Foods to boost your immune system – according to an expert

-Oct 30, Hannah Hargrave , Nutrition -

To avoid this season’s coughs and colds you can boost your immune system by adding certain foods to your diet. Let’s take a closer look at which ones.

A strong immune system is essential for keeping healthy and you can give it a big helping hand by adding some superfoods to your menu.

Nutritionist Shona Wilkinson told Lumity which foods you could consider eating to have an immune system which really a packs a punch this cold and flu season:

“It’s hard to avoid coming into contact with people who have coughs and colds,” she says. “Especially if you travel on public transport or work in an environment with lots of people. As well as practising good hygiene, the best way to avoid catching any bugs that are going around is to get your immune system up and running effectively to help tackle any germs that come your way. Luckily, there are ways to do this.

“Different nutrients are needed to help our immune system be as efficient as possible. Eating foods which contain these nutrients is a great way to help our overall health as well as our immune system.”

Related: How to boost immunity naturally

Vitamin C

“Good old vitamin C is probably the best-known vitamin for your immune system. One reason it’s essential is because it helps make collagen, which is vital for strong and healthy skin and internal linings of our body such as the gut wall. These are part of our immune system as they’re our first line of defence against germs getting in! Vitamin C may also help to keep our immune cells active and help boost production of antibodies and other immune chemicals.  When it comes to practical benefits for your immune system, studies suggest that taking a vitamin C supplement can reduce the duration of colds and could lower your risk of getting a cold too!  If you decide to take a vitamin C supplement, you are better off taking a smaller dose three times a day rather than a larger dose once a day.  This is because our body can’t absorb too much vitamin C in one go.”

Foods high in Vitamin C include:

  • cantaloupe
  • citrus fruits and juices, such as orange and grapefruit.
  • kiwi fruit
  • mango
  • papaya
  • pineapple.
  • strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cranberries. These are all absolutely delicious so try to include them in your diet.

Zinc

Zinc is an immune mineral which supports in the healing and fighting of infection. It is not only involved in producing the antibodies which help us to fight infection, but it also plays a role in T-cell, natural killer cell and lymphocyte activity – all essential components of a healthy, properly functioning immune system,” Shona explains. “We know from research that having sufficient levels of zinc in our body can help reduce how long an infection lasts for as well as reducing the severity of the symptoms.”

Foods which contain zinc include:

  • pumpkin seeds
  • mushrooms
  • quinoa
  • lentils
  • blueberries
  • cashews
  • sunflower seeds
  • sesame seeds

Probiotics

“Our gut contains trillions of bacteria, many of which are known as the ‘friendly’ types,” Shona tells Lumity. “As well as helping to digest our food, they can produce antimicrobial substances against ‘bad’ bacteria and other pathogens. And they may also interact directly with the part of the immune system found in and around the gut helping to teach it what to react to. So, a lack of the right gut bacteria – which can happen due to poor diet, stress, antibiotic medication and many other reasons – may impact our immunity.  This is why a probiotic supplement may be helpful.”

Related: How to make your own healthy probiotics at home

“Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG is a strain of ‘friendly’ bacteria that’s been studied for its potential immune-supporting effects. For example, research suggests Lactobacillus GG can help balance the immune response in infants with allergies and help relieve inflammation in the gut that can be linked to allergies. And animal studies have indicated it may help protect against infections such as flu.  If you want to help your immunity try to incorporate these probiotic foods into your diet.”

  • live yoghurt
  • kefir
  • sauerkraut
  • tempeh
  • kimchi
  • miso
  • kombucha

B Vitamins

“B vitamins are vital for many different functions in our body. It’s important to know that B vitamins are depleted during times of stress. B vitamins are vital for our energy production so consider taking a B complex supplement if you feel tired and lethargic. Following a healthy diet should ensure a good intake of B vits too.”

Good sources of B vitamins include

  • broccoli
  • green beans
  • spinach
  • kale.

Vitamin D

“You probably know that vitamin D helps to build strong bones. But did you know that it’s also needed for a healthy immune system? Vitamin D is made in your body through the action of sunlight on your skin, but over the winter months in the UK, even if your bare skin is exposed to the sun, your will make little or no vitamin D of your own. Taking a daily vitamin D supplement is a good way to ensure you keep your levels topped up. There are foods which contain vitamin D but only in small amounts.”
These include:

  • mushrooms (that are grown in sunlight)
  • mackerel
  • sardines
  • egg Yolks

Manuka honey

“Manuka honey is made by bees that gather pollen from the flowers of the manuka bush in New Zealand and Australia,” Shona says. “It is said to have special antibacterial and antiseptic properties, which are usually measured as ‘Unique Manuka Factor’ or UMF® – the higher the UMF, the higher the potency of the honey. Try a teaspoon a day to help keep the bugs away!”

Related: Why manuka honey is a powerhouse for your skin

Herbs & Spices

“Don’t forget those herbs and spicee,” she reminds Lumity. “Herbs and spices are jam-packed with anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting phytochemicals and antioxidants. Buy some fresh herbs and spices and begin to include them in your meals when you cook. Soups, curries and stews are a great way to sneak them in – the more the better!!”
Good herbs and spices to add to your food for immune boosting benefits include

  • garlic
  • chilli
  • turmeric

“Lastly, remember that sugar can have a negative effect on the immune system, including reducing the ability of your immune cells to destroy bacteria and other bugs. This includes fruit juices as they contain a lot of natural sugars and no fibre to slow down their absorption. Alcohol can have the same effect too. Save these for the occasional treat!”

For more tips to keeping healthy as the festive season approaches you can discover meditation and say cheers with these anti-inflammatory drinks.

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