How can we support our immune system?
Our immune system is complex, and responds to the world around us, and so many factors can affect its function. Some of these factors are genetic, but many are influenced by our lifestyle, and this is something we can have some control over, so it would make sense to focus on having a healthy lifestyle in order to support our immune system. In these current times it’s important to follow the guidelines to prevent the transmission of Covid-19, ensuring we are reducing social contact, regularly washing our hands and not touching our face, however, there are other things we can do that would give us the best possible chance if we were to come into contact with the virus. It could be helpful to support our immune system by ensuring we are giving our body those all-important vitamins and minerals and by looking after the trillions of microbes that live in our gut by eating a healthy balanced diet. You may have heard this advice many times before, but it really is key to our health.
The vitamins and minerals known to be involved in our immune system are:
• Vitamin C - our best sources are all fruits and veg, although bell peppers are a particularly good source.
• Vitamin A - found in high amounts in liver (not recommended if you are pregnant) with good amounts also found in eggs, dairy and oily fish. We can also obtain vitamin A from yellow, red and green veg (leafy), and yellow fruit, but it does come in the form of beta-carotene and our body has to convert this to vitamin A.
• Vitamin E - found in plant oils, nuts and seeds and wheat germ (go for wholegrain to get the germ).
• Zinc - good sources are meat, shellfish, dairy and wholegrain bread
• Selenium – found in brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs
• Copper – found in nuts, shellfish and offal
It’s important to remember that these vitamins and minerals are in other foods, but just not in such high amounts, however, the general theme here is the less processed your diet the more nutrients it will contain, cooking from scratch, chopping, dicing, mixing are what we should be aiming to do when preparing our meals as opposed to taking products out of packets. Try to obtain vitamins and minerals from food, supplements can be useful but will never make up for a bad diet and if you take too much of a particular supplement you may experience side effects. Use the NHS website for more information on how much you should have.
You have probably heard about the good bacteria that live in our gut, these are individually known as microbes and collectively knowns as our microbiome, microbes produce so many beneficial chemicals which help to regulate our immune system. So we know that having a diverse microbiome is a good thing, and this is influenced by what we eat. Having a diet rich in plant based foods such as a wide variety of fruit and veg, and other foods high in fibre such as wholegrains, nuts and seeds are essential to feed our gut bacteria, and well fed microbes leads to a happy and healthy microbiome! Food and drink that are known to damage our microbiome are alcohol, sugar, sweeteners, salt and other additives, and when you eat food that is unprocessed these items will be less likely to be in your diet. You can also eat foods that contain live microbes, these are called prebiotics and are found in yoghurt, blue cheese, and fermented foods such as saukraut and kimchee and drinks such as kefir and Kombucha.
So, basing your diet on unprocessed natural foods will optimise your health but don’t forget to also get a good nights sleep and stay active.