What you need to know about diet & immunity
Healthy hacks to help your immune system stay in shape
We all know what we eat and drink is super important when it comes to, well, pretty much everything. From how much shut-eye we get, to keeping our energy levels up throughout the day, food and drink = fuel. But did you know our diet also plays a big part in keeping our immune system functioning normally? Yep, a well-balanced diet and a healthy immune system go together like yin and yang.
If you’re a novice at nutrition or just want a quick immunity and diet refresher, we’re serving up a starter of science and a side dish of healthy eating tips and tricks. Bon appetit!
What is the immune system?
First up on the menu, a crash course on the immune system. Made up of cells, tissues, and organs, our immune systems help protect us from unfamiliar cells like pesky bacteria and viruses every single day – cool, right? Without an immune system, we wouldn’t be able to protect our bodies, so keeping in good shape matters – and that’s where diet comes in.
D is for diet
No, we’re not talking about that word, we’re talking about diet – the foods (and drinks) we have every day. You might remember from secondary school biology lessons (or not, we won’t judge) that eating a well-balanced and healthy diet is super-duper important for lots of things. A healthy diet looks like this:
• Eating at least five portions of fruit and veg every day
• Basing your meals around starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
• Having dairy or dairy alternatives
• Eating some beans, pulses, fish and eggs
• Eating protein such as chicken, meat or vegetarian alternatives
• Choosing unsaturated oils and spreads
• Drinking six to eight glasses of fluids a day – non-alcoholic, of course!
How are diet & immunity linked?
There’s no magic food (yep, that includes superfoods) that will help give you immunity to infections and viruses, although a vaccine can help you do that. One of the key ways to help keep your immune system ticking over nicely is by eating a healthy and balanced diet. When your immune system functions normally, it’s able to help you fight off things like a common cold.
So, how do I make changes to what I eat and drink every day to help my immune system’s health? Well, we’re glad you asked! We’ve penned some quick tips and tricks to get you on your way.
Follow the five-a-day rule
Almost all fruit and veg count towards your five-a-day (hooray) so getting enough of the healthy stuff may be a lot easier than you think! And the best bit? Fruit and veg is packed with vitamins and minerals that are great for immune system health.
If buying fresh fruit and veg is tricky, fear not! Frozen or tinned fruit and veg will get the job done just as well – just try to choose tinned goods that have no added sugar. Want to know more about squeezing in your five-a-day? Of course you do, so check out our easy ways to manage what you eat. The NHS better health guide is also a great place for tips tricks if you feel unhealthy and want to take charge of your health.
Ditch the processed foods
News flash. Processed foods aren’t just the microwave meal you reach for after a long day at work, they come in all shapes and sizes like cakes, biscuits, crisps and more! What makes processed foods less healthy? Well, that’s down to the ingredients often added like salt, sugar, and fat to make the flavour more appealing or extend a product’s shelf life.
Don’t panic though! Eating the odd biscuit or two with your mid-morning cuppa is totally fine as eating processed foods in moderation is OK, but it’s important to remember we shouldn’t have them for every meal. As we know from earlier (we hope you’re enjoying the read), it’s much better for us to eat foods with high levels of nutrients and fibre.
Help support your gut
Think all bacteria are bad? Think again! While you may link the word with yucky viruses, you’ll be pleased to know many play an important role in helping to keep your gut on top form. We have millions and millions of microbes in our guts that help with digestion and normal immune system function, and what we eat can have an impact on how our gut works. Now if you’re wondering what foods you can eat for good gut health, here’s a quick list:
• Fibre-rich foods to help feed gut bacteria like pulses, beans and legumes
• Foods that contain friendly bacteria like live yoghurt
• Wholegrain foods such as wholemeal bread and wholegrain pasta
Feeling good about your gut? Why not swot up on all things immunity and gut? You know you want to!
How can I help protect myself from COVID-19 (coronavirus)?
Social distancing, good hand hygiene and following the latest government guidelines are currently the best ways to help protect yourself from coronavirus.
Can vitamin D help protect me from coronavirus?
While vitamin D doesn’t reduce the risk of getting coronavirus, it is important for keeping bones, muscles and teeth healthy, and can help support the normal function of your immune system.
Spending time outside during the spring and summer months (April to September) is the best way to get vitamin D – it’s affectionately known as the sunshine vitamin, after all! If you find you’re struggling to get out and about, you might want to consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement to help support your immune system.
In the autumn and winter months when sunshine can be in short supply, it’s a good idea to take a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of vitamin D to make extra sure you’re getting the recommended amount. Want to know more? Get the downlow on all things vitamin D.
So, if you take away one thing from our whistle-stop tour, it’s that eating a healthy, balanced diet is key to keeping your immune system functioning normally. That was easy, wasn’t it?
Information correct at time of publication (12.01am 16/12/2020)