Supporting the Immune System with Nutrition
Updated: Jun 24
Supporting the immune system with nutrition
The immune system is a highly complex and brilliant system made up of lots of different types of cells which cleverly communicate with each other and interact with the rest of our bodies to keep us healthy.
Our immune systems are constantly working to support us: when we eat, develop a cut or bruise, exercise, when we catch a cold or virus etc. so we want our immune systems working optimally at all times.
There are a number of ways we can support our immune system through diet. Below we set out some practical tips on how to support the immune system on an ongoing basis by providing the range of nutrients it needs to work effectively, and some considerations for reactive measures if we fall ill.
For ongoing support, we want lots of minerals and vitamins, especially A, C, D and E which have specific roles to play in our immune system, we want anti-inflammatory foods which are going to aid the clear up process following an infection, and anti-oxidant rich foods which help to reduce any damage from oxidation.
Some examples of how we can include these nutrients in our diet are:
Try to get 5-7 portions of different vegetables in your diet each day and the more variety, the better. For example:
Carrots & sweet potato contain lots of beta carotene which turns into vitamin A and acts as a potent anti-oxidant. This helps our immune system and skin health.
Dark leafy greens (kale, swiss chard, spinach, greens, dark cabbage) – contain vitamin C, vitamin K and magnesium. Magnesium is vital for muscle movement and aids circulation which is vital for effective immune response.
Beetroot contains nitrates which turn into nitric oxide and helps to transport oxygen around the body.
Extra virgin olive oil contains a compound called oleocanthal which is a potent anti-inflammatory.
Omega-3 found in oily fish is also highly anti-inflammatory and important for the immune response. Three portions of oily fish per week helps to maintain our omega-3 levels (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, herring, sardines).
Vitamin D deficiency is linked with a reduced ability to fight infections. Spend time outdoors in the sunshine; we need approximately 10 minutes a day of sun exposure to keep up our vitamin D levels.
Limit processed foods and sugary foods, these may cause disturbances in the gut which can impede the immune system.
Reduce alcohol intake. The liver is vital to the immune system and excessive alcohol intake puts a strain on the liver, taking its’ focus away from supporting immune function.
Increase water intake. The immune system, as with all systems in the body, requires adequate water to operate effectively. Maintaining consistent hydration throughout the day is vital for our health. Water requirements differ for every individual depending on body composition and activity levels but approximately 2 litres or 8 glasses of water per day is a good place to start.
If we feel poorly we want to give our immune system the ability to work at its’ best and help us to make a full recovery. Here, we want to provide some nutrients but more importantly we want to give it the space and energy it needs, by removing any additional pressure, to do its’ job effectively.
Reduce possible inflammatory triggers. Gluten and dairy can often cause an immune response in individuals. While this doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, by reducing these you are avoiding potential unnecessary inflammatory triggers.
Eat light. Eating heavy meals or foods that take a lot time to digest is going to divert energy away from the immune system (and to the digestive system). Avoid large meat portions which take a long time to digest and try things like soups, smoothies, or salads – these types of meals contain good nutrients but won’t take as long to digest.
Ginger is a strong anti-inflammatory, it aids digestion and is great for supporting immune function. Bring about a thumb of chopped ginger to the boil (from cold water) and then leave to simmer for 10 mins.
Hot water with honey and lemon keeps us hydrated, provides some vitamin C and the honey gives us a small energy boost.
Rest. A similar point to conserving energy for the immune system by avoiding heavy meals, the same goes for exercising / concentration – these activities use energy and the more that can be saved for the immune system, the better.
The most important thing to remember about the immune system is how effective and brilliant it is. With dietary support and rest when required, the immune system does a great job at keeping us healthy.