It’s not only the cold and flu season that can test our immune systems, but a number of other common lifestyle factors could be increasing your susceptibility to illness. Intense or prolonged training sessions, lack of quality sleep, excess caffeine, high cortisol/stress levels, and sub-optimal gut health. These can all lower our immune function. Try adding the following foods into your regular diet to help boost your immune system:
Meat, poultry, fish, legumes, tofu, nuts, seeds, spinach and dark chocolate all contain iron which plays an important role in immune function. If you eat iron-rich foods with foods containing vitamin C (such as raw fruits and vegetables), the vitamin C boost absorption of iron even further. Iron deficiency (as well as too much iron) can suppress the immune system and contribute to fatigue. Food first is always best to top up levels of iron and it’s always best to check your levels via your Doctor before taking any supplements.
Citrus foods are rich in vitamin C, which is used by the immune system to increase white blood cells. White blood cells fight off bacteria, reduce your susceptibility to illness and speed recovery. Vitamin C isn’t stored in the body it’s important to eat vitamin C rich foods daily, such as grapefruit, oranges, lemons, limes and mandarins. Most vegetables also contain vitamin C. However, this vitamin is easily damaged by heat such as in cooking.
Garlic has been long known for its antimicrobial and antiviral properties, and used in traditional medicine and since early civilizations to fight off illness. It’s sulfur compounds such as allicin, is what is thought to improve immune cells’ ability to fight off colds and flu.
70% of our immune function is in our gut. The live bacteria in foods such as natural yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and fermented veg contribute to healthy live bacteria in the gut. This increases your ratio of beneficial gut bugs, keeping the intestinal tract and gut free of disease-causing germs. When supplementing with probiotics, ensure you keep them refrigerated until consumption as they contain live cultures and bacteria.
Ginger contains antimicrobial properties that help fight off some strains of bacteria. One of the active compounds, gingerol, is thought to reduce risk of infections.
Natural Therapies including Chinese Medicine have long used certain types of mushrooms for medicinal purposes. Studies have found that mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells that fight off illness and disease. Add shiitake, reishi or maitake mushrooms into your diet regularly.
Chicken soup is good for the soul, and for speeding up recovery of colds and flu it seems. Chicken soup is high in the amino acid cysteine, which is released from the chicken during cooking. Cysteine helps break up mucous as well as supports antioxidant systems in the body that help with stress and infection. The broth reduces inflammation and strengthens mucous membranes such as the nasal passage, throat and intestinal tract.
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which plays a major role in connective tissue and healthy skin. Our skin is our first line of defense against germs, viruses and bacteria, making it a vital part of immune function. Studies have found vitamin A deficiencies can weaken the immune system. Use food first when aiming to have adequate vitamin A as vitamin A is stored in fat cells and can be toxic in high doses. Other vitamin A containing foods include orange coloured fruits and veg, carrots and pumpkin.