Improving Immunity through Diet and Lifestyle
Updated: Jun 6
Good nutrition is very important before, during and after any infection, and it is especially important during this current covid-19 pandemic. Having a healthy diet and lifestyle will improve our bodies’ chances of fighting such a virus.
The large majority of immunity system operates from the gut, therefore it isn’t surprising that nutrition and hydration are key components for optimising immunity.
In fact; large health organisations are currently advising that we follow a healthy diet to improve our chances against covid-19.
Top Healthy Diet and Lifestyle Choices to improve overall Immune Health
1. Choose whole foods
These are unprocessed and unrefined foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains (e.g. brown rice, oats, barley, bulgar, millet, buckwheat), beans, legumes (e.g. lentils, chickpeas), nuts and seeds. It excludes foods with added sugar, processed oil and flour.
Choosing whole foods and avoiding added sugar, salt and processed fats reduces inflammation in the body and therefore maintains your immune system in good strength for fighting illness... when it is needed.
2. Choose Fibre
Fibre is found in all the above whole foods. Try to choose foods that are naturally high in fibre (instead of foods claiming “added fibre”), as they are generally higher in fibre content. Fibre is also found in wholewheat cereals, bread, pasta and crackers.
Fibre has a direct affect on our gut microbiome by fuelling the good bacteria in our gut and protecting our body from illness.
3. Choose foods rich in Vitamin E
Found in nuts and seeds, plant based oils (e.g. olive oil, soya oil, corn oil) and in wheat germ which can be found in cereals and cereal products.
Vitamin E improves and strengthens the body’s immune system against illness.
The recommended daily amount for men is 4mg/day for men and 3mg/day for women. Adequate amounts can be achieved through diet and high dose supplements are not recommended.
4. Eat two portion of fish per week, including one oily fish to boost Omega 3
Examples of oily fish include salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, herring, whitebait, tuna (fresh/frozen), crab, swordfish. Tinned tuna loses a lot of omega 3 during the canning process therefore isn’t considered a source of omega 3, however it is still a healthy choice of fish and can be included in the diet.
Vegetarian sources of omega 3 include nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, soya, tofu and green leafy vegetables. Some good examples include walnuts, pumpkin seeds, rapeseed oil, soya beans, soya milk.
Omega 3 enhances the function of immune cells and thus maintaining immune function.
5. Unlock the benefits of Garlic
Crushed garlic that has been left to sit for around 10 minutes before cooking causes a chemical reaction and releases allicin. Add the garlic clove to your home-cooked meal after the 10 minutes has passed.
Allicin has shown to reduce inflammatory responses in the body and so strengthens the immune system for fighting illness.
6. Eat at regular meal times, avoid grazing
Eating around 3 meals a day within an 8 to 12 hour period and avoiding snacks is also know as ‘time restricted eating’.
For example: a 10 hour window of 8am-6pm (or 12 hours= 8am-8pm) may include 3 one hour windows for eating
5-6pm / 7-8pm evening meal
6/8pm-8am overnight fast followed by breakFAST.
Calorie-free drinks such as water can be drank at any time of the day and night aiming for 2000-2500ml for adults per day.
Time restricted eating promotes an anti-inflammatory state in the body and allows the body time to repair itself and improve immune response to fight infection when it is needed.
7. Reduce chronic stress
It can be difficult to reduce stress levels during this pandemic however chronic day to day stress can be very toxic to the immune system and cause inflammatory responses in the body leading to a weakened immune system whereas small stressors such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) or weight lifting exercise can be beneficial for the body. These small acute stressors remove old, dying immune cells to make way for new healthy ones.
Methods of reducing chronic stress may include many forms of exercise, getting fresh air, gardening, mediation, yoga, breathing exercises (i.e. counting in and out breaths), listening to music, asking for help where possible, taking a bath.
8. Get enough sleep
Sleep deprivation suppresses the immune system function to fight illness. Adults require around 7-9 hours sleep to function to their best. Getting enough sleep can be easier said than done, especially if you have a young infant, suffer with sleep problems or have depression and anxiety.
These websites have useful information on good sleep hygiene:
Arreola et al. (2015) “Immunomodulation and Anti-Inflammatory effects of Garlic Compounds” [Accessed 9th May 2020: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25961060]
Cisse et al, Time restricted eating alters the innate immune response to bacterial endoxitin. The journal of immunology. 2018, 200 (2) 681-687. [Accessed 9th may 2020: https://www.jimmunol.org/content/200/2/681]
Dr Rupy Aujla & Dr Jenna Macciochi 2020. Eat for Immunity [Podcast] 23th March. Available at: https://thedoctorskitchen.com/podcasts/episode-15-eat-for-immunity-part-1-part-2 [Accessed 8th May 2020]