Foods that Boost Immunity

Are you feeling a bit of Coronavirus (or COVID-19) overload right now? It’s a fast moving story, with information coming from a lot of sources. When we have information overload, we tend to feel a bit confused or helpless. While the health authorities are focussing on preparing our health system, and isolating those that have been diagnosed, there are things we can do to minimise our own health risk.

Weight & Immunity

None of us have a natural immunity to COVID-19. How our bodies react following exposure to the virus will depend on our overall health, and the state of our immune system. However, obesity itself has been shown to impair immunity in some studies, which inturn can increase your risk of infection.

So, how does this happen? Our immune system is related to our overall health, and anything negatively impacting our health will depress our immune system through a process of sub-clinical inflammation. Sub-clinical means there is no visible effect, but there is an underlying negative process occurring. Being overweight or obese increases the level of inflammatory proteins circulating within us which can inturn have a direct negative impact on our immune system.

What You Can Do

So how do we keep calm in the face of this virus, and keep our immune system in the best of health? We have a few simple steps to protect you and your family.

In the short term:

  • Practise a high level of personal hygiene led by effective hand washing, covered coughing and maintain a clean personal space. Cut back on kissing and shaking hands
  • Get adequate sleep - 7 to 8 hours sleep and your immune health go hand in hand
  • Maintain a healthy weight - Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, remember our immune system evolved with us eating a diet of grains, vegetables, fruit and protein. Start with making your plate half vegetables of different colours, ¼ carbs and ¼ protein
  • Restrict takeaway, fast food, pre-pared and delivered foods – high fat, sugar and salt all cause sub clinical inflammation which will dampen our immune system over time
  • Moderate alcohol consumption, stick to the guidelines of 2 standard drinks per day
  • Be active, but not in crowds. Aerobic activity is great for our health both physical and mental.  Start walking as fast as you can while still being able to talk for ideally an hour per day

Immunity Boosters

Are there any foods that are good for boosting your immune system? You bet! They are called fruit and vegetables! Select seasonal fruit and vegetables, focussing on the latter, with a wide colour palate and you can’t go wrong.

Improving your immunity is as easy as eating a wide range of nutritious foods, however, as outlined below some nutrients in particular will give your defences that extra boost!

While the temptation may be to use supplements rather than make good food choices, research has shown that supplements are not necessarily as safe or effective as food-derived nutrients.

Beta-Carotene is an important antioxidant and will increase immune function. The best sources are carrots, sweet potato and green, leafy vegetables. So start including some in your diet now, before the winter bugs attack! Research studies have shown that the amount of beta-carotene in two large carrots consumed daily has a measurable immune boosting effect.

Vitamin C
Vegetables and fruits are the preferred sources, with broccoli, strawberries, oranges, and orange juice containing high amounts. There appear to be no adverse effects from these higher doses of vitamin C, so eat up on these nutritious immunity boosters!

Vitamin E
Researchers have found that individuals eating vitamin E-rich foods (avocado, asparagus, olive, sunflower, safflower oils and apples) tend to have improved immunity. However, increasing vitamin E intake to high levels through supplements can impair immune function. So stick with food sources.

The mineral zinc has “cold-fighting abilities” and the best sources include wheat germ, tahini, chickpeas and most breakfast cereals.

Foods that interfere with Immunity

Just as the right foods and nutrients can boost your immune function, other nutrients may have a negative affect when it comes to immunity.  Fatty foods, in particular, impair your immune cells’ ability to work with research showing that animal fats in particular can have an immunity lowering affect.  So it’s best to avoid the deep fried take out food and cut all visible fat off meat.

Final Note

It's worth noting that inflammatory proteins also contribute to other chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer, which will further depress our immune system. By taking action to reduce your weight and maintain a healthy diet, you will get your immune system in the best shape it can be to take on any new challenges. Don't forget to consult your Dietitian before attempting any dietary or lifestyle change.  Their expert advice will help ensure you’re on the right track to good health.


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