What you eat can affect how well your body and your immunity function; and a good diet gets more important as we age.
“Age, stress, and poor nutrition can make our immune system less effective,” says nutritionist Christine Bailey. “As you get older a number of the components that make up your immune system, such as cellular response (how your body reacts to disease), antibody production (how many bug-fighting cells you produce), and your response to vaccines, are reduced or slowed. But you can support your immune defences with a diet rich in immune-supporting nutrients.”
Here are the foods that will rev up your immune system this winter:
- Lean meat, fish and eggs: “Protein-rich foods are essential for the production of white blood cells (the cells that protect you from infections),” says Christine. “They also helps to increase levels of an essential antioxidant called glutathione in your body.” Glutathione helps your body detox and get rid of harmful substances. If you don’t have enough your body will take longer to heal and recover from a cold.
- Berries, citrus fruits, red peppers, leafy greens and avocadoes: “These foods are rich in Vitamins A, C and E. Vitamin A helps to generally support your immune function and your respiratory system, while Vitamin C helps to stop harmful free radicals and reduces damage to your immune cells. Studies show that Vitamin C could help to defend your body against viral infections such as colds and flu. And if you take Vitamin C during a cold it may help to reduce the length of time you’re unwell. “We should also mention avocados here because they’re rich in another antioxidant, Vitamin E,” says Christine. “Vitamin E helps to protect the membranes around your immune cells to protect them from free radicals. It also helps to make lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, more powerful.”
- Pumpkin seeds, seafood, cashews and lean meat: Zinc is well-known for boosting immunity and these foods are all a great source. “A zinc deficiency has been linked to a weakened immune system which could make you susceptible to infections,” says Christine. “Zinc’s antiviral properties may come from its ability to prevent the cold virus from attaching to cells in your nasal passages. Perfect for fending off colds and coughs.” If you have a cold, eat some homemade chicken soup. “Add lots of garlic, ginger and some fresh chilli,” says Christine. “The protein from the chicken helps to nourish your immune system, repair your body and help you recover. And the herbs and spices will help to clear your nose and chest.”
- Garlic: This is one of the most common herbs used to treat colds, flu, and coughs. “When raw garlic is chopped or chewed, it releases an active organo-sulfur compound called allicin, which is an anti-viral and helps to fight off the cold virus,” says Christine. Add garlic to your meals, soups and stews when you have a cold and it may clear up faster. If you don’t feel like chopping it up, pre-chopped ‘lazy’ garlic is just as good – available in supermarkets.
- Weight and immunity: Being very slim isn’t always good news when it comes to fighting off colds. According to a US study fat can send out signals to ask our immune system to fight off bugs and viruses. Having a little extra fat could also help you recover from illness faster because your body has a greater energy reserve to call on. “That said being very overweight – with a BMI of 40 or greater could lead to a weakened immune system making you more susceptible to colds and bugs,” say Professor Eccles. When it comes to losing weight, following a balanced diet full of the healing and strengthening foods mentioned above is the best way to shed pounds and bolster your defences against colds and bugs.
- Yogurt and fermented foods such as pickled cabbage: “Clinical studies suggest that certain probiotics found in natural yogurts and fermented foods may help to prevent viral respiratory tract infections such as the common cold by supporting our immune systems,” says Christine. Some probiotics could even make your symptoms less severe and shorten your cold.
- Exercise: Your diet can go a long way to preparing your body for winter, but your fitness is important too. Scientists have found that people who exercise five times a week have fewer colds, with milder symptoms and recover faster than people who don’t exercise. The researchers believe that regular exercise triggers a temporary increase in your immune cells. Although your levels of these cells soon return to normal it’s thought your body is primed to keep a lookout for bacteria and viruses so it can knock them on the head faster. A daily walk, a dance class, a short cycle ride or some gardening could all help boost your immunity.
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