How to eat your way to a stronger immune system and beat the flu

By Wynnie Chan

Protect your body from all the nasty germs and viruses that are going around by packing your daily diet with these immune-strengthening nutrients

By Wynnie Chan |

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Now that we’re in peak winter flu season, you’ll want to take extra care of your body to avoid having to wait hours to see a doctor. Here are five important nutrients to include in your diet to help prevent you from getting sick.

Call in the troops

Vitamin C is also known as ascorbic acid. It boosts your immune system by sending out an army of natural killer cells once your body has been exposed to viruses and other harmful bacteria.

Your body can’t make vitamin C itself so you need to get it from your food. You can get it from citrus fruits such as oranges, satsumas, lemons, grapefruits or pomelo, other fruit like guavas, papayas, strawberries, kiwi, and tomatoes, and vegetables such as red and green bell peppers and broccoli.

You can get the daily recommended amount by eating 1/2 papaya, 1 large kiwi, 1 large orange, 1/2 cup raw or cooked red peppers, or 10 cooked Brussels sprouts.

The good kind of bacteria

Probiotics are live “friendly” bacteria that can be found in our gut, and naturally in some foods and drinks. The gut is the largest part of the body’s immune system and does most of the work protecting the body from disease. Probiotics in our gut help to wake up the primary killer cells that fight against and prevent infection.

You can lose the probiotics in your body if you have an unhealthy diet, take too many antibiotics, or are under severe stress. Keep your gut healthy with enough of these helpful bacteria by including live cultured yogurts (look for products that contain the probiotics Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium), fermented products like kefir (a sour milk drink), miso (soybean), kimchi (cabbage), Kombucha (black or green tea), tempeh (soybean), pickled vegetables such as sauerkraut (cabbage), and soft cheeses.

Keeping everything in check

Zinc is a mineral which helps our immune system working properly. Usually, our immune system can fight off germs, but when you don’t have enough zinc, our body’s response to infection spirals out of control and can become harmful instead. This can lead to a life-threatening condition called sepsis. Make sure you’re not running low on zinc by including lean meat, prawns, oysters, milk, cheese, whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts in your eating plan.

The sunshine vitamin

Vitamin D – which your body mostly gets when you’re in the sun – helps to increase the number of proteins which prevent the growth and spread of bacteria and viruses in your body. Research suggests that this sunshine vitamin can help reduce the risk of flu.

Apart from getting a good amount of sunlight in your day, try to eat oily fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, canned tuna or egg yolks, shrimp, mushrooms, or milk, dairy products or cereals that have vitamin D added to them, as often as you can.

A 100-gram serving of salmon will give you a day’s worth of vitamin D and the same serving of Atlantic herring will give you four times as much. A glass of fortified cow’s milk – milk with added nutrients – will give you around a third of the amount of vitamin D you need every day.

Strong on the defence

Vitamin A helps to keep tissues in your skin, mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system in good condition. You need these parts of the immune system to be in top shape because they help to stop disease-causing germs from entering your body.

You can find vitamin A in fortified milk, meat, eggs, cheese, liver, fish oil, carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, dried apricots, melon, mango, and bell peppers.

An 85-gram serving of liver will give you nearly three times your daily requirement of vitamin A, while one baked sweet potato, 1/4 cup of raw carrots, or 1/4 cup boiled spinach will give you the recommended amount of vitamin A for a day.

Water, water, everywhere

Remember to stay hydrated with at least eight glasses of water a day. If you like, jazz up plain water with slices of lemon, berries, mint, lemongrass or ginger.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda

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