Summer is not generally the time when we think about supporting the immune system. However, summer colds and infections are still prevalent at this time of year. Plus, for those unfortunate allergy sufferers, having a tip-top immune system can help control the unpleasant symptoms.
Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five top immune-boosting nutrients to keep you bug-free through the summer.
Warranting its ‘top spot’ on the list of immune-boosting nutrients, Vitamin C is anti-viral and anti-bacterial so can help to keep unwanted invaders at bay. It’s also a nutrient that plays a key part in the control of the body’s release of histamine, so it can also help to manage the symptoms of allergies.
Vitamin C is easily destroyed in foods through storage, preparation and cooking. Therefore, eating raw fruits and vegetables ensures higher amounts of vitamin C are obtained from food. If you are cooking, lightly steaming vegetables is a much better way of retaining vitamin C. Frozen fruits and vegetables also make a good choice; they’re generally frozen quite quickly after harvest, hence more of their nutrient content is retained.
Summer is a great time for finding foods high in vitamin C as there are so many readily available. For example, strawberries are at their very best right now, as are other vitamin C-rich fruits such as blackberries and cherries. Vegetables including red peppers and broccoli are also great sources.
Known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, and there’s certainly plenty of that around at the moment, we still need to keep vitamin D levels topped up all year round. It’s an immune-essential but not that readily available in foods. However, oily fish, beef, mushrooms and milk contain some vitamin D2; the body prefers vitamin D3 which is produced on the skin when exposed to sunlight and is available in good-quality food supplements.
Vitamin D production on the skin is blocked by high factor sun cream. Therefore, it is advisable to try to expose arms or legs to the sun for around 15 minutes a day if possible, before applying sun cream.
A supplement containing a minimum of 10 micrograms of Vitamin D is recommended daily by Public Health England to ensure the body has sufficient levels and, most importantly, means you should be less susceptible to colds and infections during the summer months.
A well-known and loved herb, Echinacea helps to increase white blood cell production, which in turn can help support the immune system. If you’re susceptible to colds then it’s certainly worth taking Echinacea as a preventative remedy (as we know, prevention is always better than cure), particularly if you’re around people who are infected or if you are just starting to feel the first signs of a cold.
The herb is readily available in health food stores but always look for the THR symbol on pack; this stands for Traditional Herbal Remedy and means it’s a fully licensed herbal medicine, therefore the quality and efficacy of the herb can be guaranteed.
Vitamin A is another great supporter of the immune system. It is found in animal products but the body also produces it from beta-carotene as needed.
Foods such as meat, dairy and fish provide good sources of retinol-based vitamin A which is much easier for the body to utilise. However, the body can convert carotenoids such as beta-carotene (which is the best source of pro-vitamin A) from fruits, vegetables and nuts into Vitamin A. Sweet potatoes and carrots contain some of the highest amounts of beta-carotene and the body will convert it into Vitamin A when it is required.
It’s the hardest working mineral within the immune system and indeed, it works pretty hard throughout the body. Zinc increases the production of immune cells, plus it helps produce natural killer cells which are needed to kill viruses and bacteria.
Zinc is found in animal and vegetable foods with spinach being the top plant-based source. Oysters, red meat, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and kidney beans are all great providers of zinc. It’s best to try to include at least one of these foods in the diet each day. Alternatively, take a supplement containing zinc throughout the year to keep the immune system in good shape and avoid those annoying summer colds.
So don’t miss a moment of summer due to a cold: with a few simple diet tweaks you can prepare your body to be fighting fit.
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