We know what you’re thinking, can you really boost your immune system with what you eat? We know it sounds pretty holistic, but if you think your immunity needs some extra support, the first place to start is your diet — particularly during the colder months of the year.
So, in order to get the 411 on what we should be eating all Winter long, we spoke to integrative medical expert Dr. Cris Beer to find out what immune boosting really means, what the best foods for immune support are and the easiest ways to incorporate more of them into our diets.
POPSUGAR Australia: What does immune boosting mean?
Dr. Cris Beer: Our immune system acts as our defence against invading germs. It is comprised of a complex set of tissues, cells and molecules specialised in defending against infections. When our immune system is functioning optimally, infections are kept at bay. When we talk about “boosting your immune system” we are referring to foods or substances that can assist with supporting our immune system to improve its function. This may involve directly impacting the effectiveness of our immune fighting cells in the body or helping to assist with the recovery of our immune system following an infection.
PS: Why should we look to boost our immune systems in Winter?
Dr. Cris Beer: During Winter we are usually more susceptible to infections like colds and the flu virus. When the weather cools, we spend far more time indoors, where people crowd together and are usually exposed to more germs, which can allow infections to spread more rapidly. Researchers have also found the seasons affect gene activity — almost a quarter of our genes differ according to the time of year, with some more active in Winter and others more active in Summer. This seasonality also affects our immune cells, and therefore our immune system function and the composition of our blood and adipose tissue (fat).
PS: What are the best immune boosting foods and why?
Dr. Cris Beer: A strong immune system — your defence system which helps fight colds and flu — begins with your diet, which is why I recommend the following foods as an easy way to help support your Winter health. The vitamins A and E are all antioxidants, which are found in various foods and can help support your immune system. Antioxidant rich foods include leeks, onions, garlic, pumpkin, cruciferous veg, such as broccoli and cauliflower, lentils, tomatoes and herbs including thyme and oregano. Vitamin C, also known as the classic immune-friendly ingredient can be found in a number of seasonal fruits, such as kiwi fruit, blueberries and of course the humble orange. Zinc is a must-have mineral for immune function. It has often been used to support healthy skin and eye health. If you are deficient in zinc, then your body may not be performing at its best level. A diet rich in zinc includes these foods: red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, oysters, crab, whole grains and dairy products.
There is a lot of interaction between the immune system and the gut. There’s around 70 percent of the cells which make up your immune system residing in your gut wall, and keeping these in balance is believed to go a long way towards maintaining good health. Good gut health may help you with Winter illnesses, so consider including probiotic-rich foods such as yoghurt on your muesli, sauerkraut, or miso to your diet.
PS: What are the easiest ways to incorporate these foods into our diet?
Dr. Cris Beer: The easiest ways to incorporate these foods into the diet is to include them in everyday recipes and to eat them on a daily basis. Soups in Winter are a great way to incorporate a wide range of immune boosting foods in one meal. Keep your diet rich in lean meats, and seasonal fruit and veg to ensure you’re covering the antioxidant bases. Herbal teas or a cup of hot lemon water is not only a simple and effective way to stay a little warmer in the colder months but can also be a great way to stay hydrated. If you’re looking for that extra boost, try adding ginger or honey.
To find our how your immune health is tracking, take the Blackmores Immune Health Check here.
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Sheila Gim