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Supporting a healthy immune system

When is not a great time to get into the habit of eating a variety of different fruits and veggies, nuts/seeds, legumes, oily fish, lean meats, dairy or their alternatives?

But you want to know whether it will ‘boost’ your immune system, right?

The idea of supercharging your immune system is enticing and has led to an explosion of online claims that we can ‘boost’ our immunity with just about everything from vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc to essential oils and even colloidal silver.

But how do we know which of these recommendations, if any, actually work?

That’s a really difficult question to answer because the immune system is precisely that — a system, not one thing. Helping one section might impair another. For our immune system to function well, it requires a network of special immune cells, tissues, proteins and organs to work together in balance and harmony.

Now we know that people who are deficient in one or more nutrients are generally more susceptible to illness and infection. However, we also know that a ‘boosted’ immune system could immediately be harmful, causing inflammation, pain and damage to various parts of the body.

Take innate immunity for example. We’re born with this immunity. It’s our first line of defense in fighting infection. When our immune system detects an infection, our innate response acts swiftly by producing extra mucus to try and flush out the invaders, or by winding up the temperature to eradicate it with a fever. If your immune system were boosted all of the time you would feel unwell, inflamed and have a constant fever!

The best way to support our immune system at the moment, other than maintaining excellent hygiene and practicing social isolation, is to look after our overall health. This includes following a balanced diet, drinking little or no alcohol, getting adequate sleep, exercising regularly, not smoking and managing stress. This will support a better immune response but not actively increase its activity. And like a fighting force, your immune system marches on its stomach. It requires regular nourishment, preferably from food.

Below are some tips from food label to table to help keep you and your family eating well for weeks and, thus, supporting a healthy immune system in doing its job.

Coronavirus Meal Construction:

  • Go for a good quality source of protein (e.g. fatty fish, chicken, beef, eggs, beans, tofu and nuts/seeds).

  • Consider choosing full fat (add extra virgin olive oil, 100% nut butter, nuts and seeds, avocado, oily fish e.g. salmon, etc.).

  • Look after your gut with a variety of different fibre types — add beans and other legumes, basmati rice, wholegrains, fruit and starchy veggies, and reduce refined sugary and starchy low fibre carbs (e.g. white bread).

  • Fill half your lunch and dinner plate with veggies.

  • Go for whole, natural, slow-digesting foods that your grandparents would recognise.

  • Practice mindful eating. That is, eating in the moment, savouring the taste and texture of every mouthful. If you’re working at home more regularly, it’s difficult not to snack or overeat. Ask yourself, ‘Is this tummy hunger right now or something else?’

Preparing for Self-isolation:

  • Assess what foods you already have in stock and get rid of foods past their use-by date. They’re just taking up space.

  • What are your favourite recipes? Do they store well in the freezer? Make some extra serves during normal meal prep. Prioritise what you and your family will actually eat.

  • Foods like chilli con carne, pasta sauces, curries, soups, stews, veggie lasagne, lamb koftas, and stir fries freeze really well.

  • Use up your fresh foods first. Use them to bolster your reserves of frozen foods. You don’t want anything to go to waste. Fresh veggies with the best longevity include garlic, onion and potato varieties.

  • Update your spice rack! It’s easy to choose packaged foods now because they keep for longer. However, packaged foods usually come with added salt to preserve and add flavour. Too much salt can be dehydrating — something you don’t want right now.

  • Keep drinking water. Aim for 8 glasses per day or 2–3 litres. Without your normal daily structure and routines you may forget to drink. This will help manage your food intake too. It’s easy to mistake thirst with hunger. Set up a system for drinking water and make it a non-negotiable.

As always, if you need some help, please don't hesitate to contact me.

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