Simple nutrition and lifestyle things you can do to help improve your immunity. A healthy functioning immune system gives you more natural protection against illness and things like COVID-19.
In today’s current environment, staying healthy and safe has become a priority to many. With so much uncertainty and many things not within our control we need to do our best to take care of ourselves and our bodies – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Many factors play into our immune health. What we eat and put into our body on a daily basis can help support our immunity and keep us safe during these uncertain times. Providing our body with the nutrients it needs can help it to respond optimally and decrease our risk for illness.
Our immune system uses carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals as its fuel to help fight off illness. So first and foremost, it’s important to be sure you eat a well-balanced and colourful diet filled with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, high-quality protein and healthy fats. As always, focus on real, whole, natural foods that help nourish your body with the nutrients it needs to be healthy and strong. Using this as a foundation, we can then build upon it with a few extra things to help support our immune health and fight off illness.
Protein acts as the building blocks of virtually every tissue in our body. It also provides the amino acids that support immune function and fight off invaders that may enter our body. Animal sources of protein include foods such as meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Plant sources of protein include foods such as beans, tofu, nuts, seeds, soy, edamame, quinoa, and lentils. It’s important to be sure you are getting a variety of protein and spreading it evenly throughout the day to continually provide your body with what it needs.
Vitamins and minerals play an important role in our body with immunity being one of them. Sufficient Vitamin D levels have been shown to reduce the risk of acute respiratory tract infections. Vitamin D is commonly low in many individuals, especially in the winter months. Foods that contain Vitamin D include salmon, egg yolks and mushrooms. However, it can be difficult to obtain enough from food and this may be a nutrient you consider supplementing. It’s important to note, excessive Vitamin D will not decrease your risk of illness further, so adequate levels are sufficient and there is no need to supplement above and beyond what is recommended.
Vitamin C also receives a lot of attention with immune health. Vitamin C is high in many citrus fruits such as oranges, pineapples, strawberries and is also high in vegetables such as broccoli and bell peppers! A nutrient often highlighted with Vitamin C for the common cold is Zinc. Zinc helps with normal development and function of our immune system cells. Food sources of zinc include red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seeds and dairy.
When it comes to the common cold, research shows that Vitamin C helps in preventing the onset of a cold, however, if you already have a cold, zinc (specifically in lozenge form) may help reduce the duration of your cold.
Your body is 60-70% water, so you can see how crucial it is to be sure you are drinking adequate amounts of fluid. Be sure you are hydrating throughout the day with a focus on water and limiting high-sugar beverages. Many people only think of hydration from beverages, but we hydrate from foods as well. High water content foods include fruits such as apples, watermelon, pineapple, pears and vegetables such as tomatoes, bell peppers and celery.
The majority of your immune system is housed in your gut! So helping keep your gut healthy and providing it with the nutrients it needs is key. Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that populate your gut. Good sources of bacterial probiotics include yogurt and kefir (dairy and non-dairy), buttermilk, sauerkraut (fermented, not just soaked in vinegar), pickles (fermented), bacterially fermented cheeses and kimchi. Try to include probiotics into your diet each day to help support your friendly gut bacteria!
Prebiotics are food for our probiotics, so they are great to include in our diet to ensure we are feeding our good gut bacteria. Prebiotics typically come from complex starches such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Especially good sources of prebiotics include leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus, chicory root and artichokes. Other good sources are quinoa, oats, barley, wheat, flax, bananas, berries, yams/potatoes, jicama and beans.
Herbs and spices are sources of phytonutrients, and since most herbs and spices have the water removed, the phytonutrients are even more concentrated and are better retained. So even a little bit can go a long way! Research shows that certain herbs and spices may help reduce inflammation, promote immunity, protect against certain diseases, and much more!
Common herbs and spices receiving attention for their health benefits include cinnamon, cloves, ginger, coriander, black pepper, oregano, rosemary, thyme, paprika and turmeric. Adding in a bit of flavour from herbs and spices is a simple and easy way to boost the nutrient content of your meal. Try adding a bit of garlic to your sautéed vegetables, ginger in your tea or cloves in your coffee. Or sprinkle some rosemary in your soup on those cold days. Possibly try a healthy swap such as replacing sugar in your oatmeal with cinnamon. Herbs and spices are a fun and easy way to incorporate a little extra nutritional boost into your favourite foods!
We talk much more about Protein, Vitamins & Minerals, Hydration, Gut Health, & Herbs/Spices in the new Nutrition for Health & Performance Course. So be sure to go check it out to learn more!
Alcohol can have a negative impact on immunity by impairing immune function. Additionally, it can disrupt sleep, have a negative impact on protein synthesis, and potentially alter stress levels. Therefore, it is generally recommended to limit your alcohol intake.
As previously mentioned, nutrition is just one aspect that can impact immune health. Others include physical activity, stress, sleep and hygiene.
Physical Activity: Moderate physical activity has shown to help boost immune health and prevent disease. Intense, vigorous exercise can acutely reduce immune function, therefore, it is important to recover with proper nutrition and rest.
Sleep: Sleep is crucial to overall health and allowing the body to recover properly. Aim to get >7 hours of sleep per night.
Stress: Elevated stress levels can negatively impact immune health. Try finding an activity that helps keep your stress levels in check. For many that may be meditation, breathing exercises, spending time with family and friends, connection, going for a walk, doing a craft or hobby, physical activity, and so much more!
Hygiene: Taking measures to ensure you are practicing good hygiene and cleanliness of course impacts our health as well! Wash your hands frequently, sanitise surfaces, don’t share utensils and avoid crowded areas.
Try out Jacko’s Stewed Apples Recipe, it’s anti-inflammatory properties from fresh fruit and spices can help support immunity as well as keep you nice and warm on those cold winter days! Find this recipe and more in the new Nutrition for Health & Performance Course.
Staying healthy and safe is on everyone’s mind and it’s important we are taking the right steps to keep our body healthy and strong. Practicing our foundational nutrition principles and paying extra attention to what we are putting into our bodies can help our immune system stay strong and function at its best.
Please keep in mind these are general tips to support your immune health and keep your body healthy, these are not specific to COVID-19. However, keeping your body healthy and strong to fight off invaders is important to protect against a variety of illnesses.
Class Dismissed – Stay Healthy and Safe, and Eat your Fruit & Veg!
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