Vitamins for your bodily defences
The immune system is your body’s protective shield and very own defence system, protecting it from infection due to viruses and bacteria. It is highly complex and constantly on standby, ready to spring into action once it senses a threat. Yet your immune system needs your help if it is to be fully operational and able to give you the best possible protection. You can strengthen your own defences by eating a healthy diet that contains important vitamins and minerals. In the colder months, in particular, your immune system has a lot of work to do. That said, viruses and bacteria are present all year round, so now is a good time to start supporting and boosting your immune system.Equal helpings of sunshine and avocado saladAs a child, you’re taught that you need to eat at least three portions of vegetables and two portions of fruit a day. This is also recommended by the German Society of Nutrition. Fruit and vegetables provide you with important vitamins and minerals that give your immune system targeted support and help it to function as it should. These include vitamins A, E, C and D, plus the minerals zinc, selenium and iron.
Vitamin D is incredibly important for your immune system, as you need enough of it in order to boost your body’s defences. Strictly speaking, Vitamin D is not a vitamin at all, but rather the precursor of a hormone that humans make themselves, based on the action of sunlight on the skin. There is less opportunity for this during the winter months, when there isn’t as much sunshine, so it is particularly important to eat the right foods at this time of year. Yet only a few foods contain a sufficient quantity of vitamin D. Eggs, mushrooms, avocadoes, fatty sea fish and veal all come recommended.
Vitamin C has the job of neutralising free radicals and thus protects your body’s tissue against cell damage. It also helps to ensure that the functioning of the body’s mucous membranes is not impaired. A lack of vitamin C lowers the body’s defences and slows down the healing process if you catch a cold. You should aim for an intake of 100–200 mg vitamin C as part of your daily diet. As vitamin C has a very fragile structure, foods can shed it if they are stored or prepared incorrectly – by up to 100% in some cases. As such, it’s a good idea to eat such foods uncooked when you can, and to avoid storing them for long periods. Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, currants and sea buckthorn. Various types of vegetables, such as peppers, potatoes, broccoli, kale and Brussels sprouts, are also rich in vitamin C. (For more information on storing foods, see: Find out more!)
Vitamin A and vitamin E
When your external safeguards, such as your skin and mucous membranes, are no longer able to protect you, your immune system has to deploy some targeted weaponry. Vitamin A maintains these outer barriers to protect against intruders. You get vitamin A from yellow, orange and red varieties of fruit and vegetables, and the liver of sea fish or vertebrates. Vitamin E is the goalkeeper in your body’s defensive line-up against free radicals, intercepting them before they can damage your cells. Vegetable oils such as wheatgerm oil or sunflower oil all make excellent goalkeepers.
Zinc and selenium protect the components of the cells in your body and help your immune system to function normally. Zinc is absolutely vital. It is involved in all sorts of metabolic processes and controls the functioning of over 200 enzymes. As such, your body relies on a good zinc balance for an effective immune system. The recommended intake is 10 mg zinc every day. Pregnant women and people suffering from stress should up their zinc intake even more. Oysters contain more zinc than any other food, but as those aren’t for everyone, you can also get zinc from wholegrain products, fish, seafood, dairy products and beef. It’s important to keep up a regular intake of this trace element because your body is unable to maintain large stores of zinc. Selenium is mainly found in meat, fish, chicken eggs, lentils, asparagus and nuts. Iron supports what are known as scavenger cells, or phagocytes. These are located in our bloodstream and, as the name suggests, simply engulf and absorb any intruders. Phagocytes are continually moving around our bodies, looking for their foes. You mainly get iron from animal offal, but dark chocolate, chanterelles and wheat bran are also good sources.
Extra tips for strengthening your immune system
- Try to eliminate stress: your body can only produce new antibodies if you’re well rested, so make sure you get a good night’s sleep.
- You can party, but only in moderation – alcohol and nicotine weaken the immune system; in fact, they can deactivate it altogether for up to 24 hours.
- Clean hands – warm water and soap simply wash viruses away.
- Drink 2 litres of water a day – when under attack, the mucous membranes need plenty of liquid.
- Gut flora – 80% of your immune cells are located in your intestine, so a healthy gut = an effective immune system.
- Walk your way to health – getting active outdoors keeps your circulation going and your mucous membranes moist.
- Ventilation – healthy air circulation removes old air that may be contaminated with viruses.
Of course, there are plenty of fantastic Monsieur Cuisine recipes that strengthen your immune system while tasting utterly delicious.Have fun cooking and boosting your immune system in the process! :-)