Find out what your diet is missing to build a healthy immune system

Having a bad diet can put your immune system at risk but here are a few things you can do for a nutrition reset

Woman eating from a bowl of fruit and granola
(Image credit: Getty)

Having a healthy immune system is important all year round but is especially important over winter when various colds and flus are circulating, not forgetting the increased risk of catching COVID right now. One really simple way to build up your immune system is by having a good diet.

Everyone can benefit from letting go and making the most of the holidays but you might want to consider balancing this with taking care of your immune system. It turns out carving a nutritious diet or taking supplements (for example some of the best vitamins for women over 50) can be essential for improving your immune health over winter.

A recent poll conducted by the UK based Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS) has discovered a need for a nutrition reset among Brits as too many are sacrificing their immune systems for poor diets. 

The main factors that contribute to a poor diet are an increase in comfort eating, food portions ut of control, and a lack of key immunity nutrients such as vitamin D and iron.

A dish of roasted butternut squash

(Image credit: Getty)

According to the poll, three in five Brits (60%) don't consider recommended portion sizes or pay attention to portion control when eating. 

Only half of the respondents were actively following advice on eating more fruit and vegetables, and a third of the survey respondents (34%) reported eating more comfort foods and snacks throughout lockdown.

One of the study author's, GP Dr Gill Jenkins said that Brits need to focus on getting more vitamin A and C from fruit and vegetables, upping their iron intake from things like red meat, beans and green vegetables and ensuring they are taking a vitamin D supplement - especially seeing as the survey revealed that two-thirds (64%) of UK adults don’t take a vitamin D supplement.

Additionally, Dr Jenkins says that fish intakes are too low, which means people are lacking healthy omega-3 fats (the best fish oil supplements are helpful if you dislike eating fish). These fats are essential for avoiding dangerous levels of inflammation brought on during an immune response. 

Why should you do this?

Humans rely on essential nutrients but often don't get enough of this. 

Ruxton explained that replacing comfort foods (which are often high in calories, fat and sugar and low in vitamins and minerals) with lots of fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods and plant-based snacks will provide your immune system with vitamins and minerals.

Vitamins and minerals play a large role in supporting immune cell development, supporting energy production in immune cells, and helping to protect the body’s physical barriers such as the respiratory tract, gut, and skin from viral and bacterial invaders.

How to manage this over the festive period

Dr Carrie Ruxton sympathises that the festive period can be a very tempting time to eat more comfort foods and in large portions.

However, her advice is to make sure your home is stocked with plenty of fruit and veg, fill yourself up between meals on things like carrots or celery dipped in hummus or salsa, and buy your favorite treats in small amounts to avoid overindulging.

She also points out that if you are a stress eater then try using a stress management activity such as yoga (a best yoga mat could be a last-minute Christmas present idea) or getting out for a daily walk.

Jessica Downey

Jessica is an experienced fitness writer with a passion for running. Her career in journalism began in local news and she holds a Masters in journalism. Jessica has previously written for Runners World, penning news and features on fitness, sportswear and nutrition. 

When she isn't writing up news and features for Fit&Well covering topics ranging from muscle building, to yoga, to female health and so on, she will be outdoors somewhere, testing out the latest fitness equipment and accessories to help others find top products for their own fitness journeys. Her testing pairs up nicely with her love for running. She recently branched out to running 10Ks and is trying to improve her time before moving on to larger races. Jessica also enjoys building on her strength in the gym and is a believer in health and wellness beginning in the kitchen. She shares all of this on her running Instagram account @jessrunshere which she uses for accountability and for connecting with like-minded fitness lovers.