Nutrition and Your Immune System – Part 2

The follow on piece here is more about a higher level view of everything with more bits of lifestyle guidance.

As we discussed in part 1, there are some things that you can do right now to help with your immune system.  These were simple steps that were actionable right away.

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.

What can we focus on to help protect us from illnesses in the longer term?

1 – Gut Health

Each of us has a unique microbiome that is made up of all the different bacteria that line our digestive tract from top to bottom.  It is the first place that a lot of nasty things come into contact with our body and as such is our first line of defence, so it would make sense to get it as strong and robust as possible.  Its strength can be assessed by the range and balance of the bacteria present.

These bacteria feed on fibre.  So it would make sense to make sure that you eat enough fibre on a daily basis, right?

How much is enough though?  12g per 1000 calories is a great place to start.

You’ve probably heard of probiotics, that can come from yoghurts and fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut, or in supplement form.  These aren’t a scam and can be a powerful aid in the fight against illness.

How to boost and maintain gut health:

  • Try eat 30 different plants each week – this will give the good bacteria a wide variety of fibres to feed on.  It will also give a good mix of soluble fibres (for softening stools) and insoluble fibres (for making stools easy to pass)
  • Eat a wide variety of colours – all beige all day doesn’t make for a happy gut!
  • Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut, yoghurt and kimchi – keep your bacteria levels topped up
  • Drink enough water – start with 3 litres a day and add more if you’re sweating a lot.  It’ll help your toilet habits and keep your gut lining hydrated
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink – you probably don’t need to be told that alcohol isn’t great for you, but it can inflame your gut and change the balance of bacteria in there negatively

2 – Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins are used for important reactions such as energy production, immune function, tissue production, nerve function, blood clotting and growth. There are 13 vitamins, some of which are fat soluble (Vitamins D, E, A and K) and the rest are water soluble (vitamin C and the B vitamins). 

Minerals are important for functions such as bone and teeth formation, fluid balance, nerve and muscle function and several chemical reactions in the body. There are 14 main essential minerals.  The main minerals are Calcium, Iodine, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Sodium and Zinc.  Tthers which are essential but required in much smaller doses are Selenium, Fluoride, Manganese, Molybdenum, Phosphorus, Chromium, and Copper. 

As a belt and braces approach, you can always top up your brightly coloured, varied diet with a multivitamin and mineral tablet every day.  This doesn’t replace the other good things that all the variety of foods bring to the table though, so focus on food first.

So how about some ideas for which foods you can eat to cover all the colours of the rainbow?

  • Blues and purples – grapes, berries, black rice, aubergine, red cabbage and plums
  • Reds – tomatoes, red grapefruit, watermelon and papaya
  • Oranges and yellows – carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, citrus fruits like oranges and lemons, peppers and apricots
  • Greens – kale, spinach, broccoli, green cabbages, sprouts, salad leaves, cucumber and apples
  • Whites – cauliflower, garlic, onions, bananas and potatoes

What about how to put it into action?

  • Get three different colours on your plate at two separate meals every day
  • Build meals around vegetables
  • Long term aim for 800g of fruit and vegetables every day, but ease towards this target gently if you are way short of this right now
  • Use fruit as a handy snack to have once or twice a day

How about what to buy so you’re kitchen is always stocked up to support your healthy eating?

  • Higher fibre carbohydrates like oats, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, beans, brown rice, whole grain cereals and whole grain breads (variety is key to avoid boredom)
  • A range of proteins like chicken, beef, pork, turkey, lamb, fish, tinned tuna, eggs and some form of protein powder, such as whey (keep mixing and matching to create different meals)
  • Healthy fats like butter, olive oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, nuts, seeds and nut butters (add flavour to meals)
  • Frozen vegetables (great when you have limited prep time and they keep ages)
  • Frozen fruit (adds variety at any time and doesn’t go off)
  • Herbs and spices like cinnamon, turmeric, chilli, basil, mustard, salt and pepper (for varying tastes)
  • Cupboard staples like tinned tomatoes (for easy cooking)
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