Immunity boosting hacks

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The winter ills, chills and viruses are back! But don’t just wait at home with a box of tissues. Fight back by making the most of immune-boosting foods. Registered nutritionist and naturopath TESSA SCOTT shares her tips.

Dunedin-based Tessa says there are three key ways to boost our immune systems: food and nutrition, lifestyle, and natural medicines.

But some things work against that natural immunity, such as eating too much sugar and not getting enough time outside and hence, not enough Vitamin D. Tessa says seniors living south of Nelson should ideally take a Vitamin D supplement during winter.

Too much exposure to common household chemicals such as bleach and triclosan (found in some soaps, toothpastes, hand sanitisers and mouthwash) can reduce immunity levels too, she says.

Food and nutrition

The key nutrients involved in the function of immune cells include vitamins A, C & D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein as well as antioxidants and phytonutrients, so it’s extra important that we get enough of these nutrients throughout winter, Tessa says.

Foods that have these include:

Vitamin A – egg yolks, carrots, apricots

Vitamin C – mango, oranges, strawberries, blackcurrants, kūmara, pineapple, broccoli, kiwifruit, tomatoes, peas

Vitamin D – tinned tuna, sardines, mackerel or fortified foods

Zinc – meat, nuts/seeds

Selenium – Brazil nuts, wholegrain cereals, meat, eggs, dairy products

Iron – meat, eggs, green vegetables

Protein – meat, eggs, dairy products, legumes, nuts/seeds

Antioxidants and Phytonutrients – these are in colourful fruits and vegetables – berries, kiwis, citrus, carrot, pumpkin, beetroot, red cabbage, capsicum, leafy greens, herbs are all good examples.

Women aged 51+ should have five servings of vegetables, two of fruit, and two of protein every day.

Meanwhile, men should have at least five servings of vegetables, two of fruit and 2.5 of protein.

Half a cup of cooked vegetables and a medium-sized piece of fruit would be an example of a serving size.

For protein, one serving would be half a chicken breast, half a cup of cooked mince or casserole, two eggs, one cup of cooked lentils or chickpeas, or a handful of nuts and seeds.

Tricks for eating enough of the right foods

Tessa suggests aiming for veggies at every meal. For instance, you could try:

  • avocado and tomato on toast
  • cold roast veggies for lunch
  • cucumber and carrot sticks with dips such as hummus for snacks
  • adding spinach, nuts and seeds to smoothies
  • grate carrots/courgettes/beetroot into Bolognese.

Lifestyle

Our gut microbiome heavily influences our immune system. Exposure to microbes through interactions with our environment helps to diversify the types of bacteria we have in our guts.

A low diversity of gut bacteria is associated with higher rates of infection, allergies, eczema and asthma, Tessa says.

Here are some ways gut bacteria diversity is affected:

  • Getting dirty outside in the garden will contribute to increasing gut diversity.
  • Using hand sanitisers and chemicals such as bleach and triclosan can lower diversity.

Natural medicines

“Using natural medicines such as herbs is a really effective way to boost the immune system and support it when sick,” Tessa says.

Safe herbs to start with are echinacea, elderberry, thyme, ginger and olive leaf.

“There are several safe herbal products available at pharmacies and health stores that support immunity and help with coughs and colds,” she says.

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