Food for Thought: The Immune System

To keep our immune system in check we’re often advised to take a multi-vitamin. However, did you know that many of the foods we cook with every day can all play a role in strengthening our immune systems too? So, if your local chemist is closed, give some of these home remedies a try. If you have health concerns, always seek the advise of a healthcare professional.


The starting point of many delicious meals, garlic is not only full of flavour (and excellent at warning off vampires) but it is understood to have a role in the immune system too. Garlic is a natural antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal.

Research suggests an intake of 1-4 cloves of garlic per day to avail of its benefits. Some simple ways to include garlic in your diet include adding to soups, stews, curries or simply roasting with rosemary alongside some potatoes.

Did you know? During World War 1, raw garlic juice was used as an antiseptic for bathing wounds.

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Fruit & Veg

You’re probably sick of hearing about the importance of fruit and veg in your diet but it’s the truth! A diet filled with lots of colourful fruit and veg is a diet inclusive of a variety of vitamins and minerals. In simple terms, eat the rainbow.

Red, orange and yellow fruit and vegetables are good sources of vitamin C. Research suggests that while vitamin C does not prevent the common cold, it may help to lessen the duration of the cold. A large orange will provide the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and given its abundance in so many foods, taking a synthetic vitamin C supplement normally isn’t necessary.

Green veggies, such as broccoli and kale contain a range of B vitamins. Strongly coloured vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage caused by harmful modules in the atmosphere called free radicals. Many green veggies contain higher amounts of sulphur than bright coloured vegetables. Sulphur has quite a strong taste and if you’re like me, it’s not the most pleasant taste. To sneak some greens into your daily diet, try adding broccoli to soups, kale to stir-fries and spinach to pasta.

Supermarkets have come on in leaps and bounds in the last two decades and the selection of fruit and veg we now have is something not to be criticised. Along with the shops, farmers’ markets have become hugely popular the country over where you can pick up any amount of local produce. My local market is held in the People’s Park in Dun Laoghaire on Sunday mornings (when COVID isn’t around!).

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To help your gut stay at its best during this unpredictable spring weather, try to incorporate some probiotics into your diet. Probiotics are the “good bacteria” in your gut.

Probiotic bacteria helps to ward of “bad bacteria” in your gut, lessening the risk of nasty stomach bugs and supporting normal digestion. Certain types of probiotic bacteria have even been shown to lessen the duration of chest infections.

If you have been prescribed a course of antibiotics, it is often advisable to increase your intake of probiotic-containing foods and/or to take a probiotic supplement. This is because antibiotics cannot always tell the difference between “good” and “bad” bacteria. This can result in your infection being cleared but the antibiotic can also clear away some of the gut microbiome too. By taking a probiotic, you’re helping that gut microbiome to build back up. Your GP or pharmacist will be best placed to advise on which probiotic to take and for how long. It is important to seek the advise for your healthcare professional as some probiotics have more research and evidence behind them than others.

Probiotic containing foods include “live” yogurt, keifir, sauerkraut and miso which can easily be incorporated into meals throughout the day.

Prebiotics are the food that gives energy to the probiotics. Fibre-containing foods are prebiotics such as fruit, vegetables, oats, nuts and seeds.

Omega 3

Omega 3 fats can help speed up recovery and improve resistance to infection by increasing the activity of the cells that destroy bacteria. Eating one portion of oily fish per week, such as salmon or mackerel, can help to support the immune system while supporting heart and joint health too.

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Making informed food choices can go a long way to improving our natural defense system which is involved in fighting off colds and bugs. For some warming, nourishing soup recipes, click here.

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