It’s more important than ever to look after ourselves as we emerge from months of lockdown hibernation, and a huge part of maintaining a robust immune system comes down to what we’re putting into our bodies. Yet with so much information out there, it can feel like you need a nutritional qualification to even know where to begin.
Building a fighting fit immune system comes down to eating a varied diet and ensuring our bodies get their recommended daily allowances (RDAs) for all essential nutrients.
For nutrients such as Vitamin D, omega-3 fats and omega-6, exceeding the RDAs may actually provide extra benefits for the immune system, so it’s worth paying attention to individual nutrients to ensure your immune system is the best it can be. So where to start?
James Collier, head nutritionist at Huel – the food that contains all the nutrients your body needs – shares his top five nutritional essentials to kick start your way to a healthy immune system:
- Vitamin D – Also known as the “sunshine” vitamin, our bodies can make Vitamin D from sunlight, which helps support several different white blood cells to protect the body against foreign invaders. During lockdown, our bodies may not be absorbing as much sunshine as they normally would during this time of year.
Unless you regularly eat oily fish, such as salmon and trout, getting enough vitamin D isn’t easy. One of the next best sources of vitamin D are eggs, which still only contain 20% of the UK RDA, followed by a portion of cheese which provide just 6%. So, it’s worth considering supplementation.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C helps support the production and function of the special types of white blood cells that attack bacteria and viruses. Whilst the popular idea of vitamin C preventing the common cold has been exaggerated, a good vitamin C intake of at least the RDA is essential for an efficient immune system.
One orange will be enough to hit the RDA while a red pepper has triple the amount of vitamin C as an orange, so eating five a day really helps here.
- Essential fats – Omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats are found in several foods including oily fish, nuts and seeds and have important immune-regulatory functions. We tend to get enough omega-6 in our diets but many struggle to consume enough omega-3 (which produces less inflammatory signalling molecules) so inflammation can become a health issue.
This is why it’s important to have a good balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats, but this can be tricky if you don’t know where to look for it in your meal prep. The main source of omega-3 fats is oily fish, hence why their intake is often low. A plant-based diet can obtain omega-3 through flaxseed and walnuts, but most people don’t eat enough of these foods, if at all.
- Water – Staying hydrated is super important when it comes to the immune system. The mucus in the mouth, nose and respiratory tract is on the front line when it comes to protecting our body against foreign invaders.
If you’re dehydrated, you’ll make less mucus and this quite simply means you’ll be less protected. This is an added stressor to the body and can increase susceptibility to infection, so it’s important to drink up – it’s suggested to aim for about eight glasses a day.
- Protein – Protein is well known for its ability to help build muscle, but it’s actually also vital for supporting immunity, as it’s necessary to repair damaged tissues.
Consuming at least the RDA or above of protein will help keep immune systems strong and sturdy.
Whilst it’s one thing to know what you should be putting into your body, it’s challenging to work out RDAs from food packaging alone.
The world’s best-selling complete food brand, Huel, makes this simple as each 400kcal serving provides exactly the right amounts of vitamins and nutrients that our bodies need to be on top form. For example, just one 400kcal serving of Huel provides you with 80% of your RDA of Vitamin D – so two Huels a day and you’re nearly there!
All Huel products – including powders, bars and the Ready-to-drink formula – are rich in essential fats, have a good omega-3:omega-6 ratio, and are high in protein from pea and brown rice.
They also contain all the 26 essential vitamins and minerals your body needs, some of which (vitamin C, D, E, zinc and selenium) are at levels higher than the RDA which can help to support our immune systems.