Updated: Sep 17, 2020
As busy women, you may be wanting to minimise illness as best you can this Autumn, so you can keep life on an even keel. Whilst we can't always avoid getting ill, there are ways we can support our health and immune system, by making changes to our nutrition and lifestyle. Many of them you may already be doing, but it not, see which ones you could add in to your life.
Eat your antioxidants:
Antioxidants help to arm your body's defence against unwanted infections. Vitamins A, C and E each have antioxidant power, needed by the body to support the immune system. As you may be aware, one of best sources for these vitamins are plants. It's always best to think of the RAINBOW and aim for a wide variety of brightly coloured fruit and vegetables in your diet. Don't forget your nuts, and seeds too!
Carotenoids, found in orange, yellow and dark green vegetables are converted into Vitamin A e.g. carrots, sweet potato, butternut squash.
Vitamin C is found in a variety of different coloured fruit and vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, citrus fruits and berries.
Add nuts, seeds and dark leafy green veg to your diet to get your dose of Vitamin E
Remember that restricting your fruit intake may leave you missing out on wonderful vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. If you are restricting carbohydrates, aim to cut out refined sugars and you'll be supporting your body well enough. Don't miss out on all the goodness from fruits!
Ideas: Casseroles, stews and slow cooker recipes are great for the Autumn. It's super easy to add in carrots, sweet potatoes and squash. Your Vitamin C veggies also make for great sides to many meals. Next time you do your shop, add a couple of these veggies to your trolley.
Feed your gut:
There are tissues in our gut that form a barrier against nasties, such as bacteria or a virus. By looking after these tissues and the healthy bacteria in our gut, we can support our immune system.
Some types of fibre called 'prebiotics' feed the good bacteria in the gut, so these are the ones to ensure we have in our diet when we think of immune health. Aim to get these prebiotic foods in to your diet on a regular basis: onions, garlic, bananas, leeks, asparagus, barley, oats, apples and flaxseeds.
In addition, we need probiotic foods, which help to build up the gut flora (the healthy bacteria). Live yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut are the main options here. If you haven't tried these before, start with one. There are lots of live yoghurts in the chilled sections, so that could be a good starting point if you are unfamiliar. Probiotic supplements are another option.
Tip: Just as a side note, fibre has so many benefits for our health, but most of us don't eat enough. The average adult in the UK consumes only 60% of the fibre required, according to the The British Dietetic Association. We should be aiming to eat 30g per day, but on average we consume just 18g.
Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA):
Omega 3 fatty acids are natural anti-inflammatory foods helping to support the immune system. Oily fish is the best source of EPA and DHA. If you exclude oily fish from your diet, it may be worthwhile considering a supplement.
Herbs and spices:
There are a variety of herbs and spices providing phytonutrients, which help regulate immunity and are relatively easy to add to your diet. Ginger, garlic and turmeric are a great starting point and included in so many dishes.
Ideas: Turmeric is a great addition to curries and amazing on roasted cauliflower! Garlic is so versatile and really easy to add into your cooking.
Look at ways to manage stress:
The stress hormone cortisol suppresses the immune system, so it's important to look at ways to manage stressful situations and anxiety. This is also a big area to look at if you are suffering from hormonal changes in midlife too. It's well worth taking some time to create a 'toolbox' that you can use to help build your resilience to stress. Meditation, deep breathing and mindfulness are all useful approaches.
Get your Sleep:
Sleep, rest and relaxation are essential for immune support. Around 7-9 hours per night is the optimum amount, but be guided by what your body needs. If you aren't sleeping well, it is worth assessing the reasons why, as it can have a knock on effect on food choices, exercise motivation and work productivity.
Think about Zinc!
Zinc affects multiple aspects of the immune system. It can also help stabilise blood sugar levels. Seafood, nuts, seeds and whole-grains are the best sources.
Tip: Be wary of drinking too much alcohol as it depletes zinc from the body.
Get your daily Vitamin D supplement:
The sunshine vitamin plays a crucial role in bone, teeth and muscle health, helping the body to absorb calcium. Without Vitamin D, your body won't absorb the calcium you need for strong bones, teeth and muscles. Vitamin D deficiency can lead to osteoporosis, so it's particularly important for us women in our midlife years.
Although classified as a vitamin, Vitamin D works more like a hormone in the body, helping to improve our mood, sleep and support the immune system. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to low mood and increased risk of sleep disorders. There's also evidence that it plays a role in supporting our immune system too. All the more reason to ensure you are not deficient and get tested by your doctor if you are concerned.
During the summer months, the body produces Vitamin D3 when exposed to sunshine, so most of us will get all the D we need. Once we spend more time indoors, however, it gets more difficult. We can't get sufficient Vitamin D from our food alone, so supplementation is recommended. UK public health guidelines advise that everyone aged 1 and over would benefit from taking 10 micrograms of Vitamin D3 every day between the months of October and April.
When you are buying Vitamin D supplements, ensure you look on the label and check it provides 10 micrograms (shown as 10 µg ). Otherwise, the best dietary sources of vitamin D are oily fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks and mushrooms. You may also find some cereals, milks and fats are fortified with vitamin D.
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