During these unusual times it’s even more important to eat well to support our immune system. Eating wholefoods, cooking from scratch as much as possible is key to a healthy immune system.
Although it is hard at the moment to get some of the fresh fruit and vegetables, don’t be put off by their frozen counterparts. Frozen peas, spinach, sweet corn and berries are just as nutritious, if it more. Even outside of lockdown I would always choose frozen berries until they come into season.
Eat a rainbow diet
This means including an abundance of dark green leafy vegetables and bright colours (red, orange, purple, yellow) including beetroot, berries, peppers and tomatoes. These contain immune supportive beta carotene and vitamin E. Even if you’re having a pasta dish which can be quite ‘beige’ throw a handful of rocket, spinach and watercress on the side - it all helps.
Pimp up your pasta sauce.. roast whatever you have left in the fridge - (pepper, carrots, celery, onions, courgettes and garlic) in olive oil, garlic and seasoning. Once cooked, whizz up in blender and add to your tin of tomatoes. Not only does this make your sauce go further, it increase the nutritional content and is a great way to get some extra veggies in
Nuts and seeds and whole grains (brown rice not white) are rich in zinc which helps increase the immune- boosting white blood cells.
Include plenty of oats, barley and mushrooms as they contain beta-glucans which have a positive effect on the immune system. Try having porridge or over night oats topped with berries and seeds. Sautéed mushrooms with plenty of garlic and chilli (if you like it spicy!) for a quick lunch with some hummus or tinned fish on the side.
Variety is the key
Make sure you’re eating as varied a diet as possible. So much research is being done on the gut ‘microbiome’ which is the core of our immunity. We know that our healthy bacteria needs a variety of foods to feed them and this gives our microbiome diversity. The more diversity, the healthier the immune system. This is why it’s important to include as many foods, vary them and don’t cut out major food groups (unless you have a known allergy or intolerance). Eating some of the fermented foods available to us like keffir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut help feed our microbiome. Why not have a go at making your own.
Refined sugar needs to be reduced as it compromises immunity. However it’s important to be kind to yourself, particularly when these times can be challenging. Try making some sweet treats with figs and dates and maple syrup and/or coconut sugar. Some dark chocolate - at least 70% cocoa solids is best as it does contain some minerals. Just be careful as it does have caffeine so might not be good if you’re feeling anxious.
Drinking enough water can be quite a challenge but a good tip to encourage you to drink more is to flavour it naturally. Try cutting up lime, lemon with cucumber and mint or add frozen berries. Grated ginger and turmeric also add a new flavour and wonderful for digestion. Cut back on caffeine which is dehydrating and can deplete essential nutrients like zinc, iron and magnesium. Caffeine also spikes blood sugar and adrenaline which can exacerbate anxiety. There are lots of great herbal teas or just pop some fresh mint into a glass of boiled water.
Supplementing your diet
Diet should always come first and foremost and in an ideal world we should be able to get all the nutrients we need from our diet. However, life isn’t ideal, particularly at the moment when we’re struggling to get certain foods and we’re keen to give our immune system an extra helping hand.
There are some key nutrients for healthy immunity including black elderberry powder, olive leaf, mushrooms (Reishi, Shiitake, Maitake), beta 1, 3, glucans, zinc and vitamin D.