Immune boosters for cold and flu season

The cold months are here and amidst snuggling up, this is the time we must focus on building our immunity. Physical and emotional stress, poor diet and chronic illness can suppress your immune system and boosting your immune system is the single most important thing you can do for your health.

What is the role of good nutrition when trying to build up immunity? The body reacts to disease conditions by way of the immune response, which uses more energy and nutrients. The immune system fights off germs, bacteria, viruses and parasites that people are exposed to daily.

Each time new infections occur, the need for nutrients and energy is increased. When one isn’t able to eat enough, or one develops mal-absorption as seen in diarrhoea, the immune system gets weakened even more. This means that the body is more prone to further infections.

There is no specific vitamin or mineral that can cure diseases. Vitamins are not a treatment for disease. Diseases and infections cause people to have higher needs of certain vitamins and minerals. It may be useful to take vitamin and mineral supplements when your food intake is not good, but discuss this with your dietician or doctor. Remember that high doses can do damage to your immunity. Supplements should also never replace your food.

Natural immune boosters

• Enjoy a wide variety of foods. Remember that variety is the spice of life!

• Make whole-wheat starchy foods the basis of every meal. This is a great way to add vitamins and fibre to your diet.

• Eat at least five servings of fruit and vegetables every day.

• Enjoy lentils, beans, peas and soya regularly. They add variety and are great nutrients.

• Be a fat detective. Watch the amount of fat you eat in a day and choose the good fats, not the bad. Remember to focus on your intake of oily fish three times per week for your weekly dose of omega-3’s.

• Drink at least eight glasses of water or herbal teas daily. Try to cut down coffee intake.

• Learn to listen to your body and know your family history. This is a great way to practice disease prevention.

• Discover the wonders of working out. Get moving for 30 minutes a day.

• Enjoy the powers of sleep. Get your eight hours.

• Practice stress reduction techniques.

• Be social, stay connected and have fun.

Another important thing to remember is that immunity is weakened by the germs in our homes as well. Places like the bathroom and kitchen should be kept particularly clean to 

avoid the spread of harmful germs.

• Keep a safe kitchen. Wash all surfaces – table tops, counters, sinks, shelves etc. with soap and water. Clean up immediately after spills. Wash the kitchen floors at least once a week, more if necessary. Use separate cloths for the floor.

• Keep rubbish in a covered bin. Empty and wash the bin regularly. Disinfect cloths, sponges and scourers with bleach. Dry them in sunlight.

• Use kitchen cloths in the kitchen only. Use separate cloths and cleaning materials for the bathroom.

MEET THE EXPERT

Berna Harmse is a private practicing dietitian in Cape Town, she holds a MSc in Dietetics and has a special interest in oncology nutrition. She is also an external lecturer at Stellenbosch University Division of Human Nutrition.

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