There is a lot of information all over the place about keeping healthy and strengthening or ‘boosting’ your immune system. I’ve been hearing and reading some cringe-worthy tips and advice, mostly from unqualified people.
I’m a big fan of keeping things simple and I’m passionate about providing sensible and safe advice, and clarity for my clients and community.
Here are 5 things I know to be true for a healthy immune system (and for health and mental wellbeing generally):
- Eating well
- Being well hydrated
- Daily movement
- Managing stress
- Sleeping well
In this post I’m going to go through each one in the hope it provides you clarity and inspiration for the coming weeks…months…as we navigate through this pandemic together.
1) EATING WELL
COLOURFUL VEGETABLES & FRUITS
Research suggests that bright, vibrant and deeply coloured vegetables and fruits can support our immunity better than most supplements. Diets rich in vegetables and fruits provide us with an array of protective vitamins (e.g vitamin C), minerals and antioxidants.
Aim for 8 veg and 2 fruit per day, of rainbow of colours to give your body exposure to the array of phyto (plant) chemicals and antioxidants that the different colours can provide. The colour categories to eat from are greens, purples, oranges, yellows, reds, and whites/browns.
Protein is a key nutrient for a healthy immune system and is so often overlooked. A lack of protein significantly weakens the immune system. Antibodies and immune system cells rely on protein, especially when it’s trying to fight viral infections. Aim for at least 30 grams of protein with 3 meals per day from foods such as oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines) white fish, poultry, grass fed and organic red meat (beef, lamb, venison), and eggs. You can also get some protein from beans, pulses, lentils, edamame beans, tempeh, tofu, nuts and seeds, and a good quality clean protein powder.
DON’T FORGET HEALTHY FATS
Focus on a well balanced plate made up of quality protein, fibre-rich carbohydrates, healthy fats from oily fish, extra virgin olive oil, coconut, avocado, & nuts and seeds, and plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables.
SUPPORT A HEALTHY GUT FOR A HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM
The gut houses approximately 70% of our immune system cells and these cells have a close relationship with 100 trillion healthy bacteria that live in our gut. Include plenty of prebiotic foods, which feed the healthy bacteria (probiotics). Include foods such as leeks, onions, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, oats, flaxseed, and unripe (slightly green) bananas. Then we have probiotics, which are the beneficial bacteria in our gut and it’s important to have good levels for good immunity. Include fermented foods such as raw unpasteurised sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, miso, natto, kombucha and other fermented vegetables. Then generally go for plenty of colourful vegetables to feed your good bacteria, as they are like fertiliser for healthy soil!
SOME KEY NUTRIENTS & THEIR FOODS FOR A HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM:
VITAMIN C may help prevent or reduce severity infections. Up your intake with foods such as peppers, broccoli, oranges, watercress, cabbage, kiwi, spinach, kale, cauliflower, tomatoes and berries (I add 100g of frozen mixed berries to my morning protein smoothie).
VITAMIN D is one of the most powerful nutrients for supporting the immune system- sunlight is our main source (of which we don’t see much!) and small amounts can be found in oily fish, egg yolks, liver, and dairy.
ZINC plays a significant role in strengthening immunity. Go for quality red meat, shellfish, whole grains, egg yolks, green leafy vegetables, mushrooms, potatoes, & nuts and seeds.
VITAMIN A can be really helpful for supporting the body’s ability to fight infections in the short term. The ‘active’ and most useful form of vitamin A is retinol, which is only found in animal products and liver is a particularly rich source (try homemade chicken liver pate), as well as eggs and oily fish. You can get the non-active form, beta-carotene, from yellow and orange vegetables.
SELENIUM may help fight off viral infections and just 3 Brazil nuts a day can provide a good amount! Seafood, quality red meat and eggs are also good sources.
2) BEING WELL HYDRATED
Dehydration can zap energy, cognitive function, and impact immunity. Start the day with a pint of water (you can squeeze the juice of half a lemon in for a refreshing morning kick), and then continue to sip water and or herbal teas such as peppermint, ginger, nettle, and chamomile throughout the day. The best way to know if you are properly hydrated is to check colour of your urine across the day – it should be a pale straw colour, if it is too yellow or dark then you are dehydrated and need more. What about alcohol? I know it will be tempting to drink more during a time like this, but alcohol can suppress immune function so should be limited for now.
3) DAILY MOVEMENT
Regular exercise promotes good circulation around the body, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently. Aim to do at least one movement practice per day such as an online yoga class, a walk or jog in nature, or an online HIIT workout. Make sure you take regular breaks from sitting down by setting a reminder to stand up every hour for a lap of the garden or room, a run up and down the stairs, or 10 squats or push ups.
4) MANAGING STRESS
Stress can have a significantly weakening effect on our immune cells, drain our energy, and drive unhealthy food choices. Although certain stressors can’t be avoided, such as this uncertain time we currently find ourselves in, there is a lot we can do to manage it and keep its impact minimal. Stopping to take a few minutes of deep and slow breaths through your nose and belly a few times a day can help to lower cortisol (our stress hormone). Also incorporate calming chill-out music, practising yoga, using a guided meditation, walks in nature/a green space, reading an uplifting book, and watching a good stand up comedy!
5) SLEEPING WELL
Sleep has a significant impact on immune health, energy, mood and our food choices each day. Getting enough good quality sleep can increase the number of white blood cells we have in our immune system, and these are the immune cells that help us combat unwanted ‘invaders’ such as a virus. Staying up late on laptops, phones, tablets and TV can have a detrimental effect on the quality of your sleep, especially if you are absorbing stressful information.
My top tips for getting a better night sleep include:
- Keeping the lights dim all around the house from early evening to help encourage the wake hormone cortisol to die down and your sleep hormone melatonin to increase
- Switching your phone onto flight mode for at least one hour before you plan to go to bed
- Doing some deep breathing or meditation
- Doing some gentle yoga stretches, restorative yoga or yin yoga
- Reading an uplifting but not too stimulating fiction book
I really hope this information and advice can help you during this uncertain time we are all navigating our way through right now. Make this a time when you really REALLY start to put your health first, it should always be a priority but now it’s just even more important.
Contact Francesca to find out more information on how she can help support you through the pandemic and beyond here.