Now, more than ever, it seems people are aware of the benefits of a strong and healthy immune system. Keeping our bodies safe from disease, our immune system relies on many aspects of a healthy diet to keep functioning efficiently. There are steps we can take to give our natural defence system the best fighting chance.
Keep your overall energy intake at maintenance level or above
To keep your immune system functioning at its best, make sure you eat enough energy to meet all your body needs. If you cut your food intake, by reducing calories, you might deprive your immune system of energy it needs to fight off infection.
Choose a wide variety of nutritious foods to supply vitamins and minerals
As far as your immune system is concerned 'whole' foods are better choices than heavily processed foods. The more colours you consume in your diet, the wider the variety of nutrients and vitamins you'll obtain. Plenty of fruits & veggies and you might want to explore wholegrains.
Bear in mind though that not all processed foods are bad. For example, processing can be useful when it allows fresh food to last longer. Frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables can be very healthy and nutritious.
During prolonged exercise, stay well-fuelled
For prolonged, high-intensity exercise sessions, carbohydrates are best. You may want to consider your carbohydrate intake before, during and after intense sessions.
Spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day
Protein supplements and shakes may benefit you by helping distribute protein intake more evenly. Where possible avoid just loading up heavily at dinner. Include a serving of dairy, eggs, meat or vegetarian protein with each meal.
Stay hydrated throughout the day
I know what you're thinking - hydration is recommended for everything. In the case of your immune system, drinking small sips of water frequently helps keep you producing saliva. As a result, your mucous membranes in your nose and throat remain moist.
These tissues are literally the first line of your immune system's defence. If the linings of your throat get dry, they can't filter out bacteria and viruses effectively.
Avoid fad diets - even more so than usual
Now is not the time to try a new fad diet or food restrictions. Your body needs nourishing foods from all food groups to support and maximise your physical and mental health.
A healthy gut means a healthy immune system
A wide diversity of gut bacteria plays a role in immune health. In recent years, your gut microbiome has become more mainstream.
To support your gut microbiome:
Look for foods containing probiotics - think yoghurt, kefir and fermented foods. For example kombucha, kimchi, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and sourdough bread. These help stimulate and support your digestive system's 'good' bacteria.
Wholegrain bread, cereals, fruit, vegetables, lentils, nuts and seeds provide fibre which helps keep you healthy from the inside out.
If you’re in isolation stocktake the food in your pantry, fridge and freezer
With extra time on your hands, plan a menu for your isolation. Get creative and resourceful - figure out which recipes you can make from what you have available. Maybe you can even come up with something new.
If creating a recipe from scratch is beyond your skill set, write a list of items you need. Enlist the help of a ‘free-living’ friend or family member to shop for you. Consider ready-made meals from the supermarket - look for those lower in fat and sodium. Delivery services may be available to provide healthy options to your door.
Wash your hands
Food safety 101 - clean hands. Make sure you wash your hands before handling, preparing and eating food. If you purchase or eat food outside your home, carry hand sanitiser with you.
Ask an expert for help
For quality, individualised nutrition advice you can always consult with an accredited sports nutritionist. Together, we can work with you to come up with a plan to meet your personal circumstances and requirements.
Rest and recover
Prioritise sleep. At the end of the day, take the time to unwind. Switch off from technology and practice good sleep habits. Your mind and body will thank you.