never has there been a more important time to support our body’s own natural ability to fight infection. Aside from all the usual COVID precautions supporting the resilience of our immune system, in advance of the forthcoming winter, could be the smartest thing we can possibly do.
Additionally, many lifestyles factors can have a supportive or suppressive effect on our immune system and below Nutritionist, Susan Woodward shares her top tips on how to support optimal immune function.
Eat a Rainbow
It’s all about diversity! Consume as wide a variety of fruit and vegetables as possible. Fill your veggie draw with shades of green, pink, orange, yellow, red, purple and blue. The phytonutrients in plants that give fruit and veg their pigmentation is what has such protective antioxidant properties.
Aim for 7-10 servings per day. ‘5 a day’ is a scant minimum! But, eat more veg than fruit. A great way to get more vegetables into your diet is to make vegetable soups, add handfuls of greens to your smoothies and vegetable juicing.
Spice up Your Life
Cooking with herbs and spices. Think turmeric, garlic, ginger, black pepper, oregano, rosemary, cloves, cinnamon, sage, fenugreek, chilli, basil, coriander and parsley because these all have immune-boosting properties.
Pesto is a great way to get more herbs and greens into your diet. Check out my nutrient-dense, easy, pesto recipe.
Hit your Protein Requirement
Protein is crucial for a healthy functioning immune system. The recommended daily intake for protein is set at 0.75g per kg of body weight. Sources of protein-rich foods are meat, dairy, seafood, nuts, seeds, legumes and pulses.
Also, adding a quality protein powder is a great way to increase protein intake. Be aware that many high street protein powders contain unwanted sugars, flavourings and synthetic nasties. Here is a list of my favourite protein powders.
Healthy fats are essential for the proper functioning of not only your immune cells but every cell in the body. Sources of healthy fats are oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, olives, coconut products, cold-pressed olive and coconut oils.
Reduce Sugar and Simple Carbohydrates
Sugar is a stimulant and has a negative effect on our immune system. Simple carbohydrates (white bread, pasta and potatoes) which convert quickly to sugar in the bloodstream have a similar effect.
There are plenty of fantastic complex carbohydrate alternatives like quinoa, buckwheat or soba noodles, brown rice, millet, sweet potato and butternut squash.
Not only do these complex carbs all carry a higher nutrient profile but they are also rich in fibre which keeps us feeling satiated for longer and can help with weight loss too.
Having an occasional caffeine hit (3-4 per week) is fine and can have therapeutic benefits. However, if the only thing that gets you going in the morning is your cup of coffee then you have a caffeine dependency and are living on false energy. Caffeine also spikes Cortisol levels which have an immune-suppressing effect. Caffeine is not just found in coffee it is in tea (Black, Green and Matcha) energy drinks, Coke and dark chocolate.
For a healthy alternative try my Immune Boosting Turmeric Latte recipe.
Whilst it’s tempting to reach for the vino at the end of a busy day unfortunately, alcohol profoundly affects both our innate and adaptive immunity. Government guidelines for safe drinking are set at less than 14 units per week. This free Drinkaware app can help track and calculate your unit consumption.
This one goes without saying! Smoking is very harmful to the immune system. Find some helpful guidelines on how to quit.
Regular, moderate-intensity, exercise is essential in supporting a healthy immune function as well as maintaining strength, balance, coordination and bone density. If you are still not quite ready to go back to the gym, we have some tips for working out at home.
Recent events have meant a stressful time for everyone. Focusing on the things we can control, and letting go of what we cannot, will serve us well. The most effective ways to moderate our stress levels are meditation, breathing techniques, yoga, mindfulness activities, connection and laughter.
Sleep deprivation can negatively impact our immune system. It’s our body’s time to heal and repair. Aim for 7-8hrs sleep per night. Have a regular sleep routine, going to bed and waking at similar times every day. Implement a relaxation technique before bed such as having a hot soak, reading, listen to music or a sleep meditation.
If you would like to read more on how you can help improve your sleep check out our article on 8 ways to improve your sleep.
The best way to get your nutrients is always from food. However, even when following a healthy diet, there can be many reasons why relying on food alone can leave us short. Stress, certain prescription medications, alcohol consumption, genetic factors, digestive problems or having a chronic illness can mean you have a higher need for certain nutrients.
If supplementation is correct for you then purchasing quality supplements is vital and why I always recommend ‘food-state’ professional supplement ranges and not the synthetic nutrients usually found on the High Street. There are many key nutrients that support a healthy functioning immune system and working with a nutritional therapist will ensure your individual needs are being met.
Be careful of Vitamin D Deficiency
Optimal levels of Vitamin D are vital for a properly functioning immune system. Vitamin D and certain other nutrients can become toxic if levels get too high so please always work with a qualified nutritional therapist who will ensure your needs are being met safely.
Support Gut Health
70-80% of your immune cells are located in the gastrointestinal tract. Optimising your gut health by sorting out any digestive issues, food sensitivities, gut permeability and dysbiosis are key.
There is a wide range of functional tests available that can give valuable insights into all of these areas.
About the Author
Susan Woodward | Replenish Nutrition
Susan is a Registered Nutritional Therapist. She uses Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine to help her clients optimise their health. She helps clients with chronic health conditions who are looking to restore their health and vitality.
Her specialism is supporting: Chronic Exhaustive conditions (CFS/ME); Digestive Issues and Microbiome Analysis, Immune and Hormonal imbalances. Susan consults with clients in London and across the UK via virtual consultations.
For more information about Susan and the services she offers, visit her website: www.replenishyourlife.co.uk