The Only Immunity Guide You'll Need

Written by Sandra Mikhail, founder and director of Nutrition A-Z

There is so much out there when it comes to supporting your immune system throughout the colder months but I’m here to provide you with the Only Immunity Guide You’ll Need.

You may ask, which foods strengthen the immune system?

It’s important to first note, that given that 80% of our immune system lies in our gut, we need to somehow change our approach and nourish our gut microbiome as a priority If we had to look at our gut microbiome’s role specifically in relation to immunity, we see that 1) Our immune system is regulated by our gut bacteria from birth, 2) Achieving a healthy gut bacterial balance is essential to a well functioning immune system, 3) A poorly balanced gut flora e.g. more bad than good bacteria, can lead to disease and cause an inflammatory state. By saying that, my 3 step process to support your immune system via better gut health includes:

The bulk of your diet should consist of plant-based foods. A plant-based diet is one that is derived from plants and includes a well-planned variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and wholegrain, unprocessed products. It is also a diet that significantly reduces or eliminates the consumption of animal-based foods. Two keywords to keep in mind here are unprocessed and plants! 

Include more fermented foods into your diet. The process of fermentation involves the use of good bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium spp, also known as probiotics. Simply put – probiotics are “good bacteria” that are similar to the ones found in our gut. They help our gut by increasing the number of good bacteria and in turn, inhibit the bad ones; a bacterial “balancing” act. Examples of fermented foods include yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir.

Include a range of prebiotics. Prebiotics act as the food for probiotic bacteria where they stimulate their growth and activity. Examples of prebiotic foods include onions, asparagus, garlic, chicory root, leek, barley, oats and green bananas. Some types of fibres from fruits and vegetables also have prebiotic properties so keeping your plates colourful are a must!

Are there foods that are specifically good to prevent the flu or even COVID-19?

Despite popular belief, there is a lot of misinformation around Vitamin C, especially when it comes to COVID. High doses of Vitamin C will not prevent the onset of a flu or COVID. However, what vitamin C may do is actually reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms. Rather than supplement, I ask my clients to focus on produce that are high in vitamin C such as citrus fruits (oranges and grapefruit), peppers, spinach, kale, kiwi fruit and tomatoes. Another important nutrient for immunity is vitamin D. We know its importance in bone health, but there is enough evidence to show its support on how our immune system functions. I would recommend people to get the vitamin D levels tested before the winter months and only supplement when necessary as prescribed by their doctor. Dietary sources of Vitamin D are limited but you can find small amounts in oily fish, mushrooms, egg yolks and fortified milks. Another important nutrient that may reduce the severity of colds and help with immunity is zinc as it has an effect on multiple aspects of your immune system. Food sources of zinc include shellfish, legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas), hemp and pumpkin seeds, and nuts. 

Are there any foods we should be avoiding? 

I generally try to focus more on inclusion rather than exclusion! What we may see is that a high consumption of refined sugars can displace important nutrients you may be missing out on including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fibre. Furthermore, pathogenic or bad bacteria is known to feed on processed sugar so start thinking about your food choices more seriously when it comes to boosting your immunity and improving gut health. Should we avoid all forms of sugar then? The answer is OF COURSE NOT. Carbohydrates such as wholegrain breads and cereals as well as fruits and legumes are all advised to be included in your daily diet. 

Any other tips?
Move often.  A number of studies have shown that exercise can help strengthen your body’s immune system by increasing the circulation of natural killer cells that fight off viruses and bacteria. So something such as walking for 30-45 minutes 4 to 5 times per week can give you that extra protection. You can always mix it up a bit with your routine and incorporate both aerobic and anaerobic exercises including activities such as yoga, pilates, light-weight training and swimming.

Sleep well. Getting enough sleep is important for overall health and a well functioning immune system. Science has demonstrated that getting enough sleep can help regulate hormones that are important to a properly functioning immune system in order to protect you from infections and illnesses effectively. I would usually suggest people aim for 6 to 8 hours of good quality sleep to feel rejuvenated and get protected to face the day!


Gut Health General
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