What is the immune system?
The purpose of the immune system is to identify the body’s enemies and mount an attack to destroy them. If you catch more than one or two colds a year, this is an indicator that your immune system needs support.
Ways to support the immune system
One of the most important food components to enhance immune function are the carotenes, in particular beta-carotenes. These are the precursor to vitamin A, which plays a critical role in maintaining the mucosal surfaces in the body. Foods high in carotenes include highly coloured vegetables such as dark leafy greens; yellow and orange squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers and tomatoes.
Eat your greens to fight infection and inflammation
Also important for proper immune function is the inclusion of cabbage-family vegetables often called cruciferous vegetables. These include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, cauliflower, kale and radish. These vegetables have many benefits to overall health, but with regards to immune function, they contain a compound called sulforaphane which enhances the body's defence mechanism against infections and reduces inflammation, which is a key aspect of the immune system's response to pathogens.
Probiotics support the immune function
Yoghurt can also help to support the immune function. This is due to it containing a probiotic called bifidobacterium lactis. Your gut contains immune cells and so having a healthy gut supports your immune system. A daily dose of yoghurt for breakfast also ensures plenty of protein and calcium for the day ahead. It’s important to note that not all yoghurts are created equal. Choose a plain or Greek yoghurt which is more likely to contain the beneficial bacteria. Avoid highly sweetened yogurts, as excessive sugar consumption can negatively impact the immune system.
Add vitamin D for a healthy immune response
Ensuring your vitamin D is at adequate levels is also important. In the UK from October to the end of April, our ability to obtain vitamin D from the sun is impaired. It’s best to test your levels before supplementing to make sure you are taking in the right amount of vitamin D. Although some foods contain vitamin D - such as mushrooms, salmon, eggs, tofu and cod liver oil - it’s hard to obtain enough vitamin D for a healthy immune response.
The perfect recipe if you get a cold
Moroccan spiced squash and lentil stew. Packed with beta carotenes, but also with warming spices, it’s perfect (and comforting!) if you happen to come down with a cold.