Wouldn’t it be great if there was a magical switch to turn our immune systems on? Unfortunately, there is no such switch. Rather, our bodies have many tiny switches we can activate to help us stay well.
Managing stress – a known immune system dampener – is a good place to begin. Regular, moderate exercise helps lower stress while also keeping our lymphatic system flowing and our immune cells patrolling for unwelcome visitors. Lack of sleep can also suppress immune function, so ensuring you’re getting at least seven or eight hours of shut-eye each night is essential.
But the practice that has the most powerful impact on our immunity is eating well. Considering 70 per cent of our immune system resides in our gut, it’s vital to nourish your microbiota with all the nutrients they need to stay healthy and strong. In fact, studies have shown that the richer and more diverse our gut microbiome, the lower our risk of illness. That’s because our gut microbes fight pathogens, protect the integrity of the intestinal wall and help support the immune system.
Here’s how to eat for immunity…
Diversify your diet
The secret to a robust immune system is to include as many different kinds of fruits and vegetables in your diet as possible. Different foods feed different gut microbes and deliver a variety of essential vitamins and minerals – including vitamins A, B and C and minerals such as folate, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and magnesium – which are all extra important during cold and flu season. Good sources of vitamin A include eggs, grass-fed butter, liver and orange or yellow vegetables. Tomatoes also contain a carotenoid called lycopene that converts to vitamin A in your body. Find B vitamins in fish, poultry, meat and eggs plus sunflower seeds and dark leafy vegetables and for vitamin C, opt for cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts) and citrus. Bone broth is also a rich source of minerals and super comforting during the cooler months and helps to heal and strengthen the lining of the gut. And don’t forget to choose organic, seasonal and local whenever possible for maximum nutrient value.
Get proactive about probiotic and prebiotic foods
Studies have shown that probiotic foods help to boost Natural Killer (NK) cell activity, bolstering the immune system and fighting off pathogens, so try to include a serve of probiotic-rich fermented foods with every meal. Homemade sauerkraut, kimchi, unsweetened yoghurt and kefir are all good sources but you could also try miso and fermented soy foods such as natto and tempeh. Fermenting foods also makes them more bioavailable, meaning your digestive system is better able to absorb the nutrients it needs to thrive.
Make sure you also include a variety of prebiotic foods in your diet too to nourish and feed your microbiota. Fermentable fibre – from legumes, vegetables and whole grains – all act as prebiotics, feeding your good gut microbes so eat plenty of alliums (garlic, onions, shallots, artichokes and leeks), firm, green bananas (which are a great source of resistant starch), and dark chocolate – which happily, also feeds our gut microbiota.
Add a little spice
Not only do herbs and spices add a flavour punch to your cooking, but they’re a great way to support the immune system. Cardamom and black pepper boost NK cell activity, while turmeric and ginger are powerful anti-inflammatories. Add them to your cooking whenever possible or sip on our Warm Sleepy Chai before bed and nourish your gut and skin while you sleep.
Steer clear of the sweet stuff
Remember, you’re sweet enough. Avoiding refined sugars and processed junk foods is essential when it comes to good gut health and immunity. Processed foods have been linked to gut inflammation, so reduce the stress on your digestive and immune system by steering clear of any foods that harm, rather than heal.
Do you have any immune-boosting tips we should try? Let us know in the comments below…