Food For Immunity
Food For Immunity
Every year when flu season rolls around, the importance of staying healthy and strong is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Luckily, because your gut plays a significant role in immunity, making healthy food choices can support your immune system and lower your risk of infection.
What is food for immunity?
The most important thing to remember is that undernutrition can compromise your immune system, and this makes you more susceptible to infection. Practically, this means that you need to be eating enough and getting enough variety in your diet to avoid any micronutrient deficiencies. There are a few key micronutrients that your immune system depends on the most. Deficiency in any of the following micronutrients may lead to compromised immunity and higher susceptibility to infection: Vitamin A, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc, and Folate. You don’t need to eat anything specific to avoid deficiencies in these foods if you follow a normal, healthy and balanced diet. If however you follow a vegetarian, vegan, gluten free or dairy free diet, you may wish to consider including fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, fortified bread and milk alternatives in your diet to ensure you’re not missing any of these essential micronutrients!
Additionally, high levels of certain micronutrients may provide some additional assistance to your immune system. These include:
- Vitamin C, found in high quantities in citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries, and tomatoes. It’s best to eat these foods raw to retain the levels of Vitamin C.
- Zinc, which is found in cheese, beef, pumpkin or pumpkin seeds, and oysters.
- Selenium, which is found in mushrooms, couscous, pasta, yoghurt, brazil nuts, mixed nuts, tuna and other fish.
- And Probiotics, which are found in kimchi, yoghurt with live cultures, kefir, and sauerkraut.
Finally, maintaining a healthy weight through diet and regular exercise can help keep your immune system strong. Excess body fat may lead to higher inflammation in your body, which can impair your immune system.
What about exercise?
Exercise is always a balancing act. You may want to push yourself to see improvements in performance, but too much exercise can lead to diminished immunity. Make sure that you allow yourself 1-2 true rest days each week, meaning that at most you do a light walk. If you start to have difficulty sleeping, see changes to your menstrual cycle, appetite, or experience an increase in depression or anxiety following an increase in exercise, it’s time to dial it back to keep your body and brain safe.
What should you do if you're already sick?
First and foremost, always consult your doctor, GP or relevant health care professional. When you’re sick and infected with a virus, your requirements for nutrition may increase. This means that you need even more micronutrients than usual to avoid deficiency. In this situation you may wish to consider a high quality multivitamin or dietary supplement in addition to stocking up on foods high in Vitamin C, Zinc, Selenium and Probiotics. Make sure you continue to eat a diet based on whole foods with plenty of variety, engage in only light exercise, and allow your body to rest and recover!
By minimising stress, sleeping well, exercising and eating mindfully, you can give your immune system the best chance at working effectively for you.
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