There is an array of fantastic immune supplements in health food stores and herbal dispensaries up and down the country, but looking after your immune system should always start with a good nutritional foundation. Here are ten winter immune-boosting diet tips to try. They’re easy changes you can make to give you that little bit of extra support.
Don’t short-change yourself by buying supplements if you’re not eating well! There’s no shortcut to good immune health.
1: Feed Your Gut
Look after your gut. A huge percentage of your immune system is in your digestive system and it is part of your first line of defence. Eat live foods in your diet, such as bio yoghurts, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and other fermented foods. Your gut flora needs the right nourishment to survive and eating natural fibres are an important fuel for your gut bacteria. Eat plenty of healthy root veg, wholegrains, nuts and seeds and avoid chemical additives and artificial sweeteners to keep your healthy bacteria in tip-top fighting condition.
2: Know Your Onions
Eat plenty of sulphur-rich foods such as onions, garlic, leeks and shallots. Not only will these help to boost glutathione, which is a potent antioxidant that supports healthy liver function, but they also have an expectorant and antiseptic effect in the lungs, especially garlic, which we all know can affect our breath. It does that because the volatile compounds are excreted through the lung tissue and as it passes through the lungs it works as a potent antiseptic, helping to fight infection.
3: Cook With Aromatics
Cook with plenty of aromatic herbs such as thyme, sage, marjoram and oregano. These “pot” herbs not only taste great, but they are also incredibly antiseptic. Sage is used by medical herbalists to treat sore throats, oregano to treat fungal infections and thyme to treat respiratory infections. Adding them into your cooking will give your dishes that extra immune edge as well as tasting great.
4: Drink These Teas
Drink herbal teas made with caraway, aniseed and fennel. These are great digestive herbs and help reduce bloating and cramping, but they also have another important medicinal effect. They stimulate the cilia of the lungs to keep mucus moving. Mucus is there to shift out toxins, viruses and bacteria and the cilia play an essential role in lung health. Keeping them primed with these three aromatics might just help keep your lungs cleaner and more resilient.
5: Use Black Cumin
Use black cumin seed in your diet to help reduce inflammation. Nigella sativa seeds contain a pungent aromatic oil called thymoquinone which can be harnessed in inflammatory conditions including lung problems. Supplements of black seed oil are prescribed by medical herbalists for conditions including COPD and asthma. You can add black cumin seeds to your immune-boosting diet, using them in curries or spicy dishes, throw some into your bread or add them to a smoothie to harness some of the health benefits.
6: Eat More Mushrooms
Eat plenty of mushrooms and, even better, sit them on your windowsill for a few hours to help them release extra vitamin D which science shows has many benefits for our immune systems. There is an array of medicinal mushroom supplements available in health food shops, but even common or garden button mushrooms can boost immunity. Mushrooms contain beta-glucans, which help to boost our innate immune response and keep our microbiome in good shape. So, add a few mushrooms to your favourite dishes and, if you can get them, try some shitake, oyster or enoki mushrooms for a bit of variety.
7: Benefit From Berries
Boost your vitamin C intake by adding fresh berries into your diet. Colourful berries contain antioxidants which support our immune system by helping to reduce inflammation. The best berry of all is elderberry, which you will either need to harvest yourself in the autumn or take as a liquid extract. Elderberries have been shown to reduce viral replication by inhibiting the ability of viruses to adhere to and penetrate cell walls in the body, thus shortening the duration and severity of upper respiratory tract infections.
8: Top Up Zinc
Give your zinc levels a top-up. Zinc is an essential nutrient for immune health and deficiency of this essential mineral can leave you more susceptible to disease and illness. Your body needs zinc to activate fighter cells in your immune system so it’s an important nutrient to get in adequate quantities. Include pumpkin seeds in your immune-boosting diet, with the added benefit that they will also give you essential fatty acids and dietary fibre.
9: Boost Healthy Fats
Eat plenty of healthy fats in your diet. Whether you choose fish, nuts, seeds or eggs be sure to boost your healthy omegas. Sea buckthorn berries are a rich source of beta carotenes and essential fatty acids and are a natural source of omega 7 which is important for the health of the mucus membranes. If we lack good fats, we tend to dehydrate, and dryness of the skin and mucus membranes makes us more susceptible to infection. Keep moist and keep those mucus membranes in tip-top health.
10: Stay Well Hydrated
Finally, drink plenty of clean, fresh fluids to stay well hydrated. We all know what happens to our plants if they don’t drink enough, they lose their vitality and become more susceptible to diseases. The same thing happens in our bodies if we don’t take on enough fluids. There’s nothing wrong with tea or coffee, both can be good for you in moderation, especially if they are organic and plastic-free! But add in some green tea, herbal teas and diluted fresh fruit and vegetable juices to boost up trace minerals and antioxidants.
Incorporating some if not all of these immune-boosting diet tips into your daily routine, you’ll have a better chance of staying in good health this winter