Pine nuts are a rich source of zinc, which is needed for the healthy development of the cells of the immune system. Adequate zinc intake helps prevent the risk of infections in both the gut and the respiratory system, in fact, one of the symptoms of mild zinc deficiency is diarrhoea. But be careful not to overdo it with zinc supplements as excessive intake can also suppress immune function, making risk of infection worse. Eating a wide variety of foods and having a healthy diet is the best way to get the balance of zinc in your diet right. That said, zinc supplements can be useful in boosting the immune system after a bout of prolonged illness.
Two of the key nutrients needed for a healthy immune system are vitamin C and beta-carotene. These clever vitamins work together to mop up free radicals and prevent damage to cells that can initiate heart disease or cancer. Mangoes are a great source of both these important vitamins and when a mango is ripe, the flesh is very easy to digest. Don’t let the messiness of preparing a mango put you off; the best way is to slice the fruit lengthways into two pieces, avoiding the stone in the middle and then to score the flesh into a criss-cross pattern before turning each half inside out.
Beef is a rich source of protein, in particular, certain components of protein known as amino acids that are required by the immune system. Glutamine is one of the most important amino acids needed by immune cells. Studies conducted in hospital patients and athletes (both of whom have compromised immunity) show that glutamine improves immunity and reduces the risk of infections. All cuts of beef are a good source, the richest is salt beef, but only tuck in if your blood pressure is normal.
Vitamin E is another very important vitamin to ensure a healthy immune system. It is known as a fat soluble vitamin, which means it is present in the fat of foods. While too much fat in the diet is a bad thing, too little is also not good as you could be missing out on vitamin E and other fat soluble vitamins. This means you should choose your fats carefully rather than avoiding all high fat foods. Olive oil is a great source of vitamin E as well as monounsaturated fats, which are good for heart health as well as the immune system. Use it in cooking and to dress salads.
Probiotic bacteria can help reduce the risk of infections of the gut as well as improving the symptoms of conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Research has shown that people who suffer recurrent bowel infections have reduced numbers of the normal ‘friendly’ bacteria in their gut and an imbalance or overgrowth of the unwanted sometimes harmful bacteria, that can cause the symptoms of gastric pain, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These painful gastrointestinal conditions can often occur as a result of treatment with oral antibiotics, food poisoning with pathogenic bacteria (e.g. Salmonella), viral infections, stress, or from reduced bowel motility and lack of gastric acid, which happens with age.
Scientific testing has shown pomegranate juice to be rich in antioxidants, which are able to neutralise damaging free radicals generated by a poor diet, pollution and cigarette smoke, all of which are implicated in heart disease, stroke, cancer and ageing. The juice has three times the antioxidant properties of red wine or green tea, already regarded as good protection against heart disease and other illnesses.
Quick sardine pate
Sardines are a rich source of omega 3 fats, another very important nutrient for cells of the immune system.
1) 120g can of sardines (in oil)
2) 3 tbsp. low fat soft cheese
3) Juice from half a lemon
4) Freshly ground black pepper
Drain the sardine and place in a bowl. Mash roughly with a fork and then add the cheese and lemon juice. Stir well or blend together in a blender. Season with the pepper and serve on toast melba.