We all know that providing your body with adequate nutrition is vital for your health and wellbeing all year round. With the arrival of winter however, and the inevitable increase in lurking colds and flus, your immune system many need a bit of a boost to keep you fighting fit until spring. The list below highlights five of the most important nutrients for immunity so that you can give yourself the best chance of a healthy winter. No magic pills, potions or supplements required – all you need is real food!
The benefits of vitamin C on the immune system are very well known and quite rightfully so! Those deficient in vitamin C have been found to have reduced resistance against passing germs, while those with a higher supply enjoy a heightened ability to fight infection. The best dietary sources are citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, berries, pawpaw, guava broccoli, red capsicum and dark leafy greens like kale and spinach. As it is water soluble and unable to be stored by the body, daily doses are essential.
Vitamin A provides a triple defence against passing nasties. It enhances the function of white blood cells, increases resistance to infection, while also maintaining the mucous membranes so that unwanted bugs cannot get through. The best sources are liver, any yellow/orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potato, rockmelon, mango and apricots, dairy, fish and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B6 is used to create and increase the function of antibodies used by the immune system. The best sources are fish, chicken, offal, potato, chickpeas, sunflower seeds and banana.
Vitamin B12 is essential in the cell division and growth of white blood cells. Deficiency is of particular concern in vegans (and some vegetarians) as there are no naturally occurring plant sources. Vitamin B12 is present in red meat, fish, chicken, eggs and dairy. It’s also added to some fortified cereals for those who do not eat animal products.
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, while also enhancing immune function. The best sources are sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, oil from wheat germ, sunflower and soybeans, green leafy vegetables, mango and avocado.
Zinc is vital in the development and function of immune cells, such as neutrophils, macrophages and natural killer cells. Sources can be from plants or animals but is much easier to absorb from animal sources. Zinc is present in oysters, beef, lamb, chicken, dairy, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, cashews, almonds and baked beans. Be careful about your intake though because too much can actually be immune suppressive.
In addition to these five nutrients, garlic (natural antibiotic), ginger (decreases inflammation), yoghurt with live cultures (can stimulate immune system) and green tea (source of antioxidants) are all fabulous and tasty additions to your immune boosting diet.
Most importantly, if you focus on eating a healthy and balanced diet, incorporating good sources of protein, wholegrain carbohydrates, healthy fats and a range of different coloured fruits and vegetables, you will give your body the best chance of supporting your immune system and staying healthy this winter.
These tips come courtesy of ECH Dietitian Sandy Cummings.