How to Boost Your Immune System Through Diet and Nutrition
Updated: Sep 17
Our current global situation with COVID-19 brings a great deal of stress and uncertainty into our lives. No one knows what lies ahead in the next few weeks and months but it’s critical to invest in your own health and wellbeing and do everything to counter stress and imbalance. Support your immune system and your nervous system through diet and nutrition and you will create better resilience against infections.
Did you know that 70% of your immune system lives in your gut? It’s really imperative to keep your microbiome healthy.
Let’s Talk About Your Nervous System
This comprises of two main parts – the sympathetic or ‘fight or flight’ division and the parasympathetic division which also known as rest and digest. Whenever we feel fearful, stressed or filled with anxiety we are put into the fight or flight mode response as it’s the body’s automatic response to stress and threats. Muscles and blood vessels contract and your blood moves rapidly into your limbs so that you can escape the implied threat. At the same time your digestion, immune system and reproductive system shut down as these they’re not needed during the fight to flee or stay alive.
Your parasympathetic division is the opposite of the sympathetic division. It controls your body at rest and allows the muscles to relax and your heart rate to decrease. It also maintains homeostasis in the body so that your body can digest food, maintain hormonal balance and create a safe place to grow a baby.
It’s imperative to spend more time in the parasympathetic mode in order to support and strengthen the immune system. As we’re mostly being encouraged to socially distance, work from home, stay indoors and self-isolate it’s important to maintain a routine to reduces stress in your life.
Walking in nature, rest, yoga, meditation and warm baths or gentle swimming encourage the parasympathetic system. Good quality, consistent sleep is equally important. Where possible reduce your levels of caffeine intake.
Support Your Immune System
Your daily diet is the simplest way to boost and encourage a healthy immune system. You can make small, instant changes which will have an immediate effect on your immune system.
Remove foods that trigger a physical response such as a headache, brain fog, bloating, fatigue, or produce that crash and burn feeling. Removing dairy, gluten, sugar and reducing caffeine will help to strengthen the immune system. You should feel energised and light after eating a meal.
Focus on fresh vegetables and fruits, good quality proteins and healthy fats and get plenty of variety. Microgreens are delicious and are especially fantastic. They are high in immune boosting nutrients and you don’t need a big portion.
Consider taking supplements if your diet doesn’t include a variety of the foods we’ll discuss next. These all contain certain nutrients that support and strengthen the immune system.
Vitamin D – commonly found in sardines, herring, salmon, trout, mushrooms, fortified milks, yoghurt and eggs. It can be difficult to get a sufficient amount from your food so you should get your levels tested and take a Vitamin D supplement if you’re low. People living in the Northern Hemisphere are especially prone to low levels of Vitamin D.
Vitamin C – which is commonly found in citrus fruits, bell peppers, pineapple, dark leafy greens and sweet potato.
Vitamin A is found in foods which are high in beta-carotene which should convert to the vitamin A (but doesn’t always). These include carrots, sweet potato, dark leafy greens, butternut squash and grapefruit. Foods high in vitamin A are meat, fish and liver.
Zinc which is found in pumpkin seeds, beef, lamb, oysters, nuts, lentils, hemp seed and mushrooms.
Prebiotics / Probiotics found in sauerkraut, oats, artichokes, garlic, onion and kefir.
Omega-3 found in oily fish including mackerel, wild salmon, sardines, anchovies and herring.
Other immune boosting foods that should be included in your daily meals include garlic, ginger, medicinal mushrooms and turmeric which are anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and boost the immune system. Try to begin each day with an immune-boosting drink by placing these ingredients in hot water and leaving to steep and then drinking when cool enough.
You can make a refreshing drink by adding boiling water to a 1-inch piece of chopped ginger, adding freshly squeezed lemon juice and a touch of raw, organic honey. Manuka honey is the best.
Crushed, chopped garlic clove left to sit for 10 minutes before swallowing with the aid of a glass of water is also beneficial. Don’t chew the garlic though! You’ll taste and smell like garlic all day...
You can also make medicinal mushroom drinks. There are a number of fantastic mushrooms which are anti-viral and support the immune system. These include Reishi, Chaga and Turkey Tail. They are available as mushroom powders that can be mixed to a cup of warm water. You could add a little coconut or almond milk for a creamier finish.
Why everyone should learn to love microgreens
Microgreens are one of the hottest trends in the food and nutrition world. People are adding them into their smoothies, soups, sandwiches and even growing them at home to improve their health.
What are they?
Microgreens are the delicate seedlings of vegetables and herbs. They’re much, much smaller than vegetables. They are not to be confused with alfalfa or beansprouts which are the young seedlings typically eaten whole within a few days and grown in water. Microgreens are about 3-6cm tall and come in a rainbow of colours and flavours. They are harvested about 7-21 days after germination. They are micro versions of coriander, radish, rocket cress, basil or sunflower greens for example.
Are they healthier?
The best part about microgreens is they really pack the nutritional punch! In a study from the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the levels of vitamin A, C, E, K and carotenoids of 25 different microgreens were studied and compared to their mature counterparts. Nutrient levels did vary but all were more nutrient dense than the mature leaves of the same plant.
The top microgreen for vitamin C was red cabbage, for carotenoids it was coriander, for vitamin K it was garnet amaranth and for vitamin E it was green daikon radish.
The nutrient levels in microgreens are much higher than the mature vegetable. In some cases, the nutrient levels are 4-6 times higher than their mature leaves. For example, red cabbage microgreens contain 103mg of vitamin C per 100g, whilst the same weight of red cabbage leaves contain 69mg of vitamin C.
What are their health benefits?
High in phytochemicals. Phytochemicals prevent the build-up of free radicals which are associated with a reduced risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
Help improve eyesight. Carotenoids - specifically lutein, which is found in leafy greens and reduces the risk of some eye diseases by protecting the eyes from damaging blue light
Reduce chronic disease risk. Microgreens may reduce heart disease risk factors like bad LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and weight. They are high in vitamin K - essential in blood clotting and also regulating blood calcium levels as well as bone health.
How do I eat microgreens?
Microgreens are best eaten fresh and raw. Buy or grow a container of microgreens, wash them gently and add them to whatever you’re eating – salad, soup, smoothie, stew. They’ll add an interesting flavour dimension to your food and like many herbs and spices that are nutrient dense, a little can go a long way.
Anyone can eat them and as children like things that are kid sized it’s a great excuse to add them into lunch packs by mixing with pasta, hummus, pasta or even soft cream cheese.
Microgreens are very delicate but should be rinsed gently before eating. Ideally,
they shouldn’t be cooked as they have a high water content and would wilt away to nothing.
Microgreens are highly nutritious and are a great way to provide new, interesting flavours to your meals. They could be helpful in reaching your 9-a-day target which most of us struggle to do. An interesting study found that microgreens reduced weight gain and levels of liver cholesterol in mice that were fed high-fat diets, helping to lower LDL – “bad” cholesterol” as well as liver triglyceride levels.
We’re not eating enough of the planet’s edible plants
Would you be surprised to learn that we eat only 0.1% of the planet’s edible plants? The journal, The New Scientist reported that of the earth’s estimated 400,000 plant species, humans could eat some 300,000, armed with the right imagination, boldness and preparation. Yet humans, possibly the supreme generalist, eat a mere 200 species globally. Let’s face it – in your local supermarket you’ll be lucky to find 40 of those.
Yes - only 40 out of 300,000 edible plant species are in your local supermarket which means that there are another 299,800 potentially delicious and nutritious plants we’re missing out on! Supermarkets are mostly tied in with traditional farming methods and these require plant species to be selected for their weather and pest resistance. The ability to be intensively farmed and transported is also a major consideration. There are loads of tasty fruit and veg varieties out there which don’t get ever make it to this selection process for consideration.
A growing area of development includes hydroponics and controlled environment agriculture. Hydroponic growing techniques involve growing plants in nutrient rich water but without soil. Controlled environment agriculture combines hydroponics with modern lighting and sensor technologies creating perfectly controlled environments in which to grow herbs and leafy green crops. Growing conditions can be tailored to the needs of specific plants or crops and are not subject to the same need for pest controls and disease resistance.
These crops are also not dependant on weather conditions which is a massive boon in certain climates. We can begin to broaden our tastes and become even more adventurous in what we eat and where we get our nutrients from. Crops like chickweed, sweet cicely, amaranth, purslane, wood sorrel and oyster leaf could soon be on your menu.
Grow your own
One drawback to microgreens is that these baby greens can be expensive when purchased
– they can commonly cost around £20 to £30 per pound! You’ll be pleased to hear that microgreens are some of the easiest leafy greens to grow and you don’t even need a garden. You can grow a wide variety on your windowsill and use them in your salads, smoothies and juices.
Microgreens are best eaten straight away since they start losing their flavour and colour as soon as you harvest them. Even better therefore to grow them right in your kitchen where they’re on hand for mealtimes.
Many people love the benefits of green juicing but are concerned about getting too much anti-nutrients like oxalic acid in their diet. Microgreens counter this as they don’t contain high levels of oxalic acid like kale, broccoli, spinach and chard. High levels of oxalic acid cause kidney stones and latches onto minerals like iron and calcium in your digestive tract and prevents them from being absorbed by the body.
Microgreens lend themselves to juicing recipes and can be substituted in any of your favourite recipes that call for kale, spinach, chard etc. Here are 3 suggestions for some delicious microgreen juice recipes to get you started!
1. Here’s a perfect breakfast recipe to get your day off to a great start!
Hint of Mint
1 cup microgreens
2 green apples
1 celery stalks
1/2 peeled lemon
small handful of mint without the stalks
2. Here’s a total flavour sensation to wake up your taste buds!
Melon Green Juice
1 cup microgreens
handful of fresh basil without the stalks
3. Here’s a great juice to sip on when your digestive system needs a boost or to ease constipation.
Tropical Green Digestive Juice
1 lime (peeled)
1/2 of a pineapple
1 cup microgreens
Microgreens are SUPERFOOD! There is no better way to get your nutrients and get plenty of vitamins and minerals. Get your daily shot of superfood here