Eat your immune system into shape!
By Vanessa De Ascencao (www.vdanutrition.com)
We all know how it feels to be exercising hard, following a strict diet, losing weight and then, out of nowhere, we get sick. Why is it that so many active and healthy people are so susceptible to colds and flu?
Many of us get sick during periods of heavy training and we’ve all heard of elite athletes being struck down by colds and other viruses. Alberto Salazar reportedly caught 12 colds in 12 months while training for the 1984 Olympic Marathon. Competing with an obviously overstressed immune system, he finished 15th.
While we’ve all been advised to consume large doses of vitamin C, zinc and glutamine to keep the immune system resilient, the truth is we often overlook one of the most simple and straightforward, yet highly effective means of bolstering our immune system. A growing body of evidence suggests that paying attention to what and when you eat can have dramatic effects on your ability to thwart the common cold and fight infections.
Boosted immunity comes from a variety of different areas, including how you manage stress, how often you exercise and what you eat. Your immune strength is totally dependent on an optimal intake of vitamins and minerals and the other immune-boosting nutrients you get from your food.
Build immunity with food
All nutritional experts agree that proper diet can be the best weapon for warding off infections and illness. Likewise, a poor diet will increase our susceptibility to illness.
“There’s no question the immune system is fundamentally influenced by overall health – and a balanced diet is key,”
says David Katz, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Yale Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Connecticut. “Not only are essential nutrients critical for the production and maintenance of key germ-fighting cells in the immune system, but a balanced diet also has a strong effect on vascular function and the immune system is dependent on blood flow.” This is because the bloodstream is the vehicle that carries infection-fighting cells throughout the body to where they’re needed.
George L Blackburn, the associate director of Harvard Medical Schools, stresses that “(i)nsufficiency in one or more essential nutrients may prevent the immune system from functioning at its peak”. As such, it is vitally important to eat a balanced, healthful diet consisting of fresh fruits and vegetables. This will strengthen your immune system and ward off colds and flu viruses.
Vanessa’s top tips to keep fighting fit:
1. Load up on fruit and veg – Go for colour and get creative. Make sure each meal contains both fruit and vegetables.
2. Have a clove or two of garlic a day – this is a natural anti-viral and anti-bacterial.
3. Eat sufficient protein – aim for lean (preferably) organic meat, fish, game, quinoa (a South American grain), eggs and pulses combined with grains, dairy or tofu.
4. Herbs and spices contain immune-supporting nutrients – experiment with turmeric, ginger, watercress and lemon juice.
5. Avoid sugar – it can suppress the immune system.
6. Superfoods such as Spirulina provide the essential nutrients and enzymes that greatly aid in strengthening and building the immune system.
Supercharge your immune system with this sample diet plan:
First thing: Hot water and lemon (a great source of vitamin C)
½ cup cooked rolled organic plain Oats (not instant) or ¼ cup Quinoa with cinnamon and berries (blueberries) or grated apple (no milk or sugar) or one whole paw paw with lemon juice and a tablespoon of seed mix (sunflower/pumpkin and linseed).
Boiled egg and some rye toast with fresh cherry tomatoes.
Veggie and protein green salad.
Raw and/or pre-cooked vegetables (as many as you want), including eggplant, peppers, onions, green beans, asparagus and zucchini.
120g grilled chicken or fish and ½ an avocado.
You can also add some quinoa or sweet potato.
Fresh fruit and some plain low fat yoghurt with pumpkin seeds.
Green Tea and water with lemon.
Grilled fish or organic free range chicken with loads of green vegetables and some pumpkin and butternut (great source of beta carotene), stir fried with loads of garlic and turmeric.
A raw salad with veggies and 1 tsp olive oil.
30g dark chocolate (packed full of antioxidants)
You are allowed one black coffee a day, but no sugar.
Herbal teas, especially Green Tea
Water with lemon juice
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.