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Maintaining Strong Immunity – It’s a Gut Feeling

18 February 2021

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Check out the latest blog from our in-house nutritionist Annie Gill on how your diet can improve your immunity!

There is a lot of discussion in the news at the moment about our immune system, how COVID-19 infection calls upon our immune system to respond, and how important it is for our immune system to be robust, reactive but controlled. We want our immune system to respond to an invader, i.e. bacteria or virus, but we also don’t want it to be too responsive. If an immune system is too responsive it can cause further health damage and may lead to an Autoimmune Disease: this is where our body begins to attack itself. When it comes to the immune system, it’s all about balance, not to be overtly immune suppressed and not to be too ‘boosted’ and potentially overreact.

Diet plays an important role in supporting the immune system so I would like to make some recommendations that help support a balanced immunity. To be clear, diet only plays one supporting role in our health and immunity and there are many other factors that also impact our health such as inherited predispositions and physiological bio- individuality. Considering a well-balanced diet certainly helps support immunity but it is only one piece of an often complex health puzzle.

 

The fundamentals of a diet to support a robust immunity:

Phytonutrients (Plant nutrients): Often hailed in the media and promoted as superfoods, plant-based foods all contain nutrients that support immunity. Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, Tomatoes, Avocados, Blueberries, Nuts, Lentils, Whole grains etc all offer variant levels of nutrients. I would say that there is not one plant that is necessarily more ‘Super’ than another. They all contain antioxidants that help rebalance free-radical, oxidative damage.  The key is to have a combination of these foods in order to receive a multitude of different phytonutrients. It is recommended to eat 5 vegetables and 2 portions of fruit per day (80g per portion).

Fruit and vegetable intake can be improved by:

  • always including vegetables in every meal
  • eating fresh fruit and raw vegetables as snacks
  • eating fresh fruit and vegetables that are in season
  • eating a variety of fruit and vegetables. Try to make your plate look like a rainbow.

Fibre: Plant-based foods are also all made up of variable soluble and insoluble fibre that feeds the friendly bacteria (microbes) that resides in our gut, helping to maintain a balanced Microbiome (gut bacteria). Plant based foods also help you poop better. If you experience IBS symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, excess gas you may not be eating adequate plant-based foods so keep an eye on how often and how well formed your poop is as it’s a good indicator for gut health and microbiome balance.

Fats: Once demonised as causing heart disease, the right types, and right amounts of fats are incredibly beneficial for your health and immunity.  Try to eat more fats found in plant-based foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and olive oil as well as healthy fats found in oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and tuna. These fats are called Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fats respectively and are incredibly important for our health and immunity, so they should be considered and eaten in moderation daily/weekly.

More Fish, Less Red Meat: Fish contains polyunsaturated fats, in particular omega 3 fats that help to drive down inflammation and support immunity. Protein from meat products contains more saturated fats and when eaten in excess can be health damaging and promote weight gain. Try not to over cook your fatty fish to avoid denaturing the omega 3. Grilling or gentle frying helps control the heat. Rest the fish, as you would a piece of meat to allow for residual cooking. Rather than use a ‘zero calorie spray’ which isn’t particularly pleasant, choose an oil sprayer and decant some good olive oil into the sprayer and use that.

Herbs and Spices: Again, the press like to highlight ‘Superfood’ spices such as turmeric or herbs such as fennel as anti-inflammatory or detoxifying. All spices and herbs are beneficial in their own right and contain specific amounts of phytonutrients and antioxidants that support digestion and immunity. However, the point I want to make here is to use them to flavour your foods so you are drawn to eating well balanced, plant-based foods that aren’t bland but instead are interesting, flavourful and health supportive.

 

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