Which Foods Boost The Immune System? Learn How To Better Look After Yourself...
Updated: May 5
GUEST POST written by Tricia Lodge, certified Holistic Health Coach helping individuals optimise their mental and physical health.
As a Holistic Health Coach, “How can I boost my immune system?” is something my clients often ask. My reply is that knowing which foods boost the immune system is important but not everything, as good nutrition should accompany a series of consistent lifestyle choices. And whilst supplements can be helpful, they shouldn’t be relied upon as a quick fix alone.
In this blog, I’ll share some of the top tips I give my clients but first things first, let’s start with a quick overview of what the immune system is. A simple definition is the immune system comprises a complex network of cells and proteins in the body that serve to protect you from pathogens (invading viruses, bacteria and mold), which can cause ill health.
We inherit part of our immune system when we are born (antibodies passed on from our mother) and the rest develops over time as we are exposed to different germs that can cause disease.
In general, a person’s immune system declines with age. It can also be compromised as a result of certain medical interventions, such as some cancer treatments. Plus a number of health conditions exist which cause a person to have an under acting or over acting immune system.
Day to day, our immune system continuously works behind the scenes to identify and protect us from invading pathogens. However, to ensure it functions at its best, here are a number of lifestyle decisions and nutrition choices that are worth considering.
Maximise sleep. This is probably the number one lifestyle choice you can make for good health. Resting 7-9 hours per night will enhance the response of your T cells (a type of immune cell).
Reduce stress as much as possible. This is another very important factor behind achieving optimal health. When your sympathetic nervous system is activated (your stress response), your immune system becomes compromised as your body effectively dials it down and prioritises other functions. Whilst most of us live busy, demanding lives, activities such as yoga, meditation and breath work can be very helpful to achieve a sense of equanimity.
Exercise regularly. Activity increases blood flow enabling your white blood cells to be moved around the body. As a result, they are able to do their “surveillance work” and detect unwanted “invaders” (i.e. pathogens).
Stay well hydrated with at least 2L of water per day. This can include herbal teas but not coffee or black tea which will have the opposite effect. Hydration is essential for good health and dehydration can negatively impact many systems of the body.
Reduce alcohol. Hard I know, but alcohol weakens the immune system and so is something to avoid if boosting it is a priority for you.
Avoid overly restrictive diets. Radical calorie restriction will shock your body and can potentially weaken the immune system. That’s not to say you should be over eating, but hardcore calorie counting is not beneficial for your immune defenses.
7. Eat a healthy, balanced diet. This should be high in fruit, vegetables and contain enough fiber. By consistently eating this way, supplements might not be necessary. In fact, the vitamins and minerals found in food are bioavailable, meaning it’s easier for the body to absorb them than through supplements.
8. Maintain a healthy gut. This is fundamental as 70-80% of your immune system is housed in the gut. It’s very important to have the right balance of good and bad bacteria (your microbiome) for optimal health. There are a number of fermented foods and drinks that you can choose that contain good bacteria (probiotics). Foods with good bacteria include natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir, or you could try a drink like kombucha (you can even make some of these at home!). If you choose to take this in a supplement form, it is worth considering a product with a variety of strains (mine has 16) and a high number of viable bacterial cells (mine has 50 billion CFU). These good bacteria need to feed on fiber to function well, so in addition it’s prudent to ensure you are incorporating enough fibrous foods in your diet (such as dark green vegetables, fruits, seeds and wholegrains).
9. Ensure you get enough Vitamin D. It is beneficial for the immune system and can be found in foods such as mushrooms, oily fish (including salmon and mackerel) and eggs. However, the levels are often low and it’s usually necessary to take a supplement too. I choose to take Vitamin D in a liquid form, dosing 5,000 IU per day. Sunshine helps as well, so in the summer months do your best to get outside on a daily basis, ideally around midday, although obviously make sure you protect yourself.
10. Watch your Vitamin C intake. This is found in many fruits and vegetables, including lemons, oranges, kiwi, cantaloupe melon, broccoli, cauliflower and peppers. Some health professionals argue that if you are eating enough of these, then there is no need to supplement. However, others disagree and advocate taking a supplement to support immune function. If you need to take a supplement, it is worth noting that a liposomal supplement enables a higher absorption rate in the body. 11. Don't forget Zinc! This mineral is known to help with many viruses. I take it in droplet form (at least two droppers twice daily). You might choose to increase the dosage when you are feeling under the weather, such as the onset of a sore throat.
Finally, a number of Herbs and Medicinal Mushrooms have been found to have potent antiviral and antibacterial properties including oregano oil, tea tree, elderberry, chaga and lion’s mane.
I go into more depth about what foods and potential supplements might suit each individual when I coach people on a one to one basis - and additionally can offer group classes and corporate wellness workshops.
SPECIAL OFFER: I am currently offering free mini Zoom coaching sessions to those struggling with self isolation, as well as running online workshops on anxiety relief, beating burnout, managing your hormones and nutrition 101.
PREVIOUS POST: 9 Fun Things To Do At Home Alone