10 foods to support your immune system this Autumn


The cold and flu season is upon us! Whilst we can’t eliminate our risk of falling ill, enjoying healthy meals can give our body and our immune system the best chance to doing its job. Yet according to a 2021 survey commissioned by Goodlife, 39% of Brits struggle with healthy meal inspiration whilst 25% often don’t have the right ingredients to hand.

Whether you’re a regular cook or a novice in the kitchen, this shopping list of immunity foods shared by leading nutritionist, Lily Soutter, will help to keep you and your immune system in tip-top shape this autumn and beyond... 

1. Beans and Pulses 

Did you that 70% of the immune system lies within the gut, and our gut bacteria communicates with these immune cells influencing their action. Fibre acts like fertiliser for our healthy gut bacteria, helping them to flourish and grow. However, as a population, we are consuming only half of our daily fibre target! What’s more, Goodlife’s 2021 survey showed that 35% of us are not sure how much fibre we should be consuming as well as the foods we should be choosing! The simplest way to boost our intake is to enjoy some veggie meals each week. Thankfully beans and pulses are jam-packed full of fibre and are affordable too. 

2. Red Bell Peppers 

Did you know that red bell peppers contain more vitamin C per 100g in comparison to oranges? This antioxidant nutrient is required for the production of white blood cells, which produce antibodies that help fight off viruses. Because our body cannot manufacture vitamin C, we must top up our daily stores from the food we eat. Other great sources include kiwi fruit, strawberries, broccoli and Brussel sprouts 

Top tip: vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that is destroyed by heat. Lightly steaming or microwaving your vegetables appears to retain higher concentrations of vitamin C in comparison to boiling. 

3. Soybeans 

Soybeans, tofu and tempeh are great plant-based sources of iron. A 100g serve of tempeh provides 3.6mg iron whilst cooked edamame beans provide 2.7mg! Iron is an important nutrient within the diet and a low status has been shown to suppress immunity. Women of childbearing age and teenage girls need to be particularly mindful of meeting their daily dietary targets as they require more than men and postmenopausal women (14.8 mg/day vs 8.7mg/day).  

Top tip: the absorption of iron found in plant-based foods is often reduced due to dietary phytates. But fear not, the absorption of iron from the gut can be boosted by combining your iron source with vitamin C rich foods such as fruit and vegetables. 

4. Sweet potato 

Beta-carotene is the phytonutrient responsible for the bright orange hue of sweet potato. This nutrient converts to vitamin A within the body and is needed for the maintenance of healthy epithelial cells which line the gut, eye and respiratory tract. These cells form a mucosal lining which acts as the first line of defence against infection. 

Top tip: beta-carotene is fat-soluble therefore combining your sweet potato with healthy fats such as olive oil or avocado can increase how much you absorb. 

5. Brazil nuts 

These delicious nuts are native to the Amazon rainforest and are a concentrated source of selenium. In fact, research has shown that consuming just two Brazil nuts a day is highly effective at raising selenium status. Selenium is a trace element with antioxidant properties which help to fight oxidative stress and enhance our immune function. 

Top tip: the concentration of selenium in Brazil nuts can vary widely as it depends on the status of the soil and where they’ve been grown. To reduce the risk of selenium toxicity, limit your daily intake of Brazil nuts to 1-3 per day. 

6. Eggs 

Did you know that eggs are one of the few food sources of vitamin D3? This sunshine vitamin is a key nutrient required for immune regulation. As many as 1 in 5 people have low vitamin D levels within the UK, and during Oct-April we should all consider supplementing with 10mcg per day. Vitamin D3 lies within the egg yolk so remember not to throw this delicious part away! 

Top tip: research has shown that free-range eggs have 3-4 times the amount of vitamin D compared to battery farmed eggs. This is because the hens have a chance to roam outdoors in the sunlight. 

7. Spinach 

Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach really pack in a powerful punch due to their abundance of nutrients and minerals. Spinach provides us with both iron, beta carotene and antioxidant phytonutrients which can support the normal function of the immune system. If you’re not a fan, Goodlife’s non-meaty sausages are jam-packed full of veggies including spinach. What an easy way to eat your greens! 

Top tip: serve your spinach with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing to boost the bioavailability of the immune support nutrients. 

8. Pumpkin seeds 

Pumpkin seeds are a good source of dietary zinc, an essential mineral that helps to keep the immune system strong. Zinc may help to inhibit the replication of the rhinovirus, which is the most frequent cause of cold symptoms. The ability to absorb zinc from plant-based foods is not as efficient as from animal sources therefore if following a vegan or veggie diet aim to consume plenty of zinc-rich foods such as pumpkin seeds, wholemeal bread, beans, and nuts.  

Top tip: Did you know that heating, sprouting, and pre-soaking legumes, nuts and seeds as well as fermenting grains (like sourdough bread) can increase our ability to absorb zinc? 

9. Fermented foods 

Fermented foods such as yoghurt with live cultures, kefir, kombucha, and even sauerkraut can introduce beneficial bacteria to the gut. These bacteria can communicate with the immune cells in our gut influencing their function. Whilst research is still in its infancy regarding the benefits of fermented foods, some studies have shown that taking probiotic supplements may reduce the severity of upper respiratory tract infections for those under physiological stress such as athletes. Nevertheless, enjoying a daily dose of fermented goodness is a perfect way to give your diet a boost. 

Top tip: fermenting foods can help to improve the bioavailability of immune support nutrients such as iron and zinc. 

10. Sun-Ripened Mushrooms 

Did you know that mushrooms can produce vitamin D2 when exposed to sunlight? This nutrient contributes to the normal function of the immune system and sun-exposed mushrooms are one of the few vegan sources. You can boost the vitamin D content of your mushrooms at home. Simply lay them in the sun gill side up between 10-3 pm for 15-20 mins. You could end up with over 10 mcg vitamin D per 100g mushrooms which is a substantial portion of our daily recommended intake! However, it is important to note the time of day, season, latitude, weather conditions and exposure time can help or hinder vitamin D production. 

Top tip: Short on time? Simply pop into your supermarket and look for the label ‘UV treated’ or ‘vitamin D’ enriched mushrooms.

For delicious recipe inspiration, more helpful advice and to browse the full range of delicious veggie and vegan products available, visit www.goodlife.co.uk.  

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