Food hacks: how to boost your immune system

Dale Pinnock
12 June, 2014

Fight off colds and flu by cooking delicious dinners? We get the low-down on immunity-boosting foods from Medicinal Chef Dale Pinnock.

Dale Pinnock, aka The Medicinal Chef, has a Masters in Nutritional Medicine and is all about exploring the health-boosting potential in food nutrients. With the dreaded cold and flu season upon us, he shares his guide to foods that are packed with great immunity-boosters.

Immunity boosting for colds & flu

There is no ‘cure’ for the common cold, but I firmly believe there is a lot we can do to make ourselves feel better by reducing symptoms, and also by improving our body’s way of dealing with such infections. Cold and flu viruses attack the upper respiratory tract, such as the nose and throat. When they get into these tissues and start causing mischief, our immune system respond by sending an army of white blood cells to the area to kill the virus. It is the immune system trying to control the infection that gives us the symptoms associated with cold and flu.

Improve your immune system

This is a contentious subject, but some foods have shown some positive results in several types of study. Shiitake mushrooms and goji berries contain unique, active sugars called polysaccharides. These have demonstrated some interesting effects on our immune system, and shiitake polysaccharides have been shown to increase the production of white blood cells. The more we can produce during an infection, the better the position we are to deal with it effectively. Our body does increase production of white cells during an infection, but shiitake mushrooms may step this up even further.

Goji-berry polysaccharides have shown similar activity, but to date the research is more limited. More needs to be done, but it looks as though they might increase the white blood cell count too.

Zinc can also enhance immune response. White blood cells use zinc to code DNA, which works as an internal control mechanism for the cell, helping it respond to invaders and pathogens. Many trials have shown that increasing our intake of zinc-rich foods can improve resilience to infections, and also the time it takes to recover from infection.

Eat more garlic

Garlic is well known as a potent antiviral. Unlike most compounds, which are removed through the kidneys and bowel, the essential oils in garlic cannot be removed this way, and are instead removed through the breath. As they move through the respiratory tract, they can pick off the bugs and viruses lurking there, waiting to cause trouble.

Reduce inflammation

Tissues in the upper respiratory tract become inflamed during colds and flu while the immune system is dealing with the infection. Reducing this inflammation goes a long way towards making us feel more human again.

One of my favourite ingredients when I have a touch of the dreaded man flu is the old faithful ginger! This contains a very powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient, part of the chemistry that gives ginger its powerful spicy aroma, which works by blocking the manufacture of compounds that activate inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids in foods such as oily fish and flaxseeds are also of great value in helping the body make its own natural anti-inflammatory compounds.

Key ingredients for immunity boosting:delicious immunity

  • Shiitake mushrooms – powerful polysaccharides support immune function
  • Garlic – antiviral
  • Ginger – anti-inflammatory
  • Chillies – decongestant
  • Goji berries – likely to support immune function
  • Sweet potatoes – mild anti-inflammatory
  • Water, lots of it – beats dehydration from fever that often accompanies colds and flu
  • Prawns – packed with zinc
  • Coconut – contains lauric acid, a natural antiviral

For delicious immunity-boosting recipes, check out  The Medicinal Chef by Dale Pinnock.


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