Feel a cold coming on? Loading up on vitamin C supplements isn’t the only way to strengthen your immunity system. A healthy diet can help build your immunity and increase your resistance to viral infections. If you want to avoid falling sick, add these immune-boosting foods to your diet right now. Plus, we also debunk some myths about immunity.
Spinach is a superfood that is rich in vitamin C and fibre, and contains plenty of antioxidants that reduce the risk of chronic diseases and help to strengthen your eyesight. It also has vitamin K, which strengthens the bones and vitamin A that helps your body fight off infections. Reap the full benefits of the vegetable by cooking it as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients.
Green tea is not only good for weight loss, it also contains antioxidants called flavonoids that improve the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties. According to a study by the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontolgy, green tea is packed with epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a powerful catechin antioxidant that can destroy bacteria and viruses, including the influenza virus.
Wards off infection.
Found in: Milk, liver, eggs and dark-coloured vegetables.
Helps increase antibody levels. While there’s little evidence to prove that vitamin C can prevent a cold, studies show that taking it does help the body to recover more quickly.
Found in: Leafy vegetables, cabbage and citrus fruit.
Vital for the working of the thymus gland just above the heart, which is critical to immunity.
Found in: Wheat, flour, rice, pasta, breakfast cereal, meat, salmon, tuna and certain vitamin-enriched breads.
Activates T-cells in the body, which are responsible for seeking out and eliminating invading bacteria and viruses. Without this vitamin, T-cells remain dormant and are unable to kill off the pathogens that weaken the immune system.
Found in: Dairy products, fatty fish and oysters. But the best source is sunshine.
Combats free radicals.
Found in: Cooked tomatoes, preferably served in oil-rich variations like spaghetti sauce or pizza. Lycopene is fat-soluble, so the oil helps its absorption into the blood stream.
Energises the healing properties of white blood cells.
Found in: Brazil nuts, walnuts, garlic, asparagus, kidney, liver and seafood.
A mineral that prevents infection.
Found in: Liver, dried fruit, nuts and chocolate.
Stimulates the release of macrophages, which help detect and destroy foreign bacteria in the body.
Found in: Grapefruit, avocado and asparagus.
“Good” bacteria that chases away the “bad”, produces vitamin B6 and boosts immunity.
Found in: Yogurt and fermented milk drinks.
Vitamin E, which is required for immune cells to function normally, can be found in sunflower seeds, which are perfect to snack on. Throw in some almonds and hazelnuts, too, for a vitamin E-rich afternoon snack.
Citrus fruit are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, which help “reduce the severity and duration of respiratory-tract infections”, says Dr Naras Lapsys, 54, consultant dietitian at The Wellness Clinic. It helps that oranges, lemons and grapefruit are delicious as well as nutritious. Papayas, red capsicums and tomatoes are also good sources of vitamin C.
Foods rich in beta-carotene protect the body from infections. They include sweet potatoes, carrots, apricots and rock melon. So switch out your regular mashed potatoes for sweet potatoes the next time you have guests over.
While you can get vitamin D on your sunlit morning stroll, eating salmon can also give you the boost you need to keep your immune system in order. Reduce your susceptibility to infections by eating more salmon, egg yolk and tuna, all of which are great sources of vitamin D.
Ms Sheeba Majmudar, a 46-year-old dietitian, says zinc-rich foods help to “deactivate viruses and bacteria”, thus keeping the body functioning optimally. This is good news for seafood lovers, as shellfish such as crayfish, lobsters, oysters and mussels are high in zinc. For vegetarians, legumes are also a good source of zinc.
Dr Lapsys suggests eating probiotic-rich pickled vegetables. “As 80 per cent of our immune system is located in our gut, it is necessary to maintain its health,” he says. Probiotic-rich food does just that, so increase your intake of miso, tempeh and kimchi.
The health of the gut microbiome also depends on one’s intake of fibre-rich foods. Ms Pooja Vig, 49, dietitian at The Nutrition Clinic recommends a “fibre-based diet”, which includes chia seeds and oats, to maintain a healthy gut and, by consequence, a well-oiled immune system. Almonds and barley are also great fibre-rich options to incorporate into your diet.
A staple in Indian cooking, turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. Dishes with turmeric include Indian dal and Thai yellow curry, so head out for Indian or Thai food and load up on that beneficial spice.
Ms Majmudar says that for the immune system to function optimally, the body needs to be properly hydrated. Coconut water is the perfect refreshing drink as it contains five types of electrolytes: sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium.
(Read also “Review: We Hunt Down The Best Coconut Water In Singapore“).
Fiction: My immune system is compromised when I have my period.
Fact: Menstruating does not affect immunity. Low immunity comes from having an unhealthy lifestyle and poor diet.
Fiction: Taking antibiotics lowers my immune response.
Fact: Appropriate use of antibiotics helps to fight bacterial infection. However, overuse or taking them when they’re not needed can lead to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This makes it even more difficult to treat simple infections, like colds, later on.
Fiction: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
Fact: There is no concrete truth to either claim. Medical experts advocate maintaining a normal diet whether you have a cold or fever. Some research have even indicated that abstaining from food when the body is ill can make things worse. The old adage of plenty of rest and fluids is best.
Fiction: Taking more supplements will boost my immunity.
Fact: Some supplements counteract the effects of others and may lead to adverse reactions and side effects.
A version of this story was originally published in the September 2012 issue of Her World.