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6 nutrients to support your immune system and stay healthy

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Now more than ever it’s important to prioritise your wellbeing, both physical and mental. These articles are to help you stay active and look after your wellbeing during this unprecedented time.

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The simple answer is no. No amount of fruit or supplements will prevent a contagious and serious viral infection. Hand washing, social distancing and self-isolation remain the only current ways we have to actively prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

The immune system is based on a complex interplay of various cells, organs, proteins and tissues, which work together to recognise and neutralise bacteria, viruses, and pathogens.

It’s not designed to be "boosted". Even if it was possible to enhance, it would likely result in us becoming more unwell by damaging our healthy cells and tissues, which is what can happen in "autoimmune" conditions.

However, there are numerous nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that are required to support the normal functioning of your immune system. Most of these nutrients, except for Vitamin D, can be found in a well-rounded, healthy diet.

Here are 6 nutrients you can add to your diet to optimise the normal function of your immune system, along with recommendations for foods to try adding to your next shopping basket.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is primarily made from a reaction of the sun on our skin. During the winter months, when we have limited exposure to sun, it’s often difficult to achieve a sufficient amount of it.

Some foods, including oily fish, egg yolk, meat and offal, contain Vitamin D in small amounts. However, if you consider supplementation, it’s recommended by the NHS at a dose of 10mcg Vitamin D3 daily.

Vitamin C

It’s an essential nutrient acting as an antioxidant. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, a type of unstable molecule known to damage the immune system. To increase your Vitamin C intake, add these foods to your diet:

  • Broccoli
  • Kiwi
  • Citrus juice
  • Peppers
  • Kale
  • Strawberries

Vitamin E

Similar to Vitamin C, Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. To increase your Vitamin E intake, add these foods to your diet:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Almonds
  • Avocados
  • Spinach
  • Butternut squash
  • Kiwi

Zinc

Zinc is an essential mineral involved in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. To increase your Zinc intake, try adding these foods to your diet:

  • Red meat
  • Shellfish
  • Legumes (chickpeas, lentils and beans)
  • Nuts (peanuts, cashews and almonds)
  • Eggs
  • Oatmeal

B Vitamins

B Vitamin complexes, namely vitamin B6, B9 and B12, are involved in the immune response regulation.

Vitamin B12 is naturally found in animal products. To increase your intake of B12, you can add these foods to your diet:

  • Fish
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Milk and milk products

Vitamin B6 is needed to absorb Vitamin B12, and to produce red blood cells and cells of the immune system. It can be found in foods such as:

  • Beef liver
  • Chickpeas
  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Rice
  • Cereals
  • Onions

Most people hear about folic acid (Vitamin B9) in pregnancy, as women are advised to take it daily in the first three months to prevent developing neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Folic acid is naturally present in a wide variety of foods such as:

  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Beans
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Meat

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid known to suppress inflammation and keep the immune system in check. There are three forms of Omega-3 fatty acids: EPA, DHA and ALA.

ALA is what we call an "essential" fatty acid. This means it must be consumed via our diet and cannot be made by the body.

To increase your Omega-3 intake, add these foods to your diet:

  • Plant oils
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Oily fish

Slawomir Marczak

Slawomir Marczak Class Instructor, Warwick Sport

Slawomir has a strong background in nutrition and massage therapy, and loves teaching a wide range of group exercise programmes including Pilates, Kettlebells and Core.


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