Top 6 plant-based foods to support your immune system
Your immune system is one of the most valuable things you have – and it’s not just for warding off the sniffles and sneezes. Your immune system consists of an army of cells that work hard every single day to protect your body from all types of bacterial infections, viruses, food poisoning, autoimmune conditions and even cancer.
Immune system warriors need good, regular nourishment and our nutritionists share the six best foods that play a vital role in helping your immune system cope with daily attacks on it.
Top 6 foods for your immune system
1. Brazil nuts
These nuts are a true immunity super-food. Brazil nuts contain good levels of both selenium and vitamin E, both of which are vital for a normal antibody response – a process that identifies and neutralises pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Pathogenic bacteria and viruses are those that cause illness and disease.
Unfortunately British soil is very low in selenium, therefore food produce grown in British soil is also low in this valuable mineral. If you have a weak immune system, ensure you are taking a good quality Daily Multi-Vitamin that contains selenium.
Brazil nuts can also improve your mental health - learn more in How your diet can improve your mental health.
2. Red Peppers
Did you know that peppers contain more Vitamin C than oranges? There is no question that Vitamin C is absolutely essential for your optimal immune health. Vitamin C can be bacteriostatic (which means it hinders the growth of bugs) or bactericidal (which means it kills bugs), depending on the bug!
However, research shows that Vitamin C's role in supporting our immunity may be purely prevention – in other words it will help prevent you from catching a bug, but it won’t help in getting rid of it once you’ve go it.
3. Sweet potatoes
The gorgeous orange pigment of sweet potatoes is due to the phytochemical beta-carotene, which gets converted to Vitamin A within the body.
Vitamin A is responsible for maintaining an active Thymus (a key gland in immune health) and is highly anti-viral as it helps cells become resistant to viral attacks, making it a true hero in boosting immunity.
Vitamin A is also essential for your eye and vision health, helping protect against DES (digital eye strain) and conditions affecting your eyes including AMD (age-related macular degeneration). It's an essential plant-based ingredient in Screen Eyes, the UK's #1 formula for supporting your eye health.
4. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain a good amount of Zinc which is involved in over 200 enzymes in the body, and it is crucial for immune health. Learn more in 'Signs of zinc deficiency'.
However, while it is important to have sufficient Zinc in your diet (15–25 mg per day), it's also important to remember that too much zinc can inhibit the function of the immune system. Make sure you maintain a regular intake of zinc through your diet or a high quality Daily Multivitamin to prevent a deficiency in zinc, partly because your body doesn’t have a dedicated storage system for zinc. Other really good food sources of zinc are legumes and wholegrains.
Try our Rainbow Salad with Pumpkin Seeds recipe.
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There’s lots of research showing that mushrooms support a healthy immune system and also help lower inflammation. Mushrooms are rich in B Vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, and pantothenic acid) which is good for our heart health, and they contain phytochemicals which moderate and support the immune system. Niacin (Vitamin B3) is also good for your digestive system and helps maintain healthy skin. Try our delicious Mushroom Stroganoff recipe.
Each mushroom variety is unique and provides its own distinct health advantages. Exotic mushrooms like Reishi, Shiitake mushrooms, Lions mane and Maitake are great for adding earthy flavours and meaty textures in your meals. Try our Spicy Vegetable Stir Fry with Shiitake Mushrooms.
The smell of garlic you emit via sulphur compounds through your skin helps repel mosquitos, so it's great to eat on those hot summer holidays to repel annoying mozzies! And believe it or not, garlic is one of the best foods to improve your libido.
More importantly, garlic stimulates and activates your white blood cells, otherwise known as your immune system soldiers. Garlic contains sulphur phytochemicals which are an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, especially 'allicin', which gives the most powerful immune system support when garlic is eaten raw.
Raw garlic can be delicious, grated or chopped into fine pieces, or when added in to dips and spread. If you’re using garlic in cooking, try to add it in at the end of the cooking to keep the maximum nutritional benefit of garlic.
It's not a food and we're approaching Winter so its going to be more difficult to find but don't underestimate the importance of sunshine, by far the best source of Vitamin D which is essential in activating our immune defence.
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Research suggests that when faced with bacteria and viruses, immune cells first search for Vitamin D in order to do their job properly. If however they cannot find enough Vitamin D, they will not complete their activation process, which could mean bugs take hold and wreak havoc.
According to the British Medical Journal, more than 50% of us have insufficient levels of Vitamin D, and just as many of us have problems utilising Vitamin D from food sources, so it's advisable to take a Vitamin D3 supplement and if you're not, make the most of the sunny days!
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By Rose Glover, RoseGlover Nutrition