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12 tips to support the immune system this winter

As the weather begins to turn, many of us start to worry about getting sick. There are a few healthy habits that will help to get your immune system through harsh times. We’ve included some diet and lifestyle tips to help support your immune system and ramp up its defence against attack.

1. Protein with every meal

Adequate protein in the diet is essential for healthy immune function. Inadequate dietary protein is linked to dysfunction of the immune system. Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) are required in nearly all chemical processes affecting mental and physical function, in the immune system they are required for the formation of antibodies, which protect the body from antigens such as viruses and bacteria. Some good sources include lean meat, poultry and fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes and dairy.

2. Vitamin C rich foods

Vitamin C has been shown to increase resistance to infection and strengthen the immune system. Vitamin C reduces the severity and length of time of cold and flu symptoms. It’s important to note that vitamin C is decreased when exposed to heat, so try having some fresh fruit and vegetables high in vitamin C such as citrus, berries and kiwis or tomatoes, red capsicum and leafy greens.

3. Oysters anyone?

Zinc has multiple actions on the immune system, so it’s no surprise that deficiency is linked to impaired immune function. Oysters are a brilliant source of zinc, why not share a dozen with a friend? Other sources include meat, legumes, nuts and seeds.

4. A varied whole foods diet

A whole food diet is comprised of foods, which are as close to their natural state as possible. Wholefoods contain an array of nutrients, which occur naturally in the correct ratios to work synergistically to benefit the immune system. For example, 1 whole orange is rich in fibre, vitamin C and bioflavonoids, whereas a glass of reconstituted long-life orange juice may have been stripped of nutrition and then had it added back in.

5. Avoid sugar

Sugar suppresses the immune system; studies show sugar intake reduces the capacity of white blood cells (part of our immune system) to function properly. Many pathogens such as fungus or candida feed on sugar, leading to their increased virulence within the body.

6. Spice up you life

Spices are more than just aromatic substances used to season our food. Spices including ginger, turmeric, garlic, cinnamon and cayenne also have immune supporting properties. Try a turmeric latte; add cinnamon to your breakfast or some ginger in your stir-fry.

7. Gut health

The gut (gastrointestinal tract) is the body’s first line of defence against disease-causing pathogens. It is where we digest and absorb nutrients; it houses our gut microbes (known as gut bacteria) and regulates immune homeostasis. To support gut health, prebiotic foods to feed gut microbes and probiotic foods containing beneficial bacteria can be included in the diet.

Prebiotic foods: garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, unripe bananas.

Probiotic foods: yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh and miso.

8. Get some sun.

Vitamin D is synthesized by the action of sunlight on the skin, is essential for the immune system and plays a role in the activity of serotonin. Why not roll up your sleeves and have your brekky/lunch outside? Insufficient levels of Vitamin D can also be addressed through dietary sources including fatty fish, foods fortified with Vitamin D and egg yolk.

9. Rest and relax

Stress is known to have an unfavourable effect on the immune system. Incorporate de-stressing techniques into your daily routine, mindfulness apps, yoga, a warm bath or whatever works for you. Resting is an important part of the recovery process. When someone gets sick the aim is to recover as quickly as possible but the body needs to be given the opportunity to do so. Take a break, have a sleep in, and skip the high-intensity workout.

10. Goodnight, sleep tight

Studies demonstrate that individuals who have poor quality or inadequate sleep are more likely to get sick when exposed to a virus. Establish a regular bedtime and waking time, avoid bright lights and screen time before bed and avoid caffeine after midday. Aim for 7-9 hours and waking refreshed.

11. Move your body

Incorporate movement into your day every day- moderation is key. Exercising on a daily basis maintains healthy circulation and therefore blood and nutrient supply to the whole body. Moderate exercise aids in counteracting the effects of stress and improves sleep, strengthening the immune system. Take the stairs, get off the bus two stops early, do some gardening, cycle to work or join a group fitness class.

12. Wash. Your. Hands.

It’s an obvious one, but so important as there are a number of infectious diseases that can be spread from person to person by contaminated hands. Proper hand washing can help prevent the spread of disease-causing germs, including bacteria and viruses. Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing nappies, before, during and after food preparation, before eating, after blowing your nose, before and after attending to sick people, after smoking, handling animals or rubbish or working in the garden.