Unfortunately, there is no specific food or supplement that will protect you from germs or from catching a virus. Good hygiene practices remain the best means of avoiding infection.
However, if we do catch a virus, our immune system is responsible for fighting it. Research does suggest that improving nutrition can help support optimal immune function, which is critical to help us stay healthy and feeling our best.
The good news is that following common-sense dietary advice is enough to keep your immune system in good shape; no expensive supplements or difficult to source superfoods required.
Vitamins (especially A, C and D and minerals such as zinc) have a vital role in the functioning of our immune system but they are also practically unavoidable components of our diets, as they are present in large quantities in fruits and vegetables and other whole foods. Barely anyone is deficient in Vitamin C, so taking a mega dose of it won’t super-power your immune system (it will just come out in your urine and may upset your stomach in the process).
Simply focusing on eating a variety of foods within each of the main food groups will boost your intake of key vitamins and minerals:
Therefore, you’re likely to be getting the amount you need if you’re eating a healthy diet. There’s very limited evidence to suggest that supplemental vitamins or minerals will help you fight off infections.
The exception is Vitamin D. Although it is found naturally in a small number of foods (see above), it’s difficult for us to get the recommended amount from food alone.
Our main source of vitamin D is from the action of sunlight on our skin. To ensure a healthy vitamin D status, adults and children over the age of one should consider taking a daily supplement containing 10 micrograms of Vitamin D if they struggle to get adequate sun exposure year-round. Most people need just a few minutes outdoors most days.
“You don’t want to ‘boost’ your immune system – if we did, our bodies would overreact to harmless substances, causing a needless reaction! So be wary of ‘immune boosting’ products. Supporting a healthy immune system with a good diet is more than enough to keep you well.”
Every time we eat, our gut bacteria break down our food and use it to grow. Healthy gut bacteria produce beneficial compounds that help you function optimally and are beneficial for the way your immune system functions.
If you have an imbalance of bacteria in your gut (caused by stress, a highly processed diet or repeated bouts of antibiotics, amongst other things) they can produce compounds that lead to an inflammatory response that isn’t supportive for your overall health and immunity. That’s why eating a diet that encourages a healthy balance of bacteria is so important. Having a gut containing plenty of healthy bacteria leaves the immune system with plenty of time to handle its many complex everyday functions.
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