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Aveen Bannon

With the cold mornings and seasonal cold and flus looming, let’s have a look at how nutrition can help strengthen the immune system and improve your overall health. Our immune systems are pretty amazing…they do a great job on a whole of defending us against all the germs and microorganisms in the environment which may cause us to become infected or to get sick. We need to nourish the body for all systems to be working to the best of their ability, and the immune system is no exception!

We can protect and even boost our immune systems through a healthy diet. Good nutrition is essential to a strong immune system, which offers protection against illness such as the flu and other health problems such as allergies and arthritis. As the old saying goes, in order to flourish we need to nourish! So, let’s take a look at some key nutrients that you should be include in your diet to help strengthen your immune system.

Vitamin C, for instance, has long been known to support a healthy immune system as well as aid the body’s recovery from infection. Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells. These are key to fighting infections. Having a diet rich in citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes, as well as kiwis and red peppers will ensure sufficient vitamin C.

Protein also plays a key role in the immune system, especially for recovery and healing. Make sure to include a variety of protein rich foods such as lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, unsalted nuts and seeds. Aim to distribute your protein sources throughout the day.

Vitamin E is another antioxidant that that can protect the immune system by neutralising free radicals. Sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, fortified cereals, vegetable oils, hazelnuts and peanut butter.

Zinc is well known for reducing the duration of the common cold. This key micronutrient helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. Good sources include lean meat, poultry, wholegrain products, baked beans, seeds and nuts and shellfish.

Probiotics which are live microorganisms have been shown to have beneficial effects on preventing the start of a cold as well as reducing the duration and severity of cold symptoms. Including adequate amounts of probiotics or friendly flora is valuable in restoring levels of these healthy bacteria in our body to protect us from other infection. Foods sources that contain probiotics include fermented dairy products such as kefir and yoghurts.

There is increasing evidence showing the protective effects of vitamin D in the immune system, it is particularly important for the bug fighters in our body. Our skin makes vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun however due to the lack of sun exposure in Ireland it is recommended that we get our vitamin D from supplements especially during the winter months when UV rays are at their lowest. Dietary sources of vitamin D include oily fish, eggs and fortified foods. However most of us in Ireland need to take a supplement…especially in between the months of October and March.

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