Matt Jones - Premier League Nutritionist provides his top tips for boosting immunity this winter and preventing those nasty colds!
With winter on the way, now is as good a time as any to consider some diet alterations to support optimal immune function and help your body fend off those unwanted infections, coughs and colds.
Now the immune system itself is infinitely complex, so I’ll save you the science lesson but instead briefly touch on some practical tips that you could consider, from eating enough energy, to vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc and probiotics.
1. Eating enough energy
Fundamentally the body needs sufficient energy in order to support optimal immune function and all of the intricate defence systems in place. Failing to meet energy requirements is often referred to as low energy availability in nutrition science circles. Low energy availability can impact health and performance, both in the workplace, exercise and sport, but more significantly it can impair immune function, bone health and reproductive function.
So the first step in ensuring optimal immune function is to simply ensure you are consuming enough calories each and every day, evenly distributed across well-balanced meals. If you are not eating enough then your chances of nutrient deficiencies also increase, which may further harm immune function.
Consider adding small snacks such as fruit or a handful of nuts, hot milk or yogurt before bed and soups as side dishes to elevate energy intake and support the immune system.
2. Fuel foods
Beyond eating enough energy, it is also important to consume sufficient carbohydrate each day. Low energy intakes coupled with low carbohydrate intakes can result in unstable blood sugar and rising levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can impair immune cells and the immune response that fends off illness.
Incorporating ‘slow’ fuels such as wholegrains, lentils, quinoa, oats, beans and pulses into your diet will help in providing your body and brain with energy, but also help fuel immune responses.
3. Building immune cells
Protein rich foods such as chicken, salmon, shrimp, yogurt, beans and pulses are renowned for their ability to help you build and repair muscle. But protein also plays a crucial role in building immune cells such as white blood cells and antibodies that are literally on the front line protecting the body. So it goes without saying that consuming sufficient protein each day, again evenly distributed across the main meals and snacks is a wise idea.
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an incredibly interesting vitamin for a nutrition science nerd. In actual fact vitamin D functions in a similar way to a hormone, it has the ability to impact a whole host of bodily functions. Traditionally known for its ability to support calcium absorption and help build and maintain bone, recent research has shown that it also plays a crucial role in immune function, muscle function and even mental wellbeing.
We can generate much of, if not most of our required vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, hence it is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin. It takes roughly 9 minutes of direct sunlight exposure to 25% of the body (head and arms) to generate our daily requirement of vitamin D. Now in the summer months this is not such an issue, but when winter arrives, the sun gets further away, clouds line the skies and days become shorter it is more challenging for us to generate enough vitamin D naturally. So supplementation through the winter is highly recommended. A dose of around 2000 IU per day should be adequate, but discuss with your doctor as tailoring the dose to your current vitamin D levels is important.
The B.fresh Turmeric Immunity shot delivers a dose of 400 IU of vitamin D, which is a valued addition to the winter immunity pack.
5. Vitamin C
Alongside vitamin D, vitamin C is notorious for its important work with immune health. Vitamin C provides antioxidant protection and can stimulate immune cells into action. Found naturally in numerous fruits and vegetables, such as broccoli, bell peppers, kiwi, orange and berries, incorporating as many of these foods into your daily diet during winter is incredibly beneficial. As childish as it sounds nutrition professionals will often encourage patients to eat a rainbow of colourful fruit, vegetables and healthy sources of fat with each meal, to maximize micronutrient and phytonutrient intake, including vitamin C, preventing deficiencies. Research has shown that consuming 200 mg of vitamin C per day can reduce the duration of a cold by 8%.
All of the B.fresh juices are made from fresh, nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables, so all are naturally packed with vitamin C. However, Ginger+ shot is worthy of a special mention here as it delivers 125% of your daily requirement in a single 70 ml shot.
The mineral zinc is known to play an important role in immune function and inflammation. If you are unfortunate enough to experience symptoms of acute upper respiratory tract infections, such as a cough, sore throat and congestion - which is almost inevitable - then research has shown that consuming zinc acetate lozenges can help reduce the severity of those symptoms and also reduce the duration of symptoms by 2 days, if consumed in sufficient quantities (100 mg/day) beginning on the first day of symptoms.
Ginger+ is most certainly the B.fresh immune support hero as it has been specifically formulated to include ingredients known to benefit immunity, including 270% of your daily requirement for zinc.
Probiotics, the little live bacteria that are found in fermented foods, certain yogurts and supplements that also live in our gastrointestinal system can help to regulate aspects of our immune system, and also support in making important vitamins, digesting and absorbing nutrients.
Specific probiotic strains, particularly bacillus coagulans, lactobacillus plantarum, lactobacillus rhamnosus and certain bifidobacterium strains are clinically proven to enhance immune function in high-quality studies. Regular consumption or supplementation with these probiotic strains is highly recommended.
The B.fresh ‘gut’ range, including Gut Health Berries and Gut Health Greens both contain probiotic strains known to benefit immune function, alongside prebiotics and polyphenols that fuel and protect the growth of the beneficial bacteria as they go about their work fending off infection.
Other useful considerations to support your immune system as we enter winter include ginger, garlic, echinacea and polyphenols such as curcumin, cocoa and various berries, and perhaps even spirulina if nasal issues arise. Incorporating as many of these foods into your diet as possible as part of meals, recipes, smoothies or snacks is a fantastic idea!
The immune system is infinitely complex, with numerous moving parts. In all honesty the best way to maintain immune health is to practice good hygiene and avoid ill people where possible. Then mastering and implement the basic elements of healthy lifestyle such as a good, well-balanced diet, quality sleep of sufficient duration - try the B.Fresh sleep shot if you struggle with sleep, exercising regularly with adequate recovery and managing stress is equally important.
We see significant immunosuppression when malnourished with nutrient deficiencies, sleep deprived, sedentary, over-stressed and inadequately recovered. So hopefully a combination of all of the aforementioned ideas can help you bolster your immune defences this winter.