3 shopping basket staples to help support your immune system

Amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, we find ourselves searching for tips, tricks and potions that promise to keep our immunity strong.

While a single food, nutrient or supplement may not hold the answer to stopping a virus in its tracks, you can build up your defences by eating a healthy balanced diet. This helps your immune system work normally by supporting your body's natural defences to fight infections and illnesses. This is even more important as you age.

Give your immune system a helping hand by making sure your shopping basket includes:

1. Healthy gut foods

It all starts in your tummy – a healthy immune system needs to be supported by a healthy gut microbiome or good gut bacteria. Recent research tells us that a healthy gut microbiome plays an essential role in the body's immune response to infection and maintaining overall health. For this you need prebiotics and probiotics.

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Probiotics are live bacteria that are beneficial to your gut microbiome. They are especially important after taking a course of antibiotics. You can find probiotics, such as lactobacilli and Bifidobacterium, in some yoghurts and foods with live cultures. 

While other fermented foods, such as kombucha, kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut may not meet the scientific criteria to be considered probiotics, they contain some live microbes and beneficial compounds that may also benefit our gut health. 

In addition to probiotics, you'll need the prebiotics that feed them. Our healthy gut bacteria depend daily on the fibre you feed them. Prebiotics are a special type of fibre that can easily be found in wholegrain foods, legumes and veggies like Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus and onions. 

By feeding our gut bacteria with these prebiotics, they then produce beneficial compounds that help keep us well.

2. Go healthy fats

We all love another reason to eat avocado on toast! Healthy fats can help regulate your immune system’s response to infection, so make sure your shopping basket contains nuts, avocado, and olive oil.

Unrefined high quality extra virgin olive oil provides important polyphenols that other refined oils don't have. These are bioactive compounds that help in the fight against inflammation

Nuts are also a great addition to a healthy diet. A handful of nuts at least 5 times a week provides healthy fats for a healthy heart and can also provide a good source of zinc, which also helps support your immune system.

Avocados are an important source of healthy fats and bioactive compounds to keep our heart healthy. But they contain other important nutrients that also help support our immune system, such as vitamin C, E and beta-carotene. Healthy fats help the body absorb some of these important nutrients. 

3. Powerful plant protection

Phytonutrients are chemicals released from plants to help them stay healthy. We can reap the same benefits by eating plenty of plant foods. Phytonutrient-rich foods include colourful fruits and veggies, legumes, nuts, teas (herbal, green etc), whole grains and also many herbs and spices. Try adding some coriander, turmeric, cumin, carrots, berries and spinach to your shopping basket. Or if you are struggling to find fresh veggies, another great option are frozen or tinned veggies. 

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