We’ve heard it time and time again; a balanced, varied diet is essential for good health. As coronavirus continues to spread, and vaccinations remain a distant possibility, a strong immune system is one way for individuals to protect themselves. Having listened to Ella Mills’ podcast on gut health, the extent to which our food consumption impacts our immune system became apparent to me. Of course, everyone knows a diet of doughnuts probably isn’t the best idea, but that raises the question of which foods are beneficial for our immune system. The following are some foods that your body will thank you for, as we work on strengthening our natural defences.
Okay, I’ll admit it… there may be an element of bias in placing this at the top. My friends can attest that my kettle is boiling almost constantly – not for coffee, but for green tea. And arguably this shouldn’t even feature as it isn’t a food. But green tea has a high concentration of polyphenols, in particular catechins and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which are antioxidants that prevent cell damage. Some exciting flavours can be found on supermarket shelves, ranging from lemon, to mint, to – and this is new to me – nettle green tea; it’s definitely an aisle to explore.
Who remembers eating Petits Filous yoghurts as a child? It turns out yoghurt has benefits beyond providing calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones. Yoghurt also contains minerals, like magnesium and zinc, which are involved in immune responses such as the regulation of apoptosis (programmed cell death) and innate lymphoid cell activation (a group of immune cells). A frozen yoghurt, or a yoghurt cucumber dip are just two ways one can serve up this nutrient-rich food.
Overshadowed by their counterpart, the white potato, sweet potatoes have powerful health benefits that deserve a special mention. High in fibre, antioxidants, and beta-carotene (a compound that converts to vitamin A in the body), this humble vegetable is a great way to strengthen your immunity against infection. From sweet potato wedges to pancakes, and brownies to curries, sweet potatoes can easily be snuck into meals.
Now here’s a food that can be transformed in multiple ways. Eggs have gained a bad reputation for their cholesterol content, but they’re hard to top for nutrient content. Packed with 18 vitamins and minerals, amongst these include vitamins A, D and B12 for immunity, and selenium to protect cells against oxidative damage. These small but mighty sources of protein are hugely versatile; serve them scrambled, poached, fried, microwaved (yes, it can and has been done), or boiled. When it comes to eggs, the possibilities are endless.
I was late to the game with peanut butter and jam sandwiches, only discovering this phenomenon in secondary school, but it swiftly led to a lifelong love affair. It’s safe to say you’ll never find me without a jar of peanut butter stored away safely in anticipation, or, more likely, already open on the kitchen table. Contrary to common belief, peanuts are unrelated to tree nuts, and instead are a type of legume. Unless you have a nut allergy, peanuts are a great source of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, and phosphorous, a mineral that maintains body tissue. You can enjoy peanuts by having peanut butter and banana on toast. I cannot it recommend enough; it might not be the most glamorous dish, but it’s a classic combination you just can’t beat.
Hopefully, this provides a helpful starting line on how you can boost your immune system through your diet. While this list could be double the length, and many honourable foods like kale, spinach, salmon, blueberries, tomatoes, ginger and garlic (to name more than a few) were sadly left unexplored, I’ll leave you to discover personally the wonderful world of immune-boosting foods that life has to offer.
One final confession. Whilst writing this list, three mugs of green tea were consumed.
Disclaimer: the mug is relatively small.
Image Credit: Dean Hochman, Flickr Creative Commons