Eating to Build Immunity

Eating to build Immunity

Building immunity is vital as we are all more susceptible to colds and flu in the winter – building your immunity can help you to stay well.

What is immunity?

Immunity is the body’s way of fighting a disease or infection before you feel the symptoms. When immunity is strong against an infection you are unaware that the germ is in your body, as it is destroyed by the body’s immune system (the cells and organs in your body that work together to combat disease).

If the immune system is not strong, or does not have immunity to that particular bug, then the person will become ill and show symptoms, as the bug will interfere with the normal functions of the body.

Eating to build immunity

Eating a balanced diet is the key to building up the immune system.

That’s all very well, but what do we mean by a balanced diet? Well here are some main factors for eating a good diet –

Over the course of a day, food intake should be balanced across the main food groups of :

  • carbohydrates for energy – this comes from bread, pasta, potatoes, cereals and rice
  • protein for building and repairing – this is found in meat, fish, dairy products, beans and pulses
  • water which is vital to all living things
  • vitamins and minerals which are needed in order that the body can carry out vital functions – these are found in a variety of fruit and vegetables and many foods and cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals
  • a small amount of fats is necessary, as some vitamins are fat soluble

The body builds defences from the proteins and vitamins/minerals which are eaten then carried to the cells of your body. In order to build defences, the body requires energy which comes from the carbohydrates – and of course everybody needs water for the cells and organs to function properly.

Hence a balanced diet is required, as without one of these factors the body will be unable to build up immunity in the form of specialised cells, made by the body. Some nutritional factors are especially important:

  • Vitamin C is found in citrus fruit and green vegetables
  • Vitamin D is obtained from sunshine and oily fish
  • Vitamin E is found in nuts, olive oil and cereals
  • Zinc is found in beef and pumpkin seeds
  • Magnesium is found in dark green leafy vegetables and nuts

So make sure you pile the fruit, vegetables, nuts and lean meat into your trolley this week at the supermarket – or better still grow your own!

All of this requires energy and a whole lot of effort from the body, so it is vital that we rest to allow this silent work to continue. A regular sleep pattern is vital – any shift workers and new mums will know how much more susceptible they are to colds and infections when they are not sleeping properly.

If you watch the average child who is unwell they will curl up on the sofa – they aren’t daft! They instinctively know that they need to stay still to allow the body’s energy to go into attacking the bugs that are making them unwell. As parents we need to learn from this and give ourselves a chance to get better as soon as we feel unwell, not when we are exhausted and desperate (and of course ratty!).

A fitness programme will help you to boost your immunity. This may sound contradictory, as we’ve just recommended rest, but the two factors need to work in conjunction with one another.

A brisk walk most days (or a swim, cycle, gym workout – whatever you enjoy) will improve your circulation, well being, energy levels and strength. These factors make us much more resilient in the face of bugs and colds.

What should I avoid to help give my immune system the best chance this winter?

  • Avoid caffeine (coffee, tea, coke) or keep it in moderation of 1-2 cups per day.
  • Avoid an excess of alcohol – while the occasional glass of wine or beer will not damage the immune system, by drinking heavily we are putting unnecessary stress on our body, making it less likely to fight off bugs.
  • Avoid smoking – smoking makes your respiratory (breathing) system a lot less likely to cope with winter bugs.
  • Decrease your stress and make time to rest – if parents are well rested and relaxed the whole family will function a lot better. If your body is constantly dealing with anxiety and stress, it will struggle to fight off coughs and colds.

What are the benefits of a strong immune system?

We are all constantly exposed to bugs. A strong immune system will enable us to fight off the majority of the germs and make us less susceptible when we do catch an occasional cold. We will get better quicker and suffer less.

How can building immunity help my child?

A strong immune system will have the following advantages for your child:

  • More energy to play
  • Less time off kindy, play centre or school
  • Improved sports performance
  • Improved behaviour and concentration, due to lack of illness/tiredness.

Eat well, sleep well, play well and stay well!

Check out our Natural Health section for more expert advice on staying well this winter.

Paula Skelton

Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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