How To Boost Your Immune System Through Diet & Lifestyle
With everything that’s going on in the world at the moment boosting our immune systems seems like a smart thing for all of us to be focusing on. Nutritionist, Kelly Mulhall, gives us a great simple reminder and what we should all be doing and why?
‘Eat the rainbow!’
You’ve heard it a thousand times before but I will say it again and for very good reason. The bright and beautiful colours present in fruits and vegetables is a result of their high phytonutrient content, and phytonutrients are excellent protective warriors for our bodies; they are anti viral, antibacterial, anti tumour, anti cancer, anti inflammatory! How do they do this? Well before we ingest fruits and veggies, these phytonutrients are already active, protecting the plants themselves from viruses, bacteria and infection, so when we eat the plant, we adopt their benefits.
So how much of the rainbow should you be eating?
Aim for 2-3 serves of fruit and 7-8 vegetables per day, with at least 20-30 different varieties per week. The more variety means the more diverse bacteria for your gut flora to enjoy and higher levels of phytochemicals, and since 70% of your immune system is in the gut, it’s important that the gut is functioning properly.
Additionally, 2 litres of water a day to stay hydrated and helps the body flush out toxins. Herbal, non caffeinated tea counts towards this target. Suggest using a reusable drink bottle or finding a favourite glass to encourage you to drink more and help you keep track of volume.
Immunity Superfoods are also common cooking items
Some immune boosting superfoods are likely to be items you already eat every day – onions, garlic, lemons, nuts and seeds. Raw is best, but I do recognise this can be challenging with onions and garlic, so try and include such items in your evening meal where you’re unlikely to see friends or family until the next day. For nuts and seeds try to avoid the small snack packs out there as they are often roasted, covered with salt and more expensive long term than buying bulk. The roasting process can damage the good fats in the nuts and the salt added is far higher than you suspect.
Specifically when the body is fighting an infection it uses a lot of Vitamin C, so vital to be eating lots of foods rich in this antioxidant including red peppers, broccoli, kiwis, strawberries and oranges.
Find time for those oh so important zzzz’s
Sleep and stress are two of the most important factors for immunity. Poor sleep means the body doesn’t have time to repair and fight off infection, whilst stress dampens down the immune system and means it won’t function as well. One of the simplest tricks is walking outside, preferably somewhere green. This will lower your stress levels by decreasing the hormone cortisol, get your blood pumping and also tire your body so that when the evening comes you’re physically tired too, not just mentally.
Getting outside also means access to the sun, which is necessary for our body to create Vitamin D. Low levels of Vitamin D have been detected in people with weak immune systems – and all you need is 10-20 minutes direct sunlight on exposed skin. In the UK winter this can be challenging, so the best food sources come from mushrooms, oily fish and eggs.
Lastly, sugar paralyses the immune system reducing efficacy, so cutting out any added sugar to your diet will be immensely beneficial. If you’ve already got the sniffles, immediately limiting any refined sugar (the sugar naturally found in fruit is fine!) until you’re back to feeling 100% will reduce the severity and aid your immune system in rehabilitating.
Kelly Mulhall is a nutritional therapist and Founder of The Natural Balance