Nourish your immune system now for winter – and for Covid

It really feels like the seasons have changed and we are ready for a fresh start. Last weekend’s bank holiday gave most of a chance to enjoy the last breath of summer and it felt like the start of something new.

This autumn will be like no other. With the ongoing threat of Covid (it hasn’t gone away you know!), it is now more important than ever that we take responsibility to look after our health and support and nourish our immune system. We need to take a long hard look at our diet and lifestyle – it really could be a game changer.

From what we know of Covid-19 so far, it is apparent that those who are overweight and suffering from chronic (and largely preventable) health conditions, such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are those who are likely to be worst affected by this deadly virus.

Last week saw the launch of a new book called The 21 Day Immunity Plan by Aseem Malhotra, an NHS consultant cardiologist and one of the founders of Action on Sugar. Giving us the evidence-based science behind the plan, Dr Malhotra shares how simple changes to our diet alongside regular, daily exercise and stress management can have profound effects in improving our health.

We all need total responsibility for our own health. It is time for action, right now.

By making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle , it is possible to support and nourish your immune system and improve your resilience and defence to infection of all kinds. Of course this is not to say that you will not be hit by infections and viruses, but that your body might just be better able to cope.

Eat more of these

  • Think colour – eat as many different coloured vegetables as you can pack on to your plate. Packed with powerful phytonutrients and antioxidants, rainbow coloured fruit and vegetables are central to supporting our immune system. Aim to eat at least four portions of vegetables every day – a portion size is about the size of your fist. Pack into seasonal salads, casseroles, curries, stews and chill. Fresh or frozen are both good.
  • A couple of portions of fruit a day. In particular, I would recommend berries – eg raspberries, blackberries, blueberries. they are low sugar and high in immune supporting nutrients.
  • Eat more fat – olive oil, oily fish, nuts and seeds contain anti-inflammatory fats that help to modulate the immune response and balance inflammation. Use olive oil for dressings and drizzles, use for cooking (up to 190C). Aim to have oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines or anchovies at least twice a week and eat a handful of nuts like almonds, Brazils, hazelnuts, walnuts every day.

Eat less of these

  • Sugar is making us sick! Set yourself a challenge of cutting sugar out of your diet for one week. Keep a food diary to help you and make sure you have alternative snacks for when the cravings hit. Nuts are perfect as they will give you a nutrient hit and satisfy the craving.
  • Ultra-processed foods – this is not just ready meals. If it comes in a packet and has five or more ingredients, don’t eat it. This includes low-fat yoghurts, cereal bars and diet shakes.
  • White and refined carbohydrates are not doing you any favours. Devoid of nutrition and deleting to your immunity.

Do this

Daily exercise, relaxation techniques and seeding time with friends and family (from a safe social distance of course) are also essential for a healthy body and mind. Also, do yourself a favour and go buy a copy of Malhotra’s book. Your body will thank you for it.

This blog post first appeared as my column in The Irish News on Saturday 5 September 2020.