I had really hoped that I wouldn’t have to write yet another blog on immunity, but, as things stand we may be in for another winter of worrying about the Virus, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to discuss some useful hacks that you and your family can implement to support the adequate functioning of your immune system this winter.
Firstly, can the immune system actually be boosted? Not really. But we do know which nutrients it requires to function properly, and which lifestyle measures either help or hinder it. I am still yet to see any real reporting in mainstream media on the benefit and importance of supporting our immune systems via a healthy diet and lifestyle, but I do hope that the importance of that isn’t lost on you, wonderful 8Foods customers!
So let’s examine some of the key facts about our immune systems and whether something like superfoods can help us this winter!
What nutrients does the immune system need to function optimally?
Well, I could list all the separate vitamins and minerals here, of which there are many, and I will mention a few specific ones but broadly speaking if you consume a nutritionally dense diet then you’ll be getting all of them in spades. I’ll caveat that by saying that it’s of course harder to get things like preformed Vitamin A (a.k.a. retinol) on a plant based or vegan diet along with Vitamin D of which there is a small amount in eggs and oily fish.
Each stage of the body’s immune response is dependent upon the presence and accessibility of many nutrients including vitamin C, Vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron and protein - yes, protein! These nutrients can be found abundantly in an omnivorous diet and in various supplements too - personally I love the Wild Nutrition Immune support.
Can superfoods play a helpful part in immune system support?
So called ‘superfoods,’ which are foods or ingredients that have a higher than average concentration of beneficial compounds, can play a useful role in immune support but they are certainly not a lifeline. The most basic and important principle when it comes to diet and immunity is to eat balanced, plant-focused, low sugar and whole-food meals. That’s to say cook from scratch as much as you can, use seasonal ingredients so that you’re rotating the types of fibre and polyphenols (plant chemicals) that you get, and eat the rainbow daily. Each colour in food represents different polyphenols, vitamins and minerals - and you want to make sure you’re getting all of them every day. If you have fussy eaters at home, make a chart for the fridge with a big rainbow on and tick boxes for the kids to check once they’ve had each colour.
Have you ever heard of the ORAC value of superfoods? It’s how we can measure the antioxidant value of superfoods and ‘rank’ them against each other. It stands for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, because as we know, antioxidants quench free radicals in the body, which is why they’re so good for us. Here’s a list of the top ten ORAC foods, and I think you’ll be interested to see that most of them are spices and herbs - the most potent ingredients we have on offer in our diets.
Per 100g of food:
- Spices, cloves, ground 314446
- Sumac, bran, raw 312400
- Spices, cinnamon, ground 267536
- Sorghum, bran, hi-tannin 240000
- Spices, oregano, dried 200129
- Spices, turmeric, ground 159277
- Acai berry, freeze-dried 102700
- Sorghum, bran, black 100800
- Sumac, grain, raw 86800
- Cocoa, dry powder, unsweetened 80933
There’s quite a bit of research to support the use of ingredients like turmeric, not only for it’s amazing antioxidant status but also for its incredibly anti-inflammatory effects, and things like ginger, along with other spices, herbs, dark berries like blueberries and blackcurrants and pomegranate seeds. The reason these so called superfoods (See also the myriad of powders one can buy in the health food store these days, e.g. camu camu, schisandra berry powder, matcha etc) are helpful is not because they are specifically immune supporting, but just because they have a higher than normal polyphenol and antioxidant content - two things we need to be optimally healthy.
To be honest, we can drill down into the specifics like this or, much more helpfully, we can take a broader approach to supporting our immune system. Did you know, for example, that the number one most supportive immune hack is not a food at all, but sleep? Yes, that’s right. It’s completely un-sexy but scientifically backed - and not to mention, free! When we sleep we provide our bodies with the right environment to present antigens to our immune cells, we detoxify at night too and generally our bodies take out the cellular waste from the day and hopefully, wake up refreshed.
So this winter, if you’re concerned about the amount of colds and flu going around, along with the Virus of course, don’t expect that you can burn the candle at both ends, eat your greens and still be fine! It’s a whole package approach! Diet is key, but so is Vitamin D (for example) which necessitates you having got enough unadulterated sunshine on your skin over summer, sleep and rest like it’s your job if you’re feeling under the weather, and yes, pop some superfood powders in a smoothie but ultimately it’s taking an holistic approach that is going to be the key!