Winter is fast approaching and colder weather often goes hand in hand with increased chances of getting sick, right?
Strengthening your immune system is therefore key at this time of the year - and even more in the middle of a world pandemic.
But the question is: how can you boost your immunity in a natural way without spending a small fortune on fancy supplements?
By focusing on the right foods, of course! But here’s where it gets confusing…
While immunity boosting diets are on the tip of everyone’s tongue these days, I find that the topic is often oversimplified as many people prefer to focus on a handful of “superfoods” rather than on their diet as a whole.
However, the interaction between diet and health is much more complex than that, so single foods can’t be the magic solution to keep you healthy and strong.
Focusing on your diet as a whole is much more important…
In this post I’ll therefore tell you more about your immune system and together we’ll see how you should change your diet to make the most of the foods you eat.
It may be surprising to some that the best way to boost your immunity is to increase your consumption of fibre-rich foods such as:
- whole grains and starchy crops
- fruits and vegetables
- nuts or seeds
The short explanation for this is that dietary fibre is a nutrient essential to develop a healthy gut flora, and a healthy gut flora is necessary to strengthen your immune system.
Your gut flora (the microbiota) is composed of trillions of microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and fungi. The most important ones for your immune system are the bacteria.
The bacterial communities living in your gut can be good or bad for you.
If they’re good, they strengthen your immune system by working together with your body (their host) to fight possible external attacks, from viruses and bacteria for example.
If they’re bad, they’re harmful for you and can provoke infections or other health problems.
And what’s the best way to make sure your gut is inhabited by the good bacteria?
You just need to feed them with the food they prefer: prebiotics (= dietary fibre), so that they can proliferate.
Dietary fibre is only found in plant foods and mostly in their whole, unrefined form. Animal foods don’t contain it.
Following a largely whole-food plant based diet is therefore the best way to boost your immunity.
Another important thing that you should do to boost your immunity is to eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods.
The reason for this is that antioxidants neutralize free radicals, a type of molecule that can damage the body cells they interact with.
Your body naturally produces a certain amount of free radicals every day, and this is not necessarily a problem.
However, when their production becomes excessive – or when you don’t eat enough antioxidants to neutralize them -, then they can become harmful since your body cannot fight against them successfully anymore.
This can lead to oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress is very dangerous because it can cause inflammation, the underlying condition for ageing, infectious and chronic diseases.
But the good news is that even if sometimes you can’t resist unhealthy habits, you can still increase your consumption of antioxidants to compensate for this.
Antioxidants are very easy to find as you can get them from different types of plants … basically from the same food groups that are also rich in dietary fibre.
Easy to remember then, you just need to eat mostly whole, plant based foods.
Needless to say, reducing to a minimum unhealthy habits such as eating junk food, refined grains, excess salt, sugar and fat will help as well.
And keep in mind that generally healthy habits such as exercising regularly, sleeping enough and avoiding stress are also very important to keep your immune system in great shape.
Written by Vittoria Pasca
Our guest blogger and nutritional expert