13 Jan What a nutritional therapist eats to boost immunity
Vee O’Brien NT.Dip MFNTP is a Nutritional Therapist and Wellbeing Coach who works with people looking to make positive changes to their health and wellbeing to boost immunity and avoid illnesses. Her passion is to show others how easy and effective it can be to incorporate healthy eating, natural medicines and supplements into their lives, to create significant improvements to their health.
At this time of a new year, when it’s cold, damp and grey, it is very important to take steps to avoid colds, coughs and the dreaded flu, because there are so many more bugs in the environment. Whilst we can’t avoid coming into contact with numerous strains of germs, there are lots of things we can eat to support our immune systems so that if we do catch something, we don’t suffer so much and for so long.
What’s your immune system?
I think it’s first important to understand what the immune system actually is, before we look at ways to support it. It’s a complex and very intelligent system of the body which is responsible for protecting us from both internal and external threats that we are exposed to each day. The immune system is formed of a system of cells, tissues and organs, many of which make up parts of other systems too.
Our skin, nose and mouth, for example, are part of the immune system, and are designed to stop invaders from entering our body. Another line of defence is the stomach and its acid, which kills off many pathogens that enter through the mouth. Within the bloodstream, there is then the complex system of white blood cells which kick into action when something does manage to get through, tracking it down and attempting to destroy it.
Lots of things that we do can weaken our immune systems, including the foods that we eat, but on the flip side, there are many foods we can eat which will help to strengthen our immune system and help us avoid colds. If you have a strong immune system, you may well come into contact with germs and not know anything about it, as the immune system silently deals with and destroys them before they can do any harm.
Which nutrients are best to boost immunity?
I’m going to focus on the key nutrients that I use to support the immune system, and the best ways to get these into your diet. One thing I would like to point out is that I always try to choose organic produce where possible, as the nutrient content tends to be higher than non-organic alternatives. If your diet is lacking in any of these key nutrients, it could be worth considering a supplement.
Vitamin C is known as the chief immune-boosting nutrient, primarily because it has so many roles within immunity, including helping immune cells to proliferate and improving the effects of antibodies. It is also anti-viral and anti-bacterial and can destroy some of the toxins that bacteria produce. Vitamin C is a powerful anti-histamine too, due to its anti-inflammatory action.
Because Vitamin C is water-soluble, it can’t be stored so we need to regularly get it from our diets. There are many foods which provide good amounts of Vitamin C and these include all citrus fruits, berries such as blueberries, blackberries and cranberries, green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, broccoli, red bell peppers, and fruits such as pineapple and mango.
Vitamin A is a powerful anti-oxidant and helps to create and maintain the wall of the digestive tract, the lungs & all cell membranes. This means that it is incredibly important for helping to keep foreign invaders out of the body and boost immunity.
Vitamin A is best taken from food rather than supplements where possible as it is a fat-soluble vitamin and can be unsafe if taken in high doses, especially for pregnant women. Liver is one of the best sources of Vitamin A, but not something I can tolerate. I tend to go for the plant forms of Vitamin A: carrots, dark leafy greens (spinach, kale and spring greens), sweet potato and bell peppers are all good sources.
Vitamin E is another powerful anti-oxidant which increases the performance and production of white blood cells and helps to boost immunity by protecting cell damage caused by free radicals.
Another fat-soluble vitamin, it can be found in many foods that contain fats including avocados, seeds such as sunflower seeds, and nuts, for example, hazelnuts, peanuts and almonds. Green vegetables provide smaller amounts of Vitamin E such as spinach and broccoli, but foods with fats are much more abundant in Vitamin E.
Zinc is required for the proper function of each and every cell in the body and over 300 enzymes. Zinc is critical for white cell production and proper functioning of B and T cells in the immune system.
It can be found plentifully in meat, especially red meat, and seafood such as shellfish. If you are vegetarian or vegan (or flexitarian like me, where I only eat a little meat and fish), you can opt for legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and beans. Cooking, soaking, sprouting or fermenting these are a great way of preparing them. Some seeds are also a good source of zinc including hemp, squash, pumpkin and sesame.
Selenium is another important immune system mineral. As a powerful anti-oxidant, it helps to reduce inflammation in the body by lowering oxidative stress and helps to stop viruses multiplying and help boost your immunity to avoid colds and other common illnesses. A deficiency in selenium has been shown to affect immune response but many people are deficient in selenium due to not eating the most abundant selenium-containing foods such as brazil nuts, seafood, fish and seaweed. Eggs and chicken also provide some selenium, so a good option if you don’t like fish.
Probiotics are known as nature’s antibiotic. These beneficial or ‘friendly’ bacteria have huge benefits for gut health and are important for a healthy immune response. They work in a number of ways; they consume the nutrients that would otherwise feed the ‘unfriendly bacteria’ and they produce substances which help to prevent ‘bad’ bacteria from flourishing. They are also able to block receptor sites in the gut that harmful bacteria try to latch onto in order to cause infections.
There are lots of great sources of probiotics including Live yoghurt, kefir (fermented milk drink), sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), Tempeh (fermented soy product), Miso soup, and raw cheese (unpasteurised).
There are many more foods which can help to boost the immune system and help you avoid colds. Spices such as turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are all immune-supporting, whilst garlic can be very helpful too.
Ensuring the vitamins and minerals I’ve discussed are in your diet in ample quantities will go a long way to helping your immune system to stay strong and do its number one job of protecting you.