Our immune system defends the body against invasion from harmful bacteria, viruses and other foreign agents. Without a healthy functioning immune system we put ourselves at risk of getting infections, and developing allergies and chronic disease.
A strong immune system is dependant on a healthy, well-balanced diet containing important immune boosting nutrients such as vitamins C and A, and minerals iron, zinc and selenium. Certain herbs and foods also have immune-stimulating properties, which help enhance immune function and protect the body against disease.
Include garlic your diet. Garlic contains ‘allicin’ that has powerful, immune-enhancing properties. Garlic is also a good source of vitamins A, C, E and minerals selenium, sulphur and zinc, which are all play pivotal roles in immune function. Eating garlic regularly will help protect you against infections, colds and flu, as it has anti-bacterial, fungal and viral action. Add one or two crushed garlic cloves to cooking, perfect in pastas, sauces, salad dressings, dips and on brushcetta or garlic bread. Allicin formation is increased when garlic cloves are crushed, so this is the best way to eat and reap the benefits of garlic.
Echinacea is widely known for its ability to act on our immune system to prevent or treat colds and flu. Echinacea contains phenolic compounds, which have the ability to stimulate the immune system, increasing the activity and number of immune cells such as T-cells and macrophages. Echinacea stimulates the overall activity of immune cells making them more efficient in attacking bacteria and viruses. Echinacea is available in tablets, tea, or fluid extract form from health food stores. To make a tea, take 1-2 tsp of root in a cup of water and bring to the boil. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Drink three cups a day.
Boost Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for boosting our immunity. Without sufficient vitamin D we increase our risk of illness and developing a range of chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Sunlight is the easiest and healthiest way to get sufficient vitamin D, so try and get at least 10-15 minutes of sunshine a day (without sunscreen), on the face, arms and hands, to maintain adequate levels. You should also include some vitamin D-rich foods in the such as eggs (yolk), fish liver oil (cod liver oil) and oily fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines), or fortified milk (cow’s, rice, soy).
Increase Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the best immune boosting nutrients, important for treating and preventing all illnesses and chronic diseases. As a powerful antioxidant, it protects cells in the body from free radical damage, which is associated with the onset of chronic diseases such as cancers and cardiovascular disease. Vitamin C also has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-allergenic activity. Include plenty of vitamin C-rich foods in your diet such as citrus (oranges, mandarins, lemon), kiwi fruit and berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), red capsicum, broccoli, cabbage and parsley. Vitamin C is an unstable vitamin so fresh fruit juices should be squeezed just before serving to retain their vitamin C goodness.
Zinc is an extremely important mineral that is vital for the healthy immune function. Zinc is needed for the production of white blood cells, which protect against colds and infections. Zinc also has antioxidant activity, helping to fight free radical damage in the body. Include zinc-rich foods in your diet such as lean meat, chicken, fish, dairy foods, brewers yeast, eggs (yolks), legumes, wholegrains, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds. A moderate amount of zinc is also found in vegetables.Â Zinc is lost during the refinement or processing of grains so wholegrain products should always be chosen over the refined equivalents, in order to maximize zinc intake. When supplementing with zinc take around 45 mg /day.