As we head into winter (rather reluctantly), this year more than ever, it’s really important to give your immune system a helping hand. Your diet, combined with a healthy lifestyle, is the best place to start.
There are certain foods that are particularly good. Obvious choices include ginger, turmeric and citrus fruits, but it’s also important to make sure you’re getting the right variety to support your digestive system (where a big chunk of your immune system takes residence) and keep your muscles strong.
Staying clear of processed foods will come as no surprise. Despite the absence of any nutrition, they put your body under pressure, meaning it has to work extra hard to tackle invaders. Here are some nutrient-rich foods that taste good and can be easily incorporated into your diet:
Cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
Fat is a controversial subject, you just need to understand the good ones, and olive oil is one of them. It’s a brilliant source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory (supporting your body’s physical response to infection), essential for cell production and help regulate the immune system. A couple of tablespoons a day should do the trick; as a salad dressing or in cooking. Make sure it’s cold pressed and extra virgin, as it will have a higher concentration of antioxidants. You don’t need a lot, so it’s worth it.
You know blueberries are good, but what makes them so amazing? These power-packed purple berries are full of immune-boosting goodness. Firstly, they contain flavonoids, a potent antioxidant that is believed to play a pivotal role in the functioning of the respiratory immune defence response (particularly important right now). They’re also loaded with vitamin C; the winter wonder vitamin. Add a handful to porridge, bircher muesli or a breakfast smoothie.
If you don’t eat meat, getting enough protein into your diet is essential; Proteins are the building blocks for your muscles to keep you strong, and your antibodies and immune cells rely on them. As well as being high in protein, chickpeas are also loaded with zinc. This essential mineral is vital for your immune response; it’s like body armour and strengthens your resistance to infection. Chickpeas are so easy to cook with; spice them up in a curry, or bring some sustenance to a salad.
Eating spinach is another great way to top up on vitamin C, as well as vitamins A, K and folate (a B vitamin, essential for producing red and white blood cells). It also contains beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that has immune–boosting qualities. It’s loaded with iron and the high-fibre content makes it fantastic for digestion. Raw, steamed or stir-fried, you can actually feel it doing good as you eat it.
Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich and high in protein, that should get you interested. If that’s not enough, they contain copper, manganese and vitamin E, which work in unison like an army to fight off infection. Oh, and they’re another of the good fats; These tasty little nuggets make a healthy snack or add a bit of extra crunch to your lunchtime salad. Just don’t go overboard, a small handful a day is about right.
Now is also a great time of year to enjoy the array of colour that seasonal vegetables and fruit bring. Artichokes, beetroot, butternut squash, kale, watercress, apples and blackberries are all in season right now. Fill your plate with natural colour and you’ll know you’re doing good. Give your immune system what it needs this winter to keep you fighting fit.