Keeping our immune system functioning optimally is a concern for many during these unprecedented times. We are seeing so much contradictory advice and fake news stories, it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. So let’s have a look at how you can help your immune system function at its best.

What you put into your body will either help or hinder your immune system. Smoking for example uses up vital antioxidants such as vitamin C, as your body tries to neutralise the free radical damage. Stress is a major factor in our busy lives but has a negative impact on our lymphocytes— the white blood cells that help fight off infection. And I’m sorry to say, sugar also has a detrimental effect.

Looking after your physical and mental health is paramount. Get some fresh air: if possible have a daily walk. Eating fruit and vegetables is the best way to get the essential nutrients you need. Sometimes it may be difficult to obtain everything from food alone, particularly true for those of you self-isolating.

Some nutrients such as vitamin C, necessary for immune function are easily destroyed by cooking or food storage. Zinc found in shellfish, pumpkin seeds and eggs helps support immune function, a low level of zinc may result in more frequent infections and slower recovery.

There are some less well known plant extracts, spices and even yeasts that have been shown to offer immune support. Olive trees are believed to have protective natural chemicals enabling them to live for centuries, olive leaves have long been used as a traditional remedy. Specific beta-glucans, derived from baker’s yeast and mushrooms, have been shown to help regulate the immune system. Garlic and spices such as chilli and ginger have been used for centuries to aid recovery from infections. Gut health is vital in our body’s defence system so include fermented foods such as yoghurt or live bacteria.

Recipe

Chicken soup

Serves 4

Cooking time 25 minutes

Olive oil

1 leek chopped

3 medium carrots chopped

2-3 garlic cloves chopped

1 lemongrass stalk, tough outer layers removed, gently crush the end to release the flavours

150g chopped chicken thighs (or use tofu, tempeh or cannellini beans for vegetarians)

200g frozen peas

600ml of vegetable or chicken stock

About 2½ cm of ginger, grated

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon of thyme leaves roughly chopped

Sliced chilli

 

Method

  • Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large pan add the chopped leek, garlic, lemon zest and thyme leaves
  • Gently fry for 10 minutes
  • Add the chicken, the lemongrass (whole) and grated ginger
  • Fry for a further 5 minutes
  • Stir in the stock, carrots and peas and simmer for 10 minutes ensure the chicken is cooked through
  • Remove the lemon grass
  • Take off the heat and serve adding the lemon juice to taste, sprinkle with sliced chilli


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