We all know that familiar tickle in the throat, lingering headache, achy feeling or runny nose that signals a bug maybe threatening. Before you reach for any high street cold and flu remedies it might help to support your body’s own natural defence systems. Your immune system works 24/7 so ideally a nutritious diet, sufficient sleep and exercise are present on a regular basis as these are fundamental in providing the resources and energy your immune system requires to fulfil it’s daily task list.
Chronic sleep deprivation and ongoing stress, both mental and physical, may also increase your vulnerability to infection, this will be exacerbated by a diet that’s lacking in vitamins, minerals and essential macro-nutrients. This combination together makes you more susceptible to any illness.
Let Food Be Thy Medicine
Certain foods are also particularly beneficial because they contain macronutrients (proteins, carbohydrates or fats) or a selection of micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) required by immune cells. Some also contain compounds known as phytonutrients that can interact with your immune system and provide a positive outcome by lowering specific inflammatory chemicals or calling more good guys to the fight. Here’s some basics to put on your weekly menu:
Protein is essential for all cellular function and tissue structures within the body. Certain components of your immune system like antibodies are made of protein and it’s also necessary to repair the damage caused by infections and inflammation. Meeting your protein requirements enables your body to keep renewing and rebuilding it’s physical barriers that act as a defence mechanisms throughout the body. Ensure you’re consuming at least 1.2g protein per kilo of bodyweight, consider increasing if you’re exercising frequently or suffering from compromised immunity. A palm size serving or 20-25g per meal will help most people meet basic requirements. Protein powders are great for convenience and can be added to porridge, smoothies, pancakes and non dairy yogurts (dairy yogurt contains a good serving of protein).
Fat Soluble Vitamin Rich Foods
Throughout history traditional cultures have prioritised consumption of foods rich in vitamins A, D, E, K and K2. These are vital for all systems in the body including a healthy immune response. Foods rich in these nutrients include eggs, organ meats, meat, poultry, dairy products, fish, seafood, nuts, seeds, oils and green vegetables. Sunlight is the main source of vitamin D so supplementation is likely necessary and recommended during darker, winter months. You may also need to supplement with K2, this is primarily found in aged dairy, liver and fermented soy (natto) so if you don’t eat these foods choose a vitamin D supplement with K2 added, good brands include Better You, Nutri Advanced or Life Extension.
Traditionally fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir improve the diversity and activity of the commensal (formerly known as beneficial) gut bacteria. As 80% of your immune system is located within the gut, supporting the balance of bacteria enlists a strong army to protect the intestinal wall against any pathogens that enter the body via the digestive tract. The commensals are also gardeners of the gut as they prevent the proliferation of opportunistic, possibly pathogenic organisms, essentially keeping the weeds in check.
Oily Fish and Seafood
Both zinc and selenium are integral for immune system function. Most protein based foods (fish, meat, poultry, eggs and organ meats) will help you hit your daily requirements. The benefit of fish and seafood is it’s also rich in selenium and iodine. If you opt for oily, fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herrings they also contain essential omega 3’s which help control inflammatory responses within the body.
Soups and Stews
Both soups and stews are a great shout for immune support, firstly you can use up leftover chicken or meat bones making your food go further, and the proteins surrounding the joints contain amino acids that are required by your own body to rebuild various tissues. The slow cooking process and blending of soups also provides a head start on the digestive processes making the nutrients easier to absorb. This is particularly helpful for elderly who may struggle with swallowing and have a decreased capacity to absorb nutrients. Most recipes contain herbs, spices, garlic and onions which also provide a hit of nutrients that can have a positive impact on immune health. Check out our recipe section for some inspiration.
Brown Rice, Root Vegetables, Fruit and Potatoes
Changing the source of your carbohydrates to more to wholefood, unrefined options is a wise move. In their natural state (not processed into flour) these are referred to as cellular carbohydrates and have a lower carbohydrate density. As root vegetables, fruits and potatoes still have their original plant matrix intact the research suggests this slows down the digestive process (supporting the regulation of blood glucose ) and the plant fibres feed your commensal (beneficial) bacteria in the gut helping to lower inflammation and support the first line defences at the gut barrier.
On the other hand acellular (flour based carbohydrates) are associated with a more inflammatory balance of bacteria. The takeaway here is simply less rice cakes, cookies, bagels and more good old fashioned potatoes.
Studies have also highlighted both brown rice and carrots are great for destroying infectious bacteria whilst nourishing the beneficial strains. Furthermore, if you’ve ever eaten cooked and cool white potatoes or white rice you’ll also notice the texture is sticky because the structure changes after cooking, increasing a type of fibre known as resistant starch. This starch resists digestion and provides fuel to the commensal bacteria in your gut. The bacteria us it to make short chain fatty acids which fuel the cells that line the gut.
Egg Yolks and Organ Meats
Both eggs and organ meats are multinutrient foods with an abundance of amino acids, essential fats, vitamins and minerals. Before you squirm try our dairy free liver pate, with eggs, coconut oil, garlic and liver, it’s loaded with nutrition. Both contain a compound known as choline, a water soluble nutrient that has potential to support respiratory function.
You can also cook organ meats and chop into small capsule-size pieces and freeze on a sheet of grease proof paper, then take a couple in the morning. We’ve blended into smoothies with a banana, berries and fresh lime, you don’t even know it’s there – promise!
Eggs are versatile and easy to include in your diet, but as you may not consume daily you can put an extra yolk or two in a smoothie, porridge, blend into latte, burger mixture, salad dressing or just crack into your hand, let the white fall through your fingers into a bowl and neck em! Freeze the extra whites for meringues of course.
Hunter and Gather Foods have organ meat capsules if you’re travelling and don’t have time to prepare or eat these.
Mushrooms contain certain nutrients required for immune health including selenium and vitamin D, however, research increasingly suggests compounds within them may have an active role in treating inflammatory or degenerative diseases. Often taken in supplement form and referred to as medicinal mushrooms, there are studies suggesting these may have a role in supporting treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s and dementia.
As a starter for ten you can increase your consumption of button, shitake and oyster mushrooms. Specialist companies have also developed food products including honey, chocolate and teas with varieties of mushrooms like reishi and maitake. Under professional guidance you can also explore using medicinal mushroom supplements provided by reputable companies like Hifas De Terra.
Oats, Nutritional Yeast and More Mushrooms
These all contain something called beta glucans which can have a beneficial effect on immune function. Once consumed via food (or supplements) these beta glucans have a structure that appear to look like a bacterial or viral infection. Certain immune cells take a piece of beta glucan and present to the rest of the team who up their game and start scouting around for other suspicious characters. Nutritional yeast (a strain of fungi known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae) contains a particular type of Beta Glucan known as 1-3 and 1-6 that is especially potent against in resistance to viral infections. It has a cheesy flavour great added to mash, rice dishes, soups, sprinkled on veggies or a frittata.
Hug In A Mug
Tea is just an all round winner for so many reason, can you tell we love a brew 😊 Whilst Matcha tea often dominates the spotlight and makes a lovely latte or smoothie, a cup of good old (cheaper) black, green and white leaf tea also contain polyphenols and flavonoids that provide anti-oxidant support to your cells, especially within the digestive tract. Clipper is our favourite brand and both caffeinated and decaffeinated are effective. Loose leaf will have higher amounts of antioxidants and there’s also herbal teas which can help support immune function, gut health and have an anti-inflammatory effect including echinacea, elderberry, liquorice, chamomile, peppermint and fennel.
Almighty Alliums: Garlic, Onion and Chives
The allium family of vegetables have anti-viral, antibiotic and antiseptic properties, they also act as a prebiotic nourishing commensal gut bacteria. A few studies have reported that garlic shows in vitro activity against influenza, rhinovirus, herpes simplex virus, viral pneumonia and rotavirus. Add to your weekly meals or some brave folk even take raw, crushed garlic cloves like a capsule.
Root ginger has long been renowned for it’s medicinal properties. Shown to work as an effective antimicrobial agent, it also stimulated digestive function, decreases nausea and exerts an anti-inflammatory effect. An easy way to consume is to drink fresh ginger tea or adding a chunk to smoothies, soups and grated into stir fry’s. And of course chocolate ginger cake.
Herbs and Spice It Up
All herbs and spices provide antibacterial, antiviral properties and also support the balance of gut bacteria. Both dried and fresh are great so to salads, roasted vegetables, burgers and stir fry dishes as much as you can. And batch cook some Fitter Food curries loaded with spices and almighty alliums.
Another food used medicinally for years due to it’s antiviral, antifungal, and antibiotic properties. You can use as a cooking oil, mouth wash (allow to melt in your mouth and swish for as long as you have). You can apply topically to gums (to prevent peritonitis) as a moisturiser or to any skin wounds (*Particularly helpful to prevent infection if you have open wounds on your hands or face with spots, cuts and grazes).
Raw honey, ideally purchased from a local farmer’s market or health food shop, has powerful antibacterial, antimicrobial and antiseptic properties, it has a long history of being used for it’s antibiotic effect and applied to wounds to aid the healing process. Do not give honey to children under 1 year old.
All The Veggies and Fruits: Especially These …
All fresh fruit and vegetables are important for optimal health due to the vitamin and mineral content, however, citrus fruits like lemons and limes are particularly beneficial due to the high vitamin C content. For this reason they’re renowned for helping to reduce infections, the length of symptoms and phlegm production. Optimal vitamin C levels are vital for immune function. Supplementing can also help, especially if you work in a crowded office, travel on busy commuter trains or do a lot of exercise (which utilises vitamin C). Bleeding gums, easy bruising, slow wound healing and frequent cold and flu infections are possible indicators of a need to increase vitamin C intake.
NOTE: once you chop a lemon, lime or any fruit the vitamin C degrades quickly so only chop it just before eating. It is also preserved by freezing so keep some frozen fruits and vegetables in stock.
Other super heroes include:
- Dark green leafy vegetables (kale, rocket, spinach and watercress)
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts)
Aim for a rainbow across the day!
Immune Boosting Meal Ideas
All our recipes are based on nutritious ingredients and we have over 600 recipes on our Membership site Fitter 365 and plenty of meal plans including all the immune heroes above. In the meantime here’s a few ideas:
- Have a stir fry twice a week with salmon, mushrooms, veggies, garlic and ginger.
- Have a smoothie with lemon, raw honey, ginger and 20g protein powder.
- Sip ginger tea and lemon tea across the day.
- Grab some stewed fruit and yogurt for breakfast.
- Sprinkle some herbs like sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme into your burgers, stews and soups.
- Have a baked sweet potato with fermented vegetables for lunch or dinner.
- Make up a batch of soups for your lunches, we have loads of ideas in our recipe section.
Saltpipe & Neti Pots: salt has been used for centuries to ease the symptoms of respiratory disorders. Salt therapy helps to lower the inflammatory response of the respiratory system, decrease mucus production and promote the innate self-cleansing mechanisms in the airways.
Sweating & Exercise: Both support your immune system. Alongside your regular walks, gym sessions or sports make time for some hot yoga, saunas or an epsom salts baths.
Sleep : chronic sleep deprivation will undermine your immune defences, do what you can to get 7-8hrs, relay night shift responsibilities with little ones where possible and grab regular 20-30 minute nap if suffering from sleep disruption.