Staying healthy is top of mind right now, but what should we be filling our fridges, lunchboxes and stomachs with to stave off sickness? We asked Nutritionist and TV presenter Rick Hay to reveal the key ingredients for a strong immune system.
It will come as no surprise that Vitamin C tops Rick’s list of immune-supporting ingredients – it’s a superhero when it comes to protecting the body from harm.
“This water-soluble is necessary for the growth, development and repair of all body tissues,” says Rick. “It acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage caused by free radicals – unstable atoms produced either from normal cell metabolisms or external sources like pollution, cigarette smoke and radiation.”
Vitamin C is also involved in the formation of collagen, the immune system, wound healing and the maintenance of the bones and teeth, and encourages the production of white blood cells, which help protect the body against infection. As if all that wasn’t enough, vitamin C also plays a part in helping white blood cells function more effectively by protecting them from damage by free radicals – it may help to reduce the severity and length of infection, too.
Where you’ll find it: Blackberries, strawberries, lemons and capsicums are great sources of vitamin C, Rick says.
“This essential mineral is involved in the production of certain immune cells,” says Rick. “Even mildly low levels of zinc may impair your immune function, so you want to make sure you keep your zinc levels high – especially in times like these.”
The second-most-abundant trace mineral in your body, zinc is present in every cell – but, your body doesn’t naturally produce it, so you must obtain it through food or supplements. When paired up, zinc and vitamin C are extremely effective at fighting off infection.
Where you’ll find it: “Eat your beans!” says Rick. “Beans, especially chickpeas are a great source of zinc, as are eggs, oats, quinoa, cashews, pumpkin seeds and meat or shellfish.”
Turmeric has been the go-to spice in the wellness world for some time now – and, for good reason.
“The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin, which may help lower anxiety levels by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the body,” explains Rick. “Inflammation often increases in people experiencing depression or anxiety, and research has concluded that an increase of curcumin in the diet also increased DHA levels and reduced anxiety.”
Where you’ll find it: Find turmeric powder in the spice section at your local supermarket, and add it to your morning smoothie or to curry or soup. You can also make turmeric lattes with cinnamon and steamed milk, or sip on some turmeric tea.
Ginger is a potent anti-inflammatory that may help ease a cold or the flu.
“In a 2013 study, researchers reviewed the effects of fresh and dried ginger on one respiratory virus in human cells,” says Rick. “The results showed that fresh ginger may help protect the respiratory system, while dried ginger did not have the same impact.”
What’s more, ginger may help with nervous system function and digestive health – and, it’s seriously delicious.
Where you’ll find it: “I use ginger in teas, to make immunity shots or throw it in my stir fries,” says Rick. Buy whole ginger root at the supermarket, or the minced variety in a jar – just ensure there are no additives.
Magnesium acts as a nervous system relaxant, and is a great mineral to assist with anxiety, irritability, and restlessness. Magnesium can also help alleviate tension by relaxing the muscles.
“Low magnesium intake is linked to chronic inflammation, which speeds up the ageing process and can cause chronic disease,” says Rick. “Studies have shown that magnesium supplements can reduce markers of inflammation in adults. It’s one of my favourites!”
Where you’ll find it: Foods like leafy greens, avocados and bananas are a great source of magnesium – you can quite literally eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner.