While the immune system is fundamentally important when it comes to evaluating our health as well as our susceptibility to acute and chronic disease, the basic principles of immune support are often overlooked in many health practices.
With enhanced gut health at the very centre of immune strength – scientists have discovered that a staggering 75% of all mature immune cells reside and function within specialised mucosal membranes that make up the gastrointestinal tract – it makes sense that the food we eat holds the answers to most ailments.
Here are eight foods to help you fortify your immune system this winter.
1. Raw garlic
This powerful superfood has long been known as a cold and flu fighter thanks to its active compounds, allicin and allion, which have antiviral effects. To experience the full benefits, chew a raw garlic clove every 3–4 hours when feeling unwell. You can add garlic to meals as well – cooked garlic also has flu-busting mechanisms such as sulphur, which help strengthen cell walls.
This vegetable contains the same antibacterial compounds found in raw garlic and is a powerful (and flavourful) addition to your meals.
The natural medicine world continues to discover the health benefits of mushrooms. They contain selenium which helps white blood cells produce cytokines, which in turn keep our immune systems fighting fit. They also contain beta-glucan, an antimicrobial type of fibre that feeds beneficial bacteria and helps white blood cells fight and destroy viruses and infections.
4. Citrus fruits
These brightly coloured fruits are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps to reduce cold symptoms. Studies show that just 1–8 g or 1000–8000 mg of vitamin C per day is sufficient. A cup of warm water with sliced lemon is a great way to increase your daily intake.
5. Dark green leafy vegetables
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, arugula and Swiss chard are also rich in vitamin C. Research indicates that daily and consistent intake of vitamin C strengthens the immune system and helps ward off colds and flu. Add some garlic, onions and lemon juice and you're good to go.
Almonds are not only good for heart health but are also rich in immune-boosting vitamin E, which reduces your chance of developing respiratory infections and catching colds. Other vitamin E sources include sunflower seeds, wheat germ, spinach, sweet potato, avocado and olive oil.
These go a long way towards reducing the chronic inflammation that can result in a leaky gut and compromised immune system. By establishing which beneficial gut bacteria are low or absent, it is possible to work towards restoring balance in the immune system and bringing about good health in general. Natural probiotic foods include sauerkraut, kefir, natural Greek yoghurt, miso, tempeh and tamari.
8. Home-made chicken soup
While our grandparents have long claimed the benefits of chicken soup, researchers now report that it is in fact highly effective in helping to fight viruses. It is believed to contain flu-fighting properties, and also provides protein to restore health.
Other immune-enhancing strategies to include in your winter arsenal include getting enough sleep, reducing stress and exercising regularly.