A healthy immune system is super important as we head into the cold and flu winter season. Building ‘good’ foundations with dietary habits can boost your immunity naturally.
Before we share some dietary habits to boost your immune health naturally, let’s review some important vitamins and minerals.
1. Key Vitamins and Minerals for Immune Strength
All vitamins and minerals in some way or form play a huge role in supporting our immune system function. But, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin A are the big players providing direct support.
Zinc is one key to keeping your immune system healthy and robust.
Insufficient levels of zinc in your body increases your susceptibility to infections from the common cold virus
Research(1) supports supplementary zinc to decrease the duration of the common cold. Consequently I always recommend susceptible individuals (and vegetarians) to supplement with zinc during winter.
Foods high in zinc include meat, oysters, shellfish, fish. Other sources include legumes, nuts and seeds. These foods also contain phytates that reduce zinc absorption so it’s best to soak, rinse and dry them out before eating.
C is another well known key player for ‘rallying up the troops’, your white blood cells.
The thing is vitamin C is very unstable and is easily destroyed. Especially by heat or chopping, or just lost sitting on the shelf.
Ideally, you have a vegetable garden at your finger-tips! If not (that’s probably the majority of us), add squeezed lemon or lime juice to your steamed vegetables or salads.
Parsley is also relatively high in vitamin C, along with cabbage, broccoli and capsicums.
This vitamin is fat soluble so is stored in the body – lucky for us. It’s a big player in maintaining the immune cells within the mucous membranes of our gut lining.
We absorb vitamin A through our foods high in carotenoids such as carrots, paw paw, and other red/ orange foods. It’s also really high in ‘liver’ so if you like offal you can get a good dose by including liver in a meal.
2. Immune Supporting Daily Dietary Tips
What you eat every day can help or hinder your immune system. Try to include these 6 elements in your daily diet.
- Include raw crushed garlic and onions daily. Garlic contains the antimicrobial component called allicin (only activated once crushed and raw). Try adding to avocado or on top of scrambled eggs. Onions are high in quercetin (a vitamin C compound) which strengthens our cells.
- Include lemon and ginger tea upon rising. This is warming and assists our cells to detox.
- Include plenty of colourful vegetables and fruit daily – at least 6 cups! I recommend having a variety of cooked and raw. Choose veges listed above that will give you a Vit A, C or zinc boost regularly.
- Keep processed foods containing sugar (various forms) and preservatives to a minimum.
- Include lean protein (palm sized serve) derived from organic sources; and ‘ancient’ grains that include polyphenols and fibre for bowel health.
- Keep well hydrated. Even in winter we need to assist our cells to remove toxins and absorb nutrients.
3. Maintain Optimal Gut Health
Our gut is our first line of natural defence.
If you’ve recently had a course of antibiotics, or have a history of colds and flu over the past year or two, it is important to ensure you have a healthy gastrointestinal tract.
Whilst antibiotics are prescribed for good reasons, they also destroy our immune supporting gastrointestinal bacteria (the good bugs) along with the bad. Depending on your individual signs and symptoms, particular strains of probiotics may be recommended to support your GIT health to allow your own innate good bacteria to replenish.
3. ‘First Aid’ Herbs to Boost Your Immune Support
Echinacea is a North American herb which assists the immune system by rallying up the troops during a virus attack. Evidence supports Echinacea as an immune stimulant herb through the alkylamides (constituents responsible for inducing white blood cells).
Depending on your immune health history, Echinacea can be taken throughout the winter at a dose suitable for you, and in combination with other herbs that may be indicated for you. Alternatively, it can be taken in tablet form and increased at times when you are exposed to the cold/ flu virus, or are feeling run down.
Depending on your symptom history, other herbs such as Astragalus or Andrographis, or nutritional supplements such as vitamin A, C, and iron can be prescribed to correct insufficiencies to keep your immune system healthy.
4. Stress and Adrenal Support
Ensure you have nervous system and adrenal health support for stress management.
Physical and/or mental stress is undoubtedly a major precursor to getting sick with a cold or flu. If you are starting to run on empty, or have been pushing yourself with extra work demands/ family commitments you may require and benefit from herbs the improve your resilience.
A class of herbs called ‘adaptogens’ include Withania, Rhodiola, Rehmannia, Bupleurum, Siberian ginseng for example, may be specifically prescribed in addition to nervous system supporting herbs such as passionflower, skullcap or chamomile. Together these can improve your resilience, and hence your natural immunity.
5. Sleep Quality and Quantity.
Undoubtedly sleep is one of the single most important factors for your immune system resilience. If you feel sleep deprived, try changing a few things over several nights to help get the sleep you need.
If there are unknown reasons causing your loss of sleep, this generally warrants your attention. Because there are many factors that can negatively impact sleep you may need a holistic view. Have a look at my blog on sleep.
There are many simple things you can do to boost your immune system naturally. Small changes to your diet can support your immunity against colds and flu this season.