Vitamins boost the body’s defences
Vitamins and minerals are the protagonists when it comes to strengthening the immune system through nutrition. Here you can find out which foods contain which nutrients and what effect these have in our bodies.
The immune system is the body’s own defence system. It stops the body’s tissues from being damaged by pathogens; it also identifies harmful substances and can make them harmless. One of the things the system needs to work properly is healthy and balanced nutrition. Other important factors are: getting enough sleep, and taking regular exercise.
Vitamin A for healthy mucous membranes
Vitamin A is extremely important in the development of cells and tissues. A lack of vitamin A can result in dry mucous membranes and make us more liable to catch cold.
The following foods are good sources of vitamin A:
• dairy products
• butter and margarine
Vitamin D deficiency increases susceptibility to infection. Since vitamin D in the body is only activated by sunlight, it is important not only to eat foods which contain plenty of vitamin D but also to spend time out of doors.
The following foods are good sources of vitamin D:
• egg yolk
• fatty fish
Zinc deficiency increases susceptibility to infection, which is why zinc is so important for a strong immune system. Zinc is most commonly present in animal products, but can also be found in pulses and nuts.
Sources of zinc
• beef and pork
• dairy products
Defending against free radicals
Vitamins E and C and the mineral selenium work as a protective shield against free radicals and their harmful effects. Free radicals are aggressive oxygen compounds which can develop in our bodies as the result of an unhealthy lifestyle – e.g. smoking, intensive sunbathing or excessive stress. A varied and healthy diet helps the body to fight these radicals and so strengthen the immune system.
As a rule, all foods which are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega 3) also contain vitamin E.
Sources of vitamin E
• rapeseed oil
Vitamin C has a large number of functions above and beyond its role in defending against free radicals. A vitamin C deficiency can lead to tiredness and irritability. That’s why it’s important, especially in the dark winter months, to ensure that you get enough, not least to reduce the risk of infection and boost the body’s ability to absorb iron.
Sources of vitamin C
• green vegetables
• citrus fruits
In addition to its role in defending against free radicals, selenium is also involved in the production of antibodies. This mineral therefore also has an important part to play in fighting pathogens.
Sources of selenium:
• meat (especially offal)
• brazil nuts
Our immune system needs iodine to combat bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Sources of iodine:
Keeping the immune system up to scratch
A regular healthy diet is essential in building and maintaining a strong immune system. A balanced diet, as illustrated by the Swiss Nutrition Association’s food pyramid, will normally provide all the nutrients we need.
It is especially important to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables and wholemeal products every day. Bring variety into your diet because different nutrients can be found in every foodstuff and behind every colour.
In particular life situations or when an individual is eating a special diet (as a result of sickness, pregnancy, veganism, chronic illnesses or increased nutrient loss), some vitamins and/or minerals may need to be provided through dietary supplements because the individual’s diet does not provide enough of them. You should discuss situations like this with your doctor.