What to Eat for an Optimal Immune System
Having a healthy and balanced diet has always been ingrained in us since we’ve been at school. You can’t forget about Jamie Oliver’s crusade against turkey twizzlers in favour of healthier school lunches!
However with easy access to every kind of halal food under the sun (fried chicken, pizza, burgers, rich and oily curries), I know I’ve tended to neglect looking after myself from time to time.
Unfortunately, due to the current global situation, it is utmost important that we are on top of our health right now and maintain an incredibly strong immune system. I guess it is never too late to start!
So I spoke to Farzanah Nasser, a nutritionist at both The London Clinic of Nutrition and her own company, Inside Out Nutrition, who pointed out that whilst there are no real immune boosting foods, there are foods that help to support your immune system and allow it to function as optimally as possible.
Here are Farzanah’s suggestions as to what to eat for an optimal immune system. Get your shopping lists ready!
WHAT TO EAT FOR AN OPTIMAL IMMUNE SYSTEM
At any sign of a cold or flu, we straight away turn to vitamin C and with good reason. Vitamin C helps to build up the immune system by producing white blood cells. However, as we are unable to make vitamin C ourselves, it is vital to ensure that we incorporate it into our diet everyday. Studies have shown that one additional portion increases vitamin C intake by about 24%.
Examples of foods rich in vitamin C: broccoli, kiwi, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, and lemons.
Zinc is needed to build an immune system that is healthy enough to fight off bacteria and viruses. It does so by boosting the immune response and is best taken at first signs of a cold or flu.
Examples of foods rich in zinc: meat (red or chicken), eggs, pumpkin seeds.
Although vitamin D is best absorbed by being outside in the garden whilst it is sunny, there is no harm in taking it in via food sources and additional supplements too. It helps to keep the immune system balanced.
Examples of food rich in vitamin D: beef liver, egg yolk, and oily fish.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
Omega-3 is a powerhouse when it comes to health benefits for your body and brain. From helping to fight depression and anxiety to combating autoimmune diseases, omega-3 is something you must be having on a daily basis.
Examples of food rich in omega-3: wild salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Vitamin A is important for healthy immune function. By eating colourful foods rich in carotenoids (think orange!), the antioxidants absorbed will help to maintain the immune system and keep it working at an optimal level.
Examples of food rich in vitamin A: orange coloured fruits and vegetables like butternut squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes, and beef liver.
Farzanah goes on to mention that by eating a rainbow of foods like fruits and vegetables, you are ensuring you take in a sufficient amount of goodness. Avoiding sugar and processed foods is a must, especially during this period, as it depletes the functioning of your immune system. And of course, plenty and plenty of water.
Food aside, sleep is just as important for your immune system as a good and colourful diet is. Sleeping for less than 7 hours a night has severe effects on the ability of your immune system to function at an optimal level. As tempting as it is to stay up and watch your favourite show on Netflix, be sure to get an early night so you are well-rested.
So how is Farzanah staying on top of her health right now?
These are her top 5 foods:
- Blueberries – full of vitamin C and antioxidants
- Wild salmon – rich in omega-3 and vitamin D
- Walnuts – filled with omega-3
- Leafy greens – calming for the nervous system, especially right now when everyone is anxious.
- Lemons – full of vitamin C. This can be incorporated into your diet by squeezing it fresh into any water you drink.
Farzanah Nasser is a nutritional therapist working at London Clinic of Nutrition and her own clinic, Inside Out Nutrition. You can follow her on instagram @inside.out.nutrition for plenty of healthy tips and recipes.