Whilst there are no foods or supplements that can stop us getting highly contagious viruses, we do know certain nutrients and vitamins are more important than others when it comes to our immune systems. That doesn’t mean we should become slaves to them or that we should become fixated on what we eat. You’ll be pleased to know, most of us already eat the foods we need to support our immune system as a matter of course. Indeed the 5-a-day mantra is pretty much ingrained in our daily lives thanks to various international government initiatives.
The different nutrients involved in supporting our immune systems include Vitamin A, B6, B12, C and D and copper, folate, iron, selenium and zinc 1. And we mustn’t forget phytonutrients, particularly flavonoids. Each of these play an important part and can be found in everyday foods from fruit and vegetables, to eggs, offal, poultry, fish and shellfish to nuts and seeds. However, for some of us, managing to get our daily recommended allowance of all of these is not always possible. It may be because of our diet choice, we may be too busy or we may just be fussy eaters! In these cases remember you might need to increase your intake of particular nutrients through supplements.
Which vitamins and minerals boost our immune systems?
Examples of good food sources
(this list is not exhaustive)
|Vitamin A (direct or through carotenoids from plant foods)||cheese, eggs, oily fish, milk and yoghurt, liversweet potato, butternut squash, carrot, spinach|
|Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)||pork, poultry, fish, bread, wholegrain cereals, eggs, vegetables, soya beans, peanuts, milk, potatoes, some fortified breakfast cereals|
|Vitamin B9 (folate)||Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, liver, leafy green vegetables (eg cabbage and spinach), peas, chickpeas, breakfast cereals fortified with folic acid)|
|Vitamin B12||meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs, some fortified breakfast cereals|
|Vitamin C||Oranges and orange juice, Red and green peppers, Strawberries, Blackcurrants, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Potatoes|
|Vitamin D||– oily fish (salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel), red meat, liver, egg yolks, fortified foods (most fat spreads and some breakfast cereals (cow’s milk is fortified in some countries so can be a good source of vitamin D but not in the UK)|
|Copper||Nuts, shellfish, offal|
|Iron||Liver, meat, beans, nuts, dried fruit, wholegrains, fortified breakfast cereals (need to check is this across Europe or just UK) soy bean flour, most dark-green leafy vegetables (eg watercress/kale)|
|Selenium||Brazil nuts, fish, meat, eggs|
|Zinc||Meat, shellfish, dairy foods such as cheese, bread, cereal products such as wheatgermBeans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, nuts, seeds and quinoa|
Eating for your immune system!
If you’re getting bored of the same foods why not try mixing it up a bit. An excellent way to start your day is with a smoothie. Here are two great recipes that not only include those important vitamins and minerals but taste good too. If you don’t already, try using coconut water instead of processed orange juice in your smoothies to avoid those unwanted chemicals. And, if you’re taking supplements in powder form, why not add these too – everything you need in a glass!
Healthy berry banana smoothie
(678 kcal, 18g protein, 64.5g carbohydrates (of which 24g sugars), 35.5g fat (of which 5.5g saturates), 13.5g fibre and 0.3g salt)
75g frozen mixed berries
1 medium ripe banana
2tbsp jumbo oats
2 heaped tsp no-added-sugar cashew nut butter
2 tsp mixed seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame and flax)
250ml milk alternative such as soya or almond
Put all the ingredients in a blender and blend until thick and smooth – pour into a tall glass and serve.
Vitamin booster smoothie
(114 kcal, 3g protein, 50g carbohydrates (of which 25g sugars), 1g fat (of which 0g saturates), 8g fibre, , 0.2g salt)
1 orange, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
50g mango, roughly chopped
Put the orange, carrot, celery and mango in a blender, top up with water and blend until smooth.
Or try making your own healthy alternative. Add raw spinach or kale, red bell pepper, fresh ginger, turmeric, seeds, apples, oranges or any other fresh fruit and use coconut water instead of milk. The scope is endless and you’ll soon perfect your ultimate morning go-to drink. We have more recipes here. If you have a favourite, we’d love to try it too so share your recipe tips with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 British Nutrition Foundation https://www.nutrition.org.uk/press-office/pressreleases/covid.html