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Cycling nutrition: immune system superheroes

28 Nov 2017

With sniffle season upon us we look at five foods that will help shield your body from bugs


Clinical trials have shown that garlic has special protective powers, even seeming to kill off parasites in some tests.

Part of what gives this remarkable bulbous veg its distinctive pong are the 100-plus sulphuric compounds in each clove. These also give garlic the strength to wipe out bacteria and infection.

Indeed, it was even used to prevent gangrene in both World Wars. Its anti-septic properties are particularly potent when crushed or chopped, and it’s best eaten raw – just don’t expect to get snogged afterwards.

Too yucky? Try Holland & Barrett Odourless Garlic tablets instead (£12.59 for 240,

Butter beans

Although all beans are a good source of soluble fibre, those of the butter variety contain up to 3.5 times more of the stuff than other legumes.

When you digest soluble fibre it takes on a sticky quality. The result is that unwanted intruders – germs, for example – bind with it, get escorted through your body and ejected from your digestive tract.

A US study reckons soluble fibre also cools the inflammatory response, which helps the immune system function efficiently, while providing good bacteria for your guts.

Don’t like ’em? Other varieties of beans are available, while citrus fruits also contain plenty of soluble fibre.

Brazil nuts

Did you know that Amazonian trees that bear Brazil nuts can live to be up to 500 years old?

We’re not promising you’ll make it that far if you eat these but you’ll certainly be giving your body a boost.

You see, Brazils are a good source of selenium – an essential mineral with powerful antioxidant properties that prevent cell damage, while also activating enzymes which get your immune system positively motoring.

You won’t need to chomp many either – just two a day will deliver enough selenium to do the job.

Got an aversion or allergy to nuts? You can also get your daily selenium fix from yellowfin tuna, spinach or eggs.


Unsurprisingly, the cell structure of fungi closely resembles that of illness-inducing bacteria, which means that every time you eat mushrooms you give your immune system the military equivalent of a war-games exercise.

Your immune cells will become adept at recognising genuine bad bacteria and give it a good bashing.

Exotic varieties like shiitakes were thought best for this, but it turns out even the humble button mushroom can significantly boost the ranks of your immune system’s elite natural killer (NK) cells.

Can’t stand ’shrooms? Try Holland and Barrett’s Maitake Mushroom Vitamin D (£6.99 for 30 capsules).


These little orange wonders are crammed with beta-carotene, a pigment which the body converts into Vitamin A – the vitamin that many modern studies have identified as probably the key ingredient in the creation and maintenance of a high-functioning immune system.

In fact, carrots are so good at supplying it that just one carrot (100g) can provide you with more than 100% of your recommended daily intake of vitamin A.

Not hard to see why it’s made it onto our list of superheroic supper companions. No likey? Cantaloupe melons, red peppers, butternut squash and sweet potatoes are all beta-carotene rich, too.

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