As we head into the winter months and into cold and flu season, looking after your health and boosting your immune system to support its function becomes even more important. Food is one of the most powerful tools we have to help prevent disease, and a healthy body begins with a healthy immune system. In addition to developing healthy lifestyle habits such as adequate sleep, being active, practising good hygiene and managing stress levels, the food we eat can help to reduce both the risk and severity of infections.
Some of the key nutrients involved in immune function are amino acids found in protein-rich foods, a range of essential vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, C and E, selenium and zinc, as well as pro-and prebiotics that help to keep our gut microflora healthy. When trying to stay healthy its best to cut back on foods that lead to inflammation (processed meats, saturated fats, refined carbs, sugary foods) and instead fuel your body with foods full of nutrients, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
Here are some of the best immune boosting foods that can be incorporated into your regular eating routine:
Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and lemons are excellent sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C is an antioxidant utilised throughout the body, but is particularly known for helping to maintain the body’s defence against bacterial infections. One orange supplies nearly 100 per cent of the recommended dietary intake of vitamin C.
Not only does it add delicious flavour to your meals, garlic contains the antioxidant allicin, which has antibacterial properties and may help immunity and reduce your risk of catching colds. It can be an easy one to include in your meals – simply add it to your stir fries, pasta dishes or roast veggies.
Like garlic, ginger is another spice that not only adds a great flavour to your dishes but also helps to boost immune function. Studies have shown that ginger has potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It is traditionally used to help relieve symptoms associated with the common cold and it’s warming properties make for a great home remedy during the colder months.
Mushroom varieties such as shiitake, maitake and reishi are packed with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins B, C & D and bioactive compounds called beta-glucans, known to support immune defence.
Green Leafy Vegetables
Green veggies provide anti-inflammatory antioxidants, as well as key nutrients known to help the immune system function, including vitamins A and C, and folate. Spinach kale and silverbeet all boast high levels of these properties and can be enjoyed in salads, added to smoothies or sautéed with garlic and olive oil for a delicious side dish.
Nuts such as almonds are packed with Vitamin E and also contain healthy fats. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that is key to a healthy immune system. They are a great snack to have on hand for those mid-afternoon hunger cravings. A half-cup serving of almonds provides the recommended daily amount of Vitamin E.
Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries are rich in Vitamin C and anthocyanins, which give berries their red and purple colour. Anthocyanins are antioxidant agents and also possess anti-inflammatory properties that can help support a healthy cardiovascular system.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, responsible for the distinct yellow colouring and the impressive list of health properties. Curcumin is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-bacterial, detoxifying and amazing for digestive health. Turmeric can be added to a smoothie, soup, curry, broth, or cooked veggies.
Yoghurt is rich in probiotics and full of B vitamins, folate and calcium. These nutrients, found in good quality yoghurts, help to boost immune function, digestion and the absorption of nutrients, and help fight against unfriendly bacteria.
Sweet Potato & Carrot
Both sweet potato and carrot are excellent sources of beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A. This antioxidant can reduce inflammation and boost immune function by increasing disease-fighting cells in the body. It also helps form the mucous membranes that line the respiratory tract, which acts as a protective barrier to keep germs out of the body.