Written By Gillian Brunton, a With Attitude Partner and owner of Better Nutrition by Gilly
Where there is fear, there is usually a lot of misinformation. When it comes to preventing illness, most people know their immune system is important, but might be confused about how to support it.
You are probably navigating a sea of unrealistic marketing claims for pills, potions and powders to “boost” your immune system now that we are almost a year into Covid19. What should you be eating to prevent illness or recover from surgery etc.? As a Registered Nutritionist I provide quality information and resources for my clients to stay healthy.
I have just released my Immune Support programme for Better Nutrition by Gilly clients. This is a meal plan with a focus on key nutrients for supporting immunity with delicious food you can make at home.
Here are five key nutrients to talk to my clients about if they want to support their immune system:
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant with a critical role in enhancing immune function. This micronutrient is involved in cellular immune response and provides enhanced defense against multiple infectious diseases.(1)
Vitamin A is found in bright orange and yellow foods like sweet potato, mango, carrots, and bell peppers, and dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is probably the most well-known antioxidant, and thousands of people take high-dose supplements with hopes of "boosting" their immune system. However, research shows that vitamin C from food at a dose of 100 mg to 200 mg per day is effective at preventing respiratory infections.(2)
My Immune Support programme provides an average of 500 mg per day of vitamin C from whole food sources like strawberries, cauliflower, red bell peppers, mango, and grapefruit.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E plays an important role in immune function and supplementation has even been shown to reduce respiratory infection in the elderly.(3) Most typical diets do not provide adequate vitamin E, but deficiency symptoms can be subtle so individuals may not know if you are deficient.(4)
Rather than relying on supplements, deficiency can be prevented through adequate dietary intake of foods like nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and plant-based oils as a way to keep the immune system functioning optimally. One of the reasons we see a significant decline in cellular immunity with aging could be due to inadequate intake of antioxidants like vitamin E. Diets high in vitamin E naturally improve cellular immunity, even without supplementation.(5)
Selenium is an essential mineral that acts as a powerful antioxidant. Adequate dietary selenium is required for the function of almost every arm of the immune system, so falling short can have serious consequences when it comes to fighting infections.(6)
Brazil nuts are extremely high in selenium, but can easily exceed the daily upper limit and cause toxicity if eaten frequently. Sardines are an excellent smyce of selenium that can be eaten more frequently and provide anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats which also have beneficial effects on the immune system.
The Immune Support programme incorporates sardines as well as other foods high in selenium like eggs, beef, and oats.
Like selenium, zinc is an essential mineral critical for immune function. Even mild to moderate zinc deficiency can impair immune function and increase risk of respiratory infections, so adequate dietary zinc should be emphasized for anyone looking to protect their immune system.(7)
Zinc is found in whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and meat so eating a diet high in whole foods is key to getting enough zinc. Like vitamin C, zinc supplements are popular for immunity, but helping my clients keep zinc levels adequate through diet means supplements won’t be needed to reverse a deficiency later on.
Meal Planning for Immunity
Better Nutrition by Gilly makes meal planning for immunity simple by providing you with bespoke recipes high in key nutrients like vitamins A, C, E, selenium, and zinc.
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- Huang Z, Liu Y, Qi G, Brand D, Zheng SG. Role of Vitamin A in the Immune System. J Clin Med. 2018;7(9):258. Published 2018 Sep 6. doi:10.3390/jcm7090258
- Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017 Nov 3;9(11):1211. doi: 10.3390/nu9111211. PMID: 29099763; PMCID: PMC5707683.
- Meydani SN, Han SN, Hamer DH. Vitamin E and respiratory infection in the elderly. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1031:214-22. doi: 10.1196/annals.1331.021. PMID: 15753147.
- National Institutes for Health (2020), https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-Consumer/
- Moriguchi S, Muraga M. Vitamin E and immunity. Vitam Horm. 2000;59:305-36. doi: 10.1016/s0083-6729(00)59011-6. PMID: 10714244.
- John R. Arthur, Roderick C. McKenzie, Geoffrey J. Beckett, Selenium in the Immune System, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 133, Issue 5, May 2003, Pages 1457S–1459S, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/133.5.1457S
- Wintergerst ES, Maggini S, Hornig DH. Contribution of selected vitamins and trace elements to immune function. Ann Nutr Metab. 2007;51(4):301-23. doi: 10.1159/000107673. Epub 2007 Aug 28. PMID: 17726308.