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Nutrients to strengthen your immune system naturally

What foods can I eat to help fight disease?

  1. Vitamin C

Vitamin C boosts your immune system by stimulating and mobilising an army of natural killer cells once your body has been exposed to viruses and other pathogens.

This water soluble vitamin can’t be made by the body so make sure you include it in your daily diet by eating citrus fruits such as orange, satsuma, lemon, grapefruit or pomelo or guava, papaya, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, red and green bell peppers and broccoli.

You can meet your daily requirement by including just 1/2 papaya/1 large kiwi/1 large orange/1/2 cup raw or cooked red peppers/10 cooked Brussel sprouts.

2. Zinc

Zinc is a mineral which helps your immune system to work properly.

Latest research suggests that zinc puts the brakes on our natural defences from going into overdrive.

Usually, our immune system is able to fight off germs but when there is a zinc deficiency, our body’s response to infection spirals out of control and becomes toxic instead. This can lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis.

Prevent zinc deficiency by including lean meat, chicken, prawns, oysters, milk, cheese, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts in your eating plan. A 3 ounce serving of beef or lamb will provide around 45% of an adult’s daily requirement for zinc.

3. Probiotics

Probiotics are live “friendly” bacteria that can be found in our intestines and naturally in some foods and drinks.

The gut is the largest immune organ in the body and it’s where over 50% of the immune function takes place.

Probiotic bacteria residing in the gut helps to activate the primary killer cells that fight against and prevents infection.

Often these beneficial bacterial can become depleted as a result of an unhealthy diet, over use of antibiotics, pollution and constant stress.

Keep your digestive system healthy with “good” bacteria by including live cultured yoghurts (look for products that contain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium), kefir, miso, kimchi, Kombucha, pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut, tempeh and soft cheeses.

4. Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps to increase the number of antimicrobial proteins (such as interferon) that prevents the growth and spread of bacteria and viruses in the body.

Research suggests that this sunshine vitamin can help to reduce the risk of flu especially among people who don’t get enough from their diet or exposure to sunlight.

Prevent deficiency by regularly consuming oily fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, canned tuna or egg yolks, shrimp, mushrooms, or milk, dairy or cereals that have been fortified with vitamin D.

A 3.5 ounce serving of salmon will provide you with a day’s worth of vitamin D and the same serving of Atlantic herring will provide four times as much. A glass of fortified cow’s milk will provide around a third of your daily requirement.

5. Vitamin A

Vitamin A helps to maintain tissues in the skin, mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system, keeping these parts of the immune system healthy and so can prevent pathogens from entering the body.

Good sources of vitamin A include fortified milk, meat, eggs, cheese, liver, fish oil, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, dried apricots, melon, mango and bell peppers.

A 3 ounce serving of liver will provide nearly three times your daily requirement for vitamin A, whereas one baked sweet potato/ 1/4 cup of raw carrots/ 1/4 cup boiled spinach will provide you with a day’s worth of vitamin A.

6. Hydration

Water makes up between 50-80% of a person's body weight and is essential for most bodily functions.

Beverages provide up to 80% of our water needs with the remaining coming from fruits, vegetables and foods that we eat like stews, soups etc.

The British Dietetic Association says "the colour of urine is the best indicator; if you are drinking enough your urine should be a straw or pale yellow colour."

Remember to stay hydrated with at least 8 glasses of fluids a day, water is the best choice. If you like, jazz up plain water with plenty of ice, slices of lemon, mixed berries, mint, lemongrass or ginger.

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