How to keep your immune system healthy through the cold and flu season and while in isolation
The immune system is an incredible defence that protects our bodies from infection. There are ways that we can protect our immune system by supporting it to work at its best ability throughout the cold and flu season and while in isolation. Environmental factors such as choosing a healthy lifestyle will help with keeping your immune system strong and healthy.
What we eat affects our bodies ability of fighting off infection and strengthen our immune system. Everyday when we include foods high in fibre and antioxidants, we are effectively preparing our inner army to be ready to fight off the germs that make you sick.
Scientific evidence shows that a diet high in vegetables, meat, chicken, fish/legumes/beans, fruit, wholegrains, dairy foods and good fats provide our bodies with necessary vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre and phytonutrients (antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities found in plants) which assist with protecting our bodies and keeping it healthy.
Essential foods that help protect your immune system
A variety of different coloured vegetables can help support your immune system during the cold and flu season by consuming them daily. Including a variety of different coloured vegetables provides your body with vitamins and minerals that have an array of protective qualities.
Fresh, frozen, canned and dried vegetables, fruit and legumes/beans are all suitable options.
It is important to include a variety of colours from vegetables each day as different coloured vegetables provide different nutrients.
Include a rainbow of colours each day:
Green (spinach, broccoli, celery, Zucchini)
Orange (sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin)
Yellow and Red (corn, capsicum, red cabbage, beetroot, tomato)
To support a healthy immune system, include wholegrains such as brown rice, wholemeal bread, oats, barley, corn as these foods have Vitamin E, Iron, Zinc, Magnesium and Selenium that all help support a normal immune system.
Vitamin E helps fight off free radical damage and helps protect healthy cells
Iron – When iron is low in the body the red blood cells cannot transport oxygen around the body effectively including to the spleen which acts like a filter and fights off bacteria as part of the immune system and to the lymph nodes where white blood cells are produced being your first line of defence from bacteria and viruses.
Zinc produces and stimulates white blood cells to help fight infection. Foods high in zinc are oysters, red meat, poultry, beans (legumes), cashews and yoghurt.
Magnesium helps support and strengthen the immune system, foods include wholegrains e.g. brown rice, green leafy vegetables, nuts and beans/legumes.
Selenium is essential for strong immune response and to help fight infections. Foods that are rich in selenium are wholegrains, mushrooms, meat, seafood including shellfish, poultry, egg yolk, nuts and seeds like pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can support and protect the immune system and as the body cannot store it, including it daily in your diet from capsicum, tomato, broccoli, citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, mandarins), berries, pineapple, kiwifruit, parsley, kale and Brussel sprouts.
Other immunity boosting foods that will help keep you healthy are garlic, green tea and turmeric.
Monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are found in fats such as olive oil, avocado, oily fish, nuts and seeds. Consuming these types of fats assist with reducing your LDL Cholesterol which reduces your risk of heart disease, good fats assist with brain function and cell growth.
Exercise supports the immune system to keep the oxygen moving around your body, improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps keep the body weight down and improves emotional health.
Currently with limited access to gyms and exercise programs there are other ways to keep exercising. Going for a walk each day gives you an opportunity to get out the house. Another option is with most homes having access to the internet there is opportunity to use YouTube for example as ideas for exercises, strength and weight bearing exercises, yoga, Pilates and cardio to guide you. Exercise recommendations are between 150-300 hours per week. Let’s break it down, that looks like 30-60 minutes walking five times per week, 30 minutes gardening and 30 minutes yoga for example. If you have limited ability then it could be going for a shorter walk, doing stretches in a chair, move as much as you can. Throughout this season whatever your level of exercise or your ability it is important to move as much as you can each day.
Making a home gym with a few basic pieces, gym mat, exercise ball, skipping rope, a few weights, it’s up to you how you plan it.
When you are unwell it is important to rest to give your body a chance to fight off infection and let the immune system do its job.
Reduce your alcohol intake
Drinking alcohol is a quick way to increase your kilojoule intake and put on weight, if you choose to drink the current recommendations is no more than 10 standard drinks per day or no more than two standard drinks per day.
If you choose to drink more alcohol than recommended it will weaken your immune system leaving you exposed to a higher risk of infection, viruses and disease.
Why drink water?
Water is crucial in supporting the function of your body’s organs and keeping your immune system healthy. It carries oxygen around the body to all your cells and allows the kidneys to remove toxins from the body.
Water does not increase your kilojoule intake supporting a healthy weight and is relatively low cost. Minimise your intake of sugary drinks and beverages to reduce weight gain and your risk of tooth decay that is linked to heart disease.
Drinking water is as important as a good diet, exercise and adequate sleep. Aim for a minimum daily intake of 8 glasses per day or 2 litres per day.