Eating to "Boost" our Immunity
Written by Talia Cecchele
Our immune system is complex and works by using two defense systems and other mechanisms to protect our body. There is a common belief that it can be "boosted" but in actual fact if too many immune cells were created this could cause inflammation and our body would have to work hard to destroy any excess cells and bring the body back into balance.
The Innate System
This is the general immune system which triggers an immediate, non-specific response to any viruses, bacteria or other pathogens. It consists of a physical barrier (our skin, eyelashes and nose hairs), secretions (such as mucous, stomach acid, sweat, tears and saliva) and white blood cells.
The Adaptive System
This is the long-term defense system that responds when the innate system is unsuccessful in destroying a pathogen. It targets the pathogen directly with the help of antibodies and white blood cells called lymphocytes. The adaptive system can remember pathogens it may have come across before and creates antibodies so that the response is quicker if the body comes into contact with that pathogen again. This is how vaccines work, by introducing a small amount of a pathogen into our system to allow the body to create antibodies. This is the only way that our immune system can ever be "boosted."
What about diet? There is no special supplement, pill, essential oil or super-food which can prevent or cure a virus. However, what we choose to eat every day can help to support our immunity as it is believed that 70% of our immunity is in our gut! Here are my tips on what foods to include:
EAT A RAINBOW: to get a full range of powerful antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can help to fight off foreign cells in the body. If you can, buy seasonally or snap frozen foods as these will have a higher vitamin and mineral content VITAMIN C: a powerful antioxidant known to support immunity. Found in citrus foods, dark green vegetables, berries, kiwi fruit and mango
ZINC: supports white blood cell production and promotes wound healing. Sources include red meat, shellfish, legumes, nuts and seeds
VITAMIN D: If you are unwell or self-isolating you will be spending less time outdoors. General guidelines in the UK are to supplement with 10ug of vitamin D daily during the cooler months from October to late March/early April. If you are stuck indoors, I would recommend to continue this until you are able to spend more time in the sun. Food sources of vitamin D are oily fish, eggs, mushrooms and fortified foods
HERBS & SPICES: Garlic, ginger and tumeric are just some of the herbs and spices that are known to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. I love roasting whole garlic cloves and adding them to salads, adding tumeric & ginger in curries and stir fries and tumeric in baking or a latte.
PROBIOTICS: to support our gut health. Include natural sources such as Greek yoghurt, kefir, miso, kimchi and sauerkraut every day OTHER: It is also important to consider other factors such as:
Sleep - making sure to get between 7-9 hours a day and wake up feeling well rested
Reducing stress levels - taking some time out, practicing meditation or yoga, breathing exercises or getting some fresh air
Regular exercise - get your body moving , even a gentle 10 minute walk can help
Hygiene - washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds regularly throughout the day and cleaning your phone several times a day
Keep it simple. Lots of colour. Stay hydrated and well rested.
Photo credit: Trang Doan
Talia is a registered dietitian working in private practice and as an eating disorder specialist dietitian in London's leading private mental health hospital. As a freelance dietitian, Talia not only offers 1:1 consultations but can present at your workplace, create recipes or articles or host a cooking demonstration. To enquire please fill out a contact form.