Did you know that there’s truth in the old saying, ‘You are what you eat’? Food is more than just fuel, and what we put into our bodies can have a huge impact on our overall health and physical well-being, including our ability to fight illnesses.
Our immune systems can be vastly improved with just a few tweaks to our diets, and there has never been a better time to start. To help you make a few changes, we’re exploring some of the vital nutrients you need and what foods you should eat to pack more of them into your diet.
Vitamin D is sometimes called the ‘sunshine vitamin’, but most of us get nowhere near enough, even if we’re lucky to live in warmer climates. This fat-soluble vitamin is responsible for maintaining healthy bones, muscles, and teeth by regulating the amount of calcium and phosphate we have in our bodies. A lack of it causes conditions such as rickets or the painful bone condition, osteomalacia.
The best food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish such as trout, salmon, or sardines, red meat and liver, egg yolks, fortified cereals, and white mushrooms. You can get a little extra by drinking green tea or taking cod liver oil supplements. Also, try to exercise outdoors whenever possible, to soak up as many rays as you can and help top up your vitamin D levels. Vitamin D helps boost your energy levels as well as your immune system.
Your body needs zinc for all sorts of reasons, and it plays a vital role in many important functions, such as wound healing and immunity. Low levels of zinc can cause a reduction in infection-fighting cells, so it’s important you get the right amount of zinc in your diet if you want to ward off viruses and other illnesses.
In order to meet the recommended 8–11 milligrams a day, try eating more chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, cashew nuts, Greek yoghurt, poultry, shellfish, red meat, and lentils. These foods all have a higher zinc content, and it’s easy to slip a few more of them into your daily diet.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial in the fight against infection as they have strong anti-inflammatory properties. People are sometimes put off by the word “fats”, but these are an essential group of foods that are incredibly good for us, especially when it comes to heart health. Eating more of them not only boosts your immunity but could also lower the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Fatty fish is the best source of Omega 3, and it’s recommended you eat two portions a week to get the full amount you need in your diet. That would include salmon, herring, anchovies, and sardines. For non-fish eaters, try to eat more tofu, walnuts, avocado, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, all of which have an above-average Omega 3 content.
More and more are being understood about the importance of good gut health to our immune systems. Eating probiotics increases the “good bacteria” in your intestines and encourages them to absorb harmful substances and stop viruses from replicating. Most people won’t be aware that around 70% of your immune system is housed in your gut, which is why it’s important to pay a little attention to your digestive system.
Fermented foods are particularly high in probiotics, so eating more kimchi, kefir, yoghurt, tempeh, and miso can all be beneficial. So are sauerkraut, kombucha, and other pickles, or you can pick up supplements containing live cultures for better gut health.
You’ve probably had it drummed into you since childhood, but vitamin C is very important for warding off colds and other illnesses, and that’s why it’s important to eat your fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C is one of the best immune-boosting nutrients you’ll find, and eating daily portions of various fruits and vegetables will help you stay fit and healthy.
Berries are a good source, including raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries. Citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit are another, as are kiwi, pineapples, mangos, and papayas. Green and red bell peppers or leafy green vegetables such as kale, spinach, and broccoli also provide a vitamin C hit, so try and pack more of them in to give your immune system a boost.
What more could you be doing?
There are so many daily factors that affect our immune systems, and just a few lifestyle tweaks could make all the difference. It’s important you stay hydrated throughout the day, so we recommend drinking between 8 and 12 glasses of water to help flush any toxins out of your body.
Getting enough sleep is also a priority in boosting your immunity, as this is a chance for your body to restore itself. The optimum amount of sleep for an adult is around 8 hours, so practice good sleep hygiene and keep to regular bedtimes. As stress can also have a negative impact on your body’s immune system, try incorporating yoga into your routine to combat those feelings of anxiety we all experience.
Nutrition remains the key to improving your body’s ability to fight infection. If you eat a healthy and varied diet, then you should consume enough of the vital nutrients we’ve highlighted to help support your immune system. While supplements can also be purchased for a helping hand, they can’t take the place of a good dietary intake.
Of course, you should never make a drastic change to your diet without consulting a qualified medical professional. They will know how you can safely alter your diet, so seek a consultation before you make any drastic changes. At Dubai London Hospital, we have nutritionists and dieticians who can help you improve your healthy eating regime, as well as highly experienced doctors working in the field of gastroenterology.
For more information on the services, we can provide or to book your appointment, please get in touch with us today.