Why the idea of ‘boosting’ your immune system isn’t necessarily true

Posted by for Fitness Recipes

Cold weather = more colds. But is it possible to boost your immune system with the food we eat? 

Food is supposed to be nature’s medicine – – and, if you find yourself turning to a steaming bowl of soup or mug of honey and lemon when fighting a cold, we’re sure you’ll agree with this. But are there really any culinary heroes that can help our systems better cope with illnesses?

Well, it’s not as simple as that. The idea that any foods can boost your immunity “is a bit of a myth,” explains Nichola Ludlam-Raine, a specialist registered dietitian. “The only way to truly ‘boost’ your immune system is to have a vaccine. You can, however, support your immune system by eating a healthy and balanced diet which involves eating plenty of ‘natural’ colour (whole foods), whole grains, protein and healthy fats.”

While eating a colourful, balanced diet can help to support the body’s ability to fight off infection, other factors are equally important.

Getting enough sleep, stress management and moderate-intensity exercise are all crucial.

Oh, and eating enough is also vital. Nichola explains: “One of the most important dietary aspects when it comes to supporting your immune system is to eat an adequate amount of calories and to not be in a calorie deficit; now is certainly not the time for unnecessary restriction!”

If you’re finding that nutrition is lower down your priority list, then that’s OK, says registered associate nutritionist, Isa Robinson.

Can you boost your immune system with food?

Ultimately you should never be freaking out about what you’re having for dinner, especially right now, when staying safe should be our number one priority. “Maintaining regular, balanced and, for the most part, ‘fun’ eating, should cover your bases,” she says. “The nutritional minutiae and silver bullet cures are diet culture at its finest.”

So what does she recommend we try to eat? Well, it’s all about trying to maintain a diet with a good mix of carbs, fats and proteins with plenty of fruit and veg.

“Canned and frozen still work perfectly well, and will last longer than fresh. Many carbs can be kept in store cupboards e.g. rice, pasta, oats, whilst fridge and freezer space may be helpful for keeping other items cool,” Isa adds. 

Nichola is also a fan of frozen fruits and veg, saying they actually contain more nutrients than their fresh counterparts. “However what matters most is how you cook it. For example, steaming preserves more of the vitamins than boiling. If your tinned vegetables contain salt then make sure to rinse them before cooking or eating.”

“Please don’t be afraid of ‘processed foods’ like canned fish, jars of pesto and packets of biscuits, which are likely going to add flavour and nutrient bombs when we need them!” continues Isa. “Fun foods (aka the foods that simply bring us joy) are also important. It’s not the worst thing in the world to self-soothe with a bit of chocolate right now.”

If supporting your body’s immunity is important to you right now, it’s worth making sure that you have a few food heroes in your kitchen.

Nichola says that her favourite nutrient-dense foods that provide vitamin C, D and zinc (which all contribute to a strong to immune system) include:

  • Tomatoes (tinned, pureed or fresh)
  • Peppers
  • Salmon
  • Wholemeal bread
  • Eggs

Pascal Nourtier is a nutritionist based on Harley Street and he tells us that the benefit of eating tinned foods is that “all bacteria and viruses that could initially be present on fresh products are destroyed”.

Tinned fish and meat contain the same amount of protein as the fresh stuff, he says, because all the minerals are kept in the tin. “If you were to chose a tin-based died it’s important to combine it with a can of vegetables with each meal to ensure you are also getting fibre and vitamins.

“The only vitamin difficult to keep in a tin is vitamin C so it’s recommended to consume fresh fruit (well washed) and take a good quality vitamin C supplement.”

And, if you’re struggling to reach the recommended five-a-day during these difficult times, think about taking a supplement containing 10mcg of vitamin D and a general multivitamin and mineral.

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Miranda Larbi

Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.

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