Boost Your Immunity Naturally
Catching a cold, or worse, having the flu, is surely one of winter’s biggest downsides. Naturally, we all want to prevent getting sick, or at least minimise the experience. Avoiding illness, particularly while people around us may be coughing, sneezing and sniffling, means we need to arm ourselves with a strong immune system built on a healthy lifestyle and a nutrient-packed diet.
Around 70 to 80% of our immune system is in our gut, so it’s wise to avoid processed foods and choose fresh foods that pack the biggest nutritional punch! Try including a variety of these immune-boosters in your diet.
This immunity superhero has a multitude of potent health benefits. Part of the allium plant family, garlic and onions have the ability to stimulate immune cells, while also blocking out enzymes that allow foreign nasties to invade healthy body tissue.
Include these powerful immune-boosting bulbs as staple ingredients in your cooking, not only for flavour, but for your gut health. While not palatable for most, consuming garlic in its raw state is recommended by many health experts. Other, more appetising, options are to chop, slice, crush or mash into soups, casseroles, pasta dishes, stir-fries and with other veggies.
This mighty mineral has the power to bolster our immune system in a multitude of ways. As well as helping to protect our bodies from the common cold, zinc can defend against respiratory tract infections and even pneumonia.
Zinc-rich foods include seafood (oysters, lobster and crab), red meat and chicken, plus dairy foods, eggs, beans and legumes, mushrooms, nuts and seeds. Wholegrain bread and fortified breakfast cereals also contain zinc, as does dark chocolate.
Vitamin C is well known as a vital nutrient for immune support. It acts like your personal bodyguard, helping to protect cells and aid healing. The Vitamin C in citrus fruits is proven to reduce the length and severity of colds.
The great news is that citrus fruits are in-season and plentiful during cooler months, so it’s a perfect time to enjoy oranges, mandarins, lemons, limes and grapefruit to give your body a natural Vitamin C boost! Kiwi fruit and strawberries are other great options for adding Vitamin C to your diet.
There’s a good reason we were told to eat our brussel sprouts! They are a ‘cruciferous’ vegetable, just like broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, bok choy and arugula (rocket). Thanks to a special compound called ‘glucosinolates’ that they contain, these veggies have the power to boost immunity by working as prebiotics to promote healthy gut bacteria.
Touted by leading nutritionists and health experts as the ‘superfood of the future’, spirulina offers some extraordinary immune benefits. In fact, some say it’s the most nutrient-rich food on the planet!
This curious freshwater plant is a type of blue-green sea algae, closely related to chlorella. It has an intense flavour and is often used in energy bars, smoothies and health supplements because of its potent nutritional content. Grown around the world, spirulina is incredibly high in protein and is a good source of antioxidants, iron, calcium, B-vitamins and other nutrients. You can buy spirulina in a powder form and add it to smoothies or juices, or take as a capsule.
The active ingredient in turmeric is ‘curcumin’. Apart from giving the spice its unique yellow colouring, curcumin also boasts impressive health benefits. It has high antioxidant properties, as well as being antibacterial, detoxifying and beneficial for digestive health. It can also reduce the severity of cold and flu symptoms.
Ginger is a gut-friendly plant spice that works as a potent antioxidant, with anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Ginger boosts immune function, detoxifies and stimulates circulation. It is also well known in helping with digestion and bowel function, and can relieve cramping, bloating and nausea. Ginger is also considered to be a natural antibiotic for the body and helps to reduce congestion and mucus production.
Nutritionists recommend the regular use of ginger in cooking, juices and smoothies, and as a health boost to a cup of tea.
This ‘healing honey’ carries some remarkable health properties. New Zealand’s indigenous cultures have known of its power for centuries. It is antibacterial, antiviral and works as an antioxidant to support immunity.
Manuka’s uniqueness lies in its medicinal potency, which is stable and not lessened by heat, light or dilution. Researchers at the University of Sydney found that it killed almost every type of bacteria it was exposed to, even including those that were antibiotic-resistant. Made by bees fed on manuka bush flowers (or the ‘jellybush tree’ in Australia), manuka honey has a distinct flavour and is much richer and darker than other honey varieties. Enjoy a spoonful each day with tea, lemon or ginger for a tasty natural boost.
An obvious and smart choice in any diet is to ensure the fats we consume are healthy ones. For immune support, be sure to include plant-based oils, avocados, nuts and fish on your shopping list.
Mono- or polyunsaturated oils like olive, canola, nut or ‘flower’ oils like sunflower or safflower are best. Cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil is the king of oils, because it is so rich in antioxidants and antiviral compounds. Use it is to dress salads or vegetables or for low-temperature pan cooking. For stir-frying and sautéing at high heat though, choose rice bran oil instead which has a higher smoke point.
Probiotics are live microorganisms, or ‘good bacteria’, in the gut that support our immune system. Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis are two strains that can significantly lower the risk of colds, flu and fever, while also aiding absorption of nutrients.
As well as probiotic drinks, powders and capsules, good sources are fermented foods such as yoghurt, miso, tempeh, kefir, kombucha tea, sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented vegetables. A simple way to include probiotics in your daily diet is to add natural yoghurt at breakfast, as a snack or as a healthy dessert. Try serving as a dipping sauce addition with many dishes, either on its own or with some lemon juice, minced garlic and fresh parsley. Always ensure your yoghurt contains live cultures, in particular, acidophilus, which will be noted on the label.
abc.net.au (ref Dr Jocelyn Lowinger and study by British Journal of Sports Medicine)
health.harvard.edu (Harvard Health Publications)
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional.