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Nutrition and Your Immune System – Part 1

At the moment, the world is still dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  People all over the world have been asked to stay indoors so that healthcare systems can best deal with those who are already ill and the virus spread is slowed.

Whilst we’re all indoors, sometimes with not much to do, it’s easy to fall into worse habits when it comes to eating, but this article is about how you can actually be proactive when it comes to nutrition and eating (and hopefully be in a better place to fend off any bugs both now and in the future).

It probably comes as no surprise to a lot of people that our diet supports our immune system, and that our immune system determines how well we fight off illnesses.

When we do get stuck the body gets damaged in some way and the immune response clears everything up.

Establishing healthy habits around our food intake and lifestyle is one simple way that we can all take to help to improve immune function, reduce inflammation in the body and boost overall health.

As a general statement, making sure that you eat a good balance of macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates and fats) from a variety of sources will ensure a decent intake of micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and antioxidants).

Now, more than ever, it would make sense to focus in on which nutrients can help with your immune system.

So what can you do straight away to help? What can you make sure you’re getting enough of?

1 – Vitamin D

This is potentially misnamed as it functions more like a hormone than other vitamins.  We can produce in ourselves by exposing our skin to sunlight, and only a bit comes from our diet.  Bone health and immune function depend on getting enough Vitamin D.

Foods rich in Vitamin D: Oily fish, eggs (especially the yolk), mushrooms and fortified foods like cereals

Daily intake: 400-800 IU (check the back of the bottle of tablets) and maybe think about going above that range in winter when you can’t get direct sunlight on your skin.

The easiest way to get enough is exposing your hands, face, arms and legs to sunlight 2-3 times a week for about a quarter of the time it’d take you to get a mild sunburn.  So if the sun is out, show it some skin!

2 – Vitamin E

Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps support immune function by protecting cells from damage caused by environmental toxins.  A Vitamin E supplement may help with reducing the damage caused by viruses.

Foods rich in Vitamin E: Nuts, seeds, olive oil, leafy green vegetables

Daily intake: 15mg

3 – Zinc

If you look up zinc and immune system you’ll be overwhelmed with the amount of things that it helps with.

Foods rich in Zinc: Meat, shellfish, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, whole grains 

Daily intake: 8-15mg

4 – Omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil)

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means that they cannot be produced in the body.  These have strong anti-inflammatory properties as they can limit the production of inflammation in the body.

Animal sources have stronger effects than plant sources, as plant sources must be processed by the body before they can be used properly.

Foods rich in Omega 3: Oily fish and seafood, fortified products, chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts

Daily intake: 250-500mg of EPA/DHA (check the back of your bottle if you take a supplement)

5 – Herbs and spices

As well as being a great way to vary your cooking, many herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory effects.  The flavours they bring to dishes can turn something from bland to exciting without increasing calories at all!

Try and get as much garlic, ginger, chilli, cinnamon and turmeric in as your creativity and palate will allow.

Some, like turmeric and garlic, are available in tablet form as well.

6 – Green Tea

As well as being touted as a diet aid (FWIW, it probably isn’t), green tea can help support your immune system and reduce inflammation.  It’s relatively cheap and manufacturers have now realised that the taste isn’t particularly nice so have flavoured it up with all kinds of weird and wonderful flavours – maybe see which one you like best.

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