With the traditional cold and flu season in full flow, and Covid cases rising, now is the perfect time to boost your immune system by harnessing the power of nature.
We can all strengthen our defences against unwanted viruses by making some positive changes to our diet. And nature has kindly provided plenty of nutrients that are known to support immunity.
Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares three top vitamins to help build immunity.
Vitamin C plays a vital role in many immune mechanisms but specifically in increasing production of virus-fighting white blood cells and antibody levels. Infection is known to decrease the concentration of vitamin C in white blood cells. Vitamin C is also significantly reduced during stressful periods, by alcohol intake, pollutants, and cigarette smoke. In short, most of us could do with a boost!
Vitamin C is of course widely found in fruits and vegetables, which is one of the many reasons that we are all encouraged to eat at least five portions of fruits and vegetables daily. And with it being water-soluble, it’s not stored in the body, therefore needs to be taken in very regularly within the diet.
It’s a great plan, therefore, to include vitamin C-rich foods at every meal. Why not start the day right with plenty of berries (strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries) which are high in vitamin C? Overnight oats topped with berries, natural yoghurt with apple and kiwi and seeds, or an omelette with tomato, red peppers, and spinach. They all make wonderfully nutritious breakfasts, with plenty of vitamin C. Lunch might be a salad, or a jacket sweet potato with tuna. And really load your dinner plate with veggies – think broccoli, cauliflower, and butternut squash – and finish up with some delicious watermelon.
Vitamin E and Vitamin C are actually perfect partners! Whilst vitamin C works within the water-soluble part of the cells, vitamin E is an essential nutrient within the fat part of cells. And as with all perfect partnerships, they look after each other! Vitamin E protects the immune boosting white blood cells from damage, supports the thymus gland (another essential part of immune function) and generally nurtures the immune system, especially during times of stress.
And since vitamin E protects fats in the body generally, the higher the diet is in fats, the greater need for vitamin E. Fortunately, vitamin E is also found in sources of polyunsaturated fats, therefore nuts, seeds and whole grains are great options.
Vitamin E is also found in fruits and vegetables including berries, asparagus, avocado, green leafy veggies and tomatoes. So, food choices from the list above are not only going to raise levels of vitamin C, but vitamin E too!
Vitamin A is slightly unusual in that it’s only found in its retinol form in animal produce, but the body can make it from carotenoids in fruits, vegetables, and other foods. The good news is, therefore, that vegans don’t need to miss out. Effective conversion does also depend on other factors, but especially vitamin C; another example of how everything in nature is designed to work in harmony.
In terms of immunity, vitamin A helps in a number of ways, but primarily by protecting the mucosal surfaces which act as a barrier against invaders. It also helps to increase white blood cell production and antibody response.
The best sources of vitamin A are whole milk, offal, and butter. However, there are plenty of pro-vitamin A carotenes found in dark green leafy vegetables and yellow and orange vegetables. Top of the list are sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, butternut squash, apricots, and mangoes.
Interestingly, we also find carotenoids in various animal foods such as salmon, egg yolks, shellfish, and poultry. Furthermore, carotenoids are incredibly powerful antioxidants, so you’ll be protecting future health from disease too.
So, load up your diet to get the most out of these three vitamins this winter and help support your immune system from the inside.
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