Some will go to extreme lengths to boost their immunity; intravenous vitamin drips, for example, are currently popular in Hollywood.
However, as a nutritionist I strongly believe your first port of call should always be the kitchen. By following some simple principles, you can boost your immune system through everyday foods; no needles necessary!
The most longstanding and widespread health myth is that consuming vitamin C can help you recover from a cold. Having said this, vitamin C can reduce the chances of you catching one in the first place.
Vitamin C can help to reduce the chances of you catching a cold in the first place.
This is because it’s a powerful antioxidant, mopping up harmful free radicals that would otherwise damage your cells and compromise your immune system. It’s also thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which fight infections.
Excellent sources include citrus fruits, green leafy vegetables and berries. Similarly, look out for foods rich in beta-carotene; an antioxidant found in yellow, orange and green fruit and vegetables; such as kiwis, carrots and butternut squash.
It’s not just vitamins, but also minerals you want to ensure you’re topped up on this winter. For example, zinc doesn’t receive much attention, but it’s vital for ensuring our immune cells function correctly. Shellfish, chicken and nuts are all good sources. However, make sure you don’t overdo it; too much zinc can do just as much harm to our immune system as not enough. Whilst it’s tricky to consume too much through diet alone, exercise caution when taking supplements.
Rather than rely on supplements, substituting ingredients can enhance the immune-boosting properties of everyday meals. It could be as simple as switching from using salt and table sauces for flavour, to using spices, garlic and lemon juice instead. Lemon juice is high in vitamin C, whilst garlic contains a compound called ‘allicin’ which has immune-boosting properties. Ginger and turmeric, on the other hand, are great anti-inflammatories.
Surprisingly, how you prepare and consume foods can alter how effective they are at boosting your immune system. Cooking vegetables as little as possible helps retain water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C. However, light cooking is beneficial for enhancing nutrients like beta-carotene. Find the perfect compromise by steaming vegetables as opposed to boiling them.
The big picture
Above all, having a balanced and varied diet is the key to keeping your immune system healthy; there is no one ‘superfood’ or group of ‘superfoods’ that can stop you from catching a cold or the flu.
How you prepare and consume foods can alter how effective they are at boosting your immune system.
Consistency is also key; downing a litre bottle of smoothie once a week isn’t going to cut it; you need to make a conscious, albeit small, effort every day. Since habits take a while to form, having a bit of support can help; whether that be from an encouraging family member or a professional nutritionist. Either way, don’t waste your money on expensive supplements or intravenous vitamin drips; everyday foods are by far the most effective way of fighting back against colds and flu this winter. In the words of Hippocrates; ‘let food be thy medicine’!
Thanks to Lizzy from www.nutritionbylizzy.com for this feature. Lizzy holds an MA in Natural Sciences from the University of Cambridge and is currently completing her MSc in Nutrition at Kings College London.