Eating and living well to support your immune system

We’re living in uncertain times, but there is one thing for sure. We need to seize the moment and ensure that we (and our immune systems) are in the best possible health.

So what can we all do to take good care of ourselves?

First and foremost, we know it’s critical to keep following the latest government advice to stay at home and stay safe.

Beyond these measures, there are some simple steps you can focus on to look after your health and support your immune system.

1. Eat a varied diet

While some items are in short supply on the supermarket shelves, happily, there’s still a wide range of healthy food available.

Key nutrients and food sources to support your immune system

Zinc: shellfish, meat, fish, nuts and seeds, especially pumpkin seeds.

Vitamin C: dark green leafy vegetables, peppers, kiwi fruit and citrus fruit.

Vitamin A: oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, tinned sardines, cheese, eggs and liver. We can also convert the beta-carotene found in vegetables such as carrots, butternut squash and sweet potatoes into vitamin A.

Vitamin D: from April to September in the UK, the best source of this vitamin is through exposure of our skin to the sun. You’ll need to spend a short period outdoors, without sunscreen, with your arms or legs exposed. It’s really important to balance sun exposure to avoid your skin burning, so do make sure that you cover up or use sunscreen before you have any signs of skin reddening.

You’ll find more information on these nutrients in my previous blog.

It’s also worth making sure your diet includes the mineral, selenium, which provides additional support for healthy immune function. You can get your daily dose with just two Brazil nuts! Try adding these to your morning porridge, smoothies, salads or with fruit and yoghurt. Other sources include tofu, chicken, baked beans and eggs.

Eat the rainbow

Our new stay-at-home lifestyle can leave us feeling like we’re stuck in a rut. One way to keep boredom at bay is to mix it up by eating a range of different coloured fruit and vegetables. And the bonus is that this helps to support your gut health, which is where 70% of your immune tissue is found. Fruit and vegetables provide fibre and plant-based nutrients, known as phytonutrients, which differ according to the colour of the fruit/vegetable. Both the fibre and the phytonutrients provide food for the micro-organisms in your gut. While we’re still in the early stages of understanding how these gut bugs affect our health, the general consensus is that greater variety has a beneficial effect, and this includes supporting your immune defences. So in short, increased variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables = increased variety of gut microbes = better health!
For some inspiration, see below!

2. Schedule some daily exercise

Fitting in some moderate exercise into your daily routine is a great way to keep both body and mind healthy.
And the good news is that researchers from the University of Bath have recently concluded that maintaining a regular exercise routine throughout this period of social isolation will help to maintain a healthy immune system. They recommend around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week, including walking, running and cycling. There are lots of online exercise alternatives and I must admit I’m a big fan of P.E. with Joe (Wicks)!

3. Prioritise sleep and relaxation

Sleep deprivation and stress can weaken your immune system and so finding time to relax and getting a good night’s sleep are especially important at the moment. Here are some simple tips that can help:

  • You get a double benefit with exercise as it also supports sleep quality, especially if you exercise in the morning. Yoga has also been shown to be helpful in supporting good quality sleep.

  • Avoid caffeine in the evening – as well as drinks such as tea, coffee and cola, chocolate also contains caffeine. Caffeine can take at least 3-7 hours to be metabolised and so for some people it may be best to avoid drinking caffeine after mid-day.

  • Switch off screens (computer, tv, phone, etc) an hour before bedtime. Blue light emitted from screens suppresses melatonin production, which is essential for a good night’s sleep.

  • Create a calm environment in the hour before bed – maybe listen to music, read a book, drink a herbal tea such as chamomile.


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