Nutrient rich foods for immune support:
Specific nutrients that support the immune system include: Vitamins A C E and D, B vitamins, zinc, iron, selenium, antioxidants, phytonutrients and omega 3 oils. A healthy gut bacteria balance and optimal digestive function is also very important. To ensure that you are getting enough of these important immune boosting nutrients, include the following foods in your daily diet:
- Vegetables (antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins C and E, B vitamins and selenium) – make sure you have at least 5 servings a day of a variety of different types and colours, particularly: garlic, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, red peppers, carrots, tomatoes, kale, broccoli, cabbage, avocados and cauliflower. Homemade soups and smoothies are a great way to make sure you get enough veg, another tip is to make sure you fill half your plate with veggies (the more colours the better) at main meals.
- Fruits (vitamin C, phytonutrients and antioxidants) – 1-2 servings a day, particularly oranges, lemons, strawberries, kiwi fruit and blueberries.
- Nuts and seeds (omega-3 oils, vitamin E, zinc and selenium) – a handful a day of a mixture of walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts and almonds. Great as a healthy alternative to sugary snacks or for sprinkling on porridge and salads, and also in smoothies.
- Wholegrains especially oats, brown rice and wholemeal / granary bread (B vitamins and vitamin E).
- Quality protein such as lean meats (especially chicken and lamb), fish (especially oily fish eg salmon, trout, mackerel, tuna and sardines), eggs, dairy products and beans and pulses. Protein is used to make the immune cells and antibodies, protein foods also contain iron, zinc, vitamins A and B12, whilst oily fish in particular contain omega-3 oils and vitamin D.
- Garlic and ginger – these have antibacterial and antiviral properties, which help support the immune system.
- Chicken noodle soup – this has anti-inflammatory and mucous thinning properties which help relieve congestion and other cold / flu symptoms, as well as containing lots of good protein and immune boosting nutrients.
- Honey – this has numerous immune boosting and antibacterial properties, and because it coats your throat it is a natural way to soothe sore throats and tickly coughs. Try a spoonful of honey and a slice of lemon in hot water.
Although a good well-balanced diet is the most important way of ensuring optimal nutrient intake, sometimes it can be helpful to include some specific supplements for immune support.
- Probiotics. These contain live beneficial bacteria and can help to promote healthy gut bacteria balance and digestive function. Beneficial bacteria play an important role in the immune system, as well as general health and wellbeing. They are particularly important to take after antibiotic use and / or gastro-enteritis (tummy bugs, food poisoning, vomiting and diarrhoea bug etc). Beware though – not all probiotics are the same. Ensure you take a good quality probiotic supplement (BioCare, BioKult and Optibac are all good quality brands) which contain the right bacteria strains as well as being tested for efficacy and safety, rather than cheaper supermarket and chemist own brands. Plus stay clear of ‘probiotic’ yogurt drinks – these usually contain more sugar than the good bacteria!
- Multivitamins and mineral supplements. This is a great way of ensuring that you are getting enough nutrients, particularly if your appetite has disappeared – a common symptom of flu and other infections. Again, chose a high quality one (I recommend the Multi Essentials range by Nutri, Viridian Multi vitamins and Biocare), or take one that is specifically for the immune system (Elderberry Complex / Junior Elderberry Complex by Bionutri). And steer clear of high strength single nutrient type supplements, as these may do more harm than good.
- Vitamin D – this immune boosting vitamin in often in short supply during the cold and flu season as our main source is from sunlight. Therefore it is prudent to take a vitamin D supplement – either separately (try DLux 3000 spray by Better you) or in your multivitamin and mineral supplement. Look for the D3 form as this is far more bioactively superior than the D2 form.
These quality supplement brands can be found at good health shops , including D. Atkinson Herbalists (18 Bristo Place, Edinburgh) and also online at www.naturaldispensary.co.uk a online supplement shop based in Gloucestershire which I use often. They offer a very friendly and excellent fast service and if you mention me (Charlotte Heald) as your referring practitioner and quote the code ‘CLH010’ you can get a 10% discount on your purchases.