Ways To Maintain A Healthy Immune System
The winter months can be an excuse to feast on stodgy foods for comfort and warmth and if the emphasis is on overconsumption of puddings, cakes, high fat cheeses and chocolate, this could create an imbalance of nutrients in your diet, in particular a reduced intake of vitamins. Limiting the amount of vitamins over a prolonged period will increase the risk of an unhealthy immune system which could result in a higher incidence of coughs, colds and even flu like symptoms. As the immune system works more effectively in a warm environment, it is important that you keep warm and consume plenty of warm drinks (herbal tea, fruit juice) during the winter months, particularly when temperatures drop.
When the body has an infection there is a build-up of waste products which need to be eliminated from the body. By drinking plenty of water and also herbal tea, this will help to detoxify the body and strengthen the immune system against infection. To ‘feed’ the body and the immune system, it is recommended to increase your intake of vitamins by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
It is important to ‘listen’ to your body before participating in exercise as exercise places stress on your body normally but if your body is fighting an infection, additional stress will occur. If you experience any aches or pains, it is recommended to take some rest, however it depends where in the body you feel unwell. A golden rule is, if symptoms are below the neck, then rest is essential as you may actually have a respiratory condition. If you are in any doubt about your symptoms consult your GP for advice.
Consuming a wide range of fruits and vegetables will provide a plentiful supply of antioxidants which are essential for the body in combating infection and disease. Antioxidants will help promote a healthier immune system as they contain a wide range of vitamins including; vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, all of which have a role in fighting infection to reduce the risk of coughs and colds. There are ways to top up antioxidants in your diet for example; fruit and vegetable smoothies, fruit salad, vegetable based soups or berries added to breakfast cereal.
Vitamin A strengthens the skin both externally and internally. This vitamin will strengthen the digestive tract and gut, reducing the risk of sore throats and other cold related infections. Rich sources of this vitamin include; sweet potatoes, carrots, dark green leafy vegetables and red peppers which can be easily added to salads, soups and as part of a main meal.
Vitamin C is found in citrus fruit (oranges, grapefruit), also kiwi fruit and sweet potatoes which are both rich in this vitamin but all of these foods can assist in combating colds and coughs due to their health properties. As viruses cannot survive in a vitamin C rich environment, consuming foods high in vitamin C will create an environment less favourable for viruses to exist.
Vitamin E is found in seeds, nuts, green leafy vegetables and wheat germ. This vitamin is recommended in the diet to assist in eliminating pollutants from the lungs. Pollutants are all around you when you exercise outdoors which can enter the body during breathing. Where possible try and exercise away from traffic to reduce the intake of pollutants and of course eat a diet rich in vitamin E.
Ginger is a spice which is effective in preventing sore throats. There are many ways to include ginger in your diet such as; adding grated root ginger to a stir fry, curries or grated into herbal tea for a soothing and refreshing drink.
Turmeric is part of the ginger family and has been used in cooking by the Asian population for thousands of years. This spice has antioxidant properties by reducing the damage to tissues which could lead to an infection. Turmeric can be added to curries, stews and savoury rice.
Garlic appears to be the most powerful herb as it contains properties that are anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. This herb should be regularly used in cooking due to its numerous health benefits, garlic can be added to any savoury dish; risotto, stews and curries.
There are many foods which maintain a healthy immune system, however mucus forming foods including; dairy produce (milk, cheese, yoghurt) will significantly increase mucus in the digestive tract, causing a favourable environment for viruses to breed. This type of environment will increase the risk of infection and weaken the immune system. It is recommended that dairy produce should be limited or avoided, in particular when an infection exists.