There’s a lot of information and misinformation around about immunity at the moment. Here’s my simple advice on the action you can take to support your immune system during lockdown.
Many of the articles I have been reading recently about diet and health refer to ‘boosting’ immunity or recommending individual supplements as a way to fight disease. The truth is, there is no reliable evidence to suggest that our immune system can be boosted. In order to truly understand how you can support your health and immunity at this time, I think it is really useful to understand a little basic biology.
The Biology Bit….
The immune system is not an isolated system but a connected network of organs and parts of the body that work together to help us fight disease. This starts at the skin which is our first line of protection against harmful external microbes. This vast, interconnected network does not simply respond to one thing like echinacea tablets or vitamin C, but there are things we can do to give it its best chance of performing well for us.
We can support our immune system with simple diet and lifestyle measures. Doing some things that will bolster our metabolism, energise us and provide a healthy internal environment so that our body is set up to produce healthy, disease-fighting white blood cells and all the numerous other activities that go-on to keep us well.
If you are interested in supporting your immunity, you will no doubt have heard lots of things about the gut. In simple terms, the gut is part of your digestive tract also referred to as your intestine, or colon. You may also have heard the term ‘gut microbiome’ being talked about. Your gut is home to millions of different types of bacteria that do lots of very useful things for you and this is known as your gut microbiome. It plays a role in many things including; maintaining the health of your intestine, controlling blood sugars, protecting you from infection and reducing inflammation.
Keeping your gut healthy is key to supporting your immune system and you can do that mostly through eating a balanced and varied diet, rich in vegetables and dietary fibre.
What Is Meant by a Balanced Diet?
A balanced diet refers to one that includes a range of macro and micronutrients (also known as food groups, vitamins and minerals) a good amount of dietary fibre, healthy fats (see my notes below) and as wide a variety of wholefoods as possible (fruit, veg, beans and pulses offer up a range of other nutrients too).
Dietary Recommendations for Supporting Your Immune System in Lockdown:
- Include as many and as wide a variety of vegetables as you can – If you are getting out for a walk, drop in at your local greengrocers, it avoids the supermarket and invests in local business. Use vegetables as side dishes but also to make things you can batch and freeze like soups, curries, and stews. Frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh, so if there are any left in supermarkets, use those too.
- Include good fats in your diet. Essential fatty acids: Omega-3 and Omega-6 are closely linked to immune function, inflammation reduction and healthy cell function. Olive oil, oily fish (tinned just as good as fresh), nuts, avocados and seeds are all good sources of healthy fat.
- Use tinned or dry lentils, beans and pulses in your cooking, these are a fantastic source of dietary fibre, minerals and protein. Lentils are great as a meat replacement in chillies, lasagnes, and traditional dishes like Shepherd’s Pie (I have many recipes like this in my Nutritionally Balanced Dinners Made Simple Course) all of which can be batch cooked and frozen.
- I should mention Vitamin D as it does influence immunity and there are very few dietary sources of vitamin D. Our body produces vitamin D as a result of exposure to the sun, however, between the months of October to March in the UK the sun does not contain enough UVB radiation to enable us to produce it. Also, if you have limited access to outside spaces at the moment, it might be worth supplementing. It is widely available online, look for vitamin D3.
- Let’s not forget the role that food plays in comforting us! If you are feeling under the weather, there’s nothing like a hot honey and lemon drink to make you feel better. Whether or not vitamin C helps us to banish colds is not really proven, but there is plenty of evidence around to suggest it plays a role in the health and strength of our immune system. I combine an active, naturally antiseptic honey like Bal Honey (one I use at retreats), with lemon or orange juice, hot water and a little root ginger to spice it up. Pure comfort.
Other lifestyle factors.
Things like exercise, sleep and stress management are also vital in supporting your immune system. At this uncertain time, do what you can to ground yourself. There are plenty of online events going on now to keep you active at home. Start a daily ritual of whatever you need to do to stay mentally healthy – reading, listening to podcasts, meditations, using essential oils to help you sleep better. All these things are more important now than they have ever been and are directly related to supporting your immunity.