Despite all the pseudoscience being shared online around Covid-19 and how to avoid contracting it (again we’re eye-rolling those people pushing gargling salt water and drinking dark spirits to kill off the virus), we unfortunately can’t tailor our immunity through eating certain foods and carrying out certain practices to give it special powers against infections. However, the immune system can be maintained and optimised by providing it with what it needs to function effectively and keep at bay as much as it can.
Your immune system is made up of various tissues, cells and organs that protect the body against attacks from bacteria, parasites, fungus and viruses. A number of different micronutrients are required in order to support these tissues:
Vit A – required to maintain T-cells (a type of white blood cell)
Meat source: liver
Vegetarian source: full fat milk, cheese, broccoli, kale, spinach, oranges, carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash
Vit B6 – aids in immune cell production and communication between cells
Meat source: chicken, turkey, fish
Vegetarian source: eggs, banana, avocados, soya, yeast extract spreads
Vit B12 – aids in immune cell production
Meat source: red and white meats, poultry, fish, seafood
Vegetarian source: milk, yoghurt, cheese, eggs, fortified cereals and yeast extract spreads
(Vegans will need to supplement their diet to consume sufficient B12)
Vit C – maintains skin health (the skin is a barrier to infections entering our bodies), removes dead immune cells from infection site.
Meat source: n/a
Vegetarian source: all colourful fruits and vegetables eg citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes and peppers.
Vit B9 – aids in immune cell production
Meat source: n/a
Vegetarian source: oranges, blackberries, strawberries, nuts, seeds, pulses, cheese fortified bread and cereals
Copper – protection and fuel of immune cells
Meat source: red and white meat, fish, shellfish
Vegetarian source: avocado, nuts, seeds, pulses, dried fruit, bread
Iron – protection and maintenance of immune cells
Meat source: red meat, sardines, mussels
Vegetarian source: beans, pulses, nuts, seeds, quinoa, dried fruit, spinach, dark chocolate
Selenium – aids in production of immune cells
Meat source: chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish
Vegetarians source: Brazil nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds
Zinc – aids in production of immune cells (including the required new ‘killer’ cells) and communication between cells
Meat source: red meat, chicken, turkey, mussels, crab
Vegetarian source: cheese, nuts, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, wholegrain bread and cereals.
Vitamin D is an additional micronutrient which although doesn’t have a clearly defined role in the immune system, the immune response is reduced when vit D levels are low. Vit D is found in fish such as sardines, salmon, trout, fortified breakfast cereals and spreads. It is advisable to take a supplement out with Summer (and through summer if a lot of time is spent indoors) as we can synthesis it from sunlight exposure but we are not blessed with the best weather for this here in the UK!
As well as these nutrients being important, there are also some non-food requirements for a healthy immune system, which include sufficient sleep, water intake and keeping happiness levels up 😊 . The stress hormone corticosteroid can take its toll on the body in many ways, one being to decrease immune cell numbers and thus lower immune response – although this is a scary time just now with the uncertainty of lockdown on us, try to remember to look after yourself and loved ones by keeping a healthy diet (good mix of all the mentioned foods above), drinking water, getting enough rest/sleep, getting outside in the sunshine (thank goodness for the amazing weather just now!), and keeping in a happy, social routine with your Burn It workouts. And as always, keep washing your hands and stay home.
PS, DO NOT drink Bleach. Ever.