At this time of year, it is no surprise that many of us re-entering society post lockdown are thinking about how we can best support our immune system right now.
A recent study commissioned by global bioscience company ‘Chr. Hansen’ showed that many people are actively looking for ways to do this through food.
While some might jump straight to medication and supplements, when thinking about our immune system there are actually some extremely effective ways we can ensure optimal immune function with everyday habits and dietary choices.
Nutritionist Steph Geddes shares her top five tips for reducing your risk and keeping well this winter.
1. Gut health
With 70-80 per cent of our immune cells residing in our gut, it makes sense that foods supportive of gut health are also helpful for immunity.
Probiotics are particularly helpful as they can communicate with the immune cells in the intestine and have a direct effect on creating an optimal environment for gut and immune function.
While diversity in probiotics is helpful, it is also important to look for probiotic strains that are clinically demonstrated to provide immune benefit. For example, clinical studies have shown that BB-12 increases the body’s resistance to common respiratory infections as well as reduces the incidence of acute respiratory tract infections. Similarly, many clinical studies have demonstrated the impact of probiotic strain LGG on reducing the incidence and duration of flu-like sickness.
Probiotics are available in supplement form but can also be found in wholefoods such as yoghurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, miso and tempeh.
2. High-fibre foods
Fibre is what feeds the good bacteria in our gut so aim to pack out your diet with a mix of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds. It also happens that these foods are some of our best sources of immune supporting nutrients like Vitamin C, zinc and Vitamin D so it’s a win-win.
Increasing the fibre content in your diet can leave you with sluggish bowel movements and unpleasant digestive symptoms. Drinking at least 2 litres of water a day is extremely important help to soften and bulk your stools which will help to keep gut and immune function optimal.
Exercise can stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut which can also support our immune system. Whilst more research needs to be done in this area to determine the best type, intensity and duration of exercise - what we know is that consistency of exercise is important as any changes in the composition of bacteria that occur from exercise are lost once the exercise is ceased.
5. Stress management
Stress can supress our immune system and there is a lot of research looking into how the relationship between the gut and the brain may play a part in this. With our gut and brain being able to communicate directly (also referred to as the gut-brain axis) studies are indicating the immune system is one of these communication pathways. Although more re-search needs to be done in humans, employing stress management tools will go a long way to improving not just your gut and immune health but also overall health.
Note: Steph Geddes is a Registered Nutritionist who also writes recipe books. Her recipes and nutrition advice are featured in everything from worldwide cafes, to blogs, mainstream media and celebrity cookbooks.