Now more than ever it’s important to look after our immune health and in doing so we give ourselves the best chance of fighting off any infections that may be out there, including the common cold and flu. I think you’ll agree that prevention is definitely better than cure and nutrition can play a huge role.
Here Laurann O’Reilly, a qualified nutritionist and Managing Director of Nutrition by Laurann provides us with some of her top immune boosting tips and strategies which include foods that you may have in your cupboard at home, common foods that you can easily purchase as well as some extra nutrition tricks and lifestyle strategies to give your immune health that extra boost.
1. Gut Health
Did you know that approximately 70% of immune system is in the gut. Our gut bacteria play a huge role in the regulation of our immune system by stimulating the production of immune cells which detect harmful substances. An imbalance of our ‘good’ gut bacteria and ‘bad’ bacteria can prevent our immune system from functioning properly.
Tip: To keep your gut health in top shape
- Added Sugar: This can affect the balance of our gut bacteria, causes inflammation ad can prevent us from functioning at our best. In place of sugar, choose fruit, nuts and seeds to your cereals instead.
- Processed Food: These contain artificial ingredients, flavourings, sweeteners and preservatives which lack nutritional value. They can cause also inflammation and disrupt the gut. Tip: Choose fresh food including lean meat, poultry, oily fish, fruit and vegetables instead (you can always freeze any extra to save time and avoid waste)
– Probiotics: Help to promote our good bacteria, whilst also helping to reduce digestive issues such as bloating and gas. Sources include: Probiotic yogurts and fermented foods such as kefir & sauerkraut. Note: If you have recently been on a course of antibiotics you it may be helpful to take a probiotic supplement to restore your gut bacteria again.
- Prebiotics: Help to feed our good bacteria. Sources include: bananas, apples, onion, garlic, leek, asparagus, wheat bran, oats, barley chicory root (you can get this in a drink in most health stores)
- Fibre: Helps to regulate our gut and digestive tract. Try to include a balance of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds (flaxseeds and chia seed) as well as wholegrain foods such as brown bread/pasta/rice.
2. Top Immune Boosting Foods
- Citrus Fruits: For instance oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. These contain some of the highest sources of vitamin C, an antioxidant which protects our cells against damage and keep our immune system strong.
- Blueberries: contain an antioxidant called ‘anthocyanin’ and packed with Vitamin C they are considered one of the ‘superfoods’ – try add them to your cereal, yogurts, juices & smoothies!
- Garlic: Really packs a punch when it comes to health benefits, being potently anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, it’s also amazing for heart health – for those who aren’t fond of the taste you can purchase odourless garlic in most pharmacies and health stores.
- Onions: Are anti-bacterial, antioxidant as well as playing a role in controlling blood sugar levels
- Pineapple: Not only is it high in vitamin C but it also contains the active ingredient ‘bromelain’ which has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties
- Peppers: A rich source of vitamin C, each colour of pepper has a different range of powerful anti-oxidants also – try mix them up in salads, sandwiches and in stir-fries!
- Broccoli: Full of valuable vitamins and minerals including vitamin C and E, it also contains potent antioxidants
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Contains a compound called ‘mother’ which results from fermentation, which acts as a natural probiotic, is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Have a variety of health benefits including heart health, however it plays a huge role in the building and functioning of our immune system by influencing our immune cell function as well as being anti-inflammatory.
- Raw Cocoa: Unlike regular chocolate which contains milk and sugar, raw cocoa is not only rich in antioxidants but also contains a compound called ‘theobromine’ which improves heart and lung health (you can find this in powder and nibs in most health stores)
- Green Tea: Considered as one of the world’s healthiest drinks, it not only has it zero calories and but it’s low in caffeine and packed with antioxidants which protect our cells from damage.
Tip: Think of ways to bring these foods into your everyday diet such as, warm apple cider vinegar & honey in the morning, along with probiotic yogurt mixed with raw cocoa, blueberries and pineapple. Or a curry with peppers, broccoli, pineapple and some of the spices below.
3. Healing Herbs & Spices
Don’t underestimate the medicinal power of herbs and spices, many of which we have in our cupboards at home
- Ginger: Contains the active compound ‘gingerol’, which has potent antioxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Turmeric: Contains the active compound ‘curcumin’, a potent antioxidant. Curcumin also boots our bodies natural antioxidants (take with black pepper for better absorption).
- Cinnamon: A natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It’s also great for balancing blood sugar levels!
- Thyme: Contains the active ingredient ‘thymol’ which is antibacterial and antifungal as well as being an antioxidant. Thyme is also amazing for improving breathing and respiratory health.
- Oregano: Is anti-bacterial and full of amazing antioxidants. Boosting immune health is one of its’ many benefits. If you prefer a higher strength you can also find it in its oil form in most health stores.
Tip: Why not try some creative ways of incorporating these into your meals such as in your cereal, juices, smoothies and curries
4. Immune Supporting Vitamins & Minerals
- Vitamin C: A powerful antioxidant which protect our cells against damage, improve immune function and can also improve wound healing. Foods Sources: Citrus fruits (see above), blueberries, strawberries, blackcurrants, peppers, broccoli and potatoes. Daily requirement: Adults (18yrs +) Minimum of 40mg and up to 2000mg/day
- Vitamin E: Important in defending our cells against damage caused by the environment as well as our bodies own processes. Food Sources: Lean meat, dairy, leafy green vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, wheat germ, nuts (almonds & hazelnuts) and seeds (sunflower & pumpkin seeds). Daily Requirement: Adult (18yrs +) 4mg/day for men and 3mg/day for women
- Vitamin D: Plays a major role in boosting our immune system by enhancing our white blood cells (which help to fight infection). It’s also been found to help improve breathing and respiratory function. We mainly generate this vitamin from sunshine, which is lacking in the winter months, I would recommend taking a supplement during these times. Food Sources: Oily fish (salmon/tuna/mackerel), eggs and fortified foods (mainly milk or cereals). Daily Requirement: Adults (18yrs +) a minimum 400IU/Day in D3 form
- Zinc: Is required for the development and functioning of our immune cells as well as having anti-inflammatory properties. Food Source: Meat, shellfish, eggs, nut, seeds and wholegrain foods. Daily requirement: Adults (18yrs +) 25mg/day
5. Immune Boosting Supplements
- Echinacea: Contains a mix of compounds which have been found to reduce inflammation, improve immunity. It’s commonly used to prevent and treat symptoms of the common cold or flu and are available in drops or tablets.
- Ivy Thyme: This mixture of the two herbs ivy and thyme can used to specifically target the lungs and are available in tablet and liquid form also.
- Eucalyptus: Not only does it provide a soothing menthol properties which help to clear our airways it’s also been found to be antibacterial. It’s available in many forms including oils, rubs, lozenges, in cough bottles and teas. Ask your pharmacist which product best suits you.
6. Lifestyle Strategies
Stress: Although stress is often a normal part of life, there is a significant link between long term stress and decreased immunity, paired with increased inflammation
Tip: Find a food free stress relieving strategy such as mindfulness/meditation/yoga/ music
Sleep: Sleep and immunity are more closely connected than we think. Adequate sleep is not only required to repair and recover but in slowing down it allows our energy can be used to rebalance the immune system. Whilst our sleep hormone ‘melatonin’ also helps to counteract our stress hormones. Tip: Adults should aim for a minimum of 7-9 hours sleep
Exercise: A recent study has found that physical activity can help to protect the immune system due to the release of pro and anti-inflammatory products during and after exercise. Whilst also helping to reduce stress and improve sleep. Tip: The HSE Physical Activity Guidelines suggest a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity/day for children and 30 minutes of physical activity/day for adults 18 years + (both at a moderate intensity)
About Laurann: Laurann O’Reilly is qualified and experienced Nutritionist with a BSc. Degree in Human Nutrition from University of Nottingham and a Master’s in Public Health Nutrition from University College Dublin.
She has over 10 years of experience including working community and clinical care, research, personalised nutrition consultations (dealing in healthy eating, weight loss, digestive health and sports nutrition), teaching and developing nutrition courses at FETEC level, nutrition education talks and workshops (corporate wellness, schools, sports teams, public and private talks), previous food manager of the Coeliac Society of Ireland and is part of the roll out team for the Healthy Ireland Smart Start health promotion programme for pre-schools.
For further information see www.nutritionbylaurann.ie or contact Laurann at email@example.com