Britons urgently need a “nutrition reset” to get immune health back on track, a new report warns.
The report, commissioned by the Health and Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS), says that three-quarters of Britons recognise that immune health is compromised by bad diets, and that there are “worrying signs that our diets are way off track, putting immune health under strain as autumn gets underway”.
The report – Immune Health: Micronutrients Under the Microscope – brings together a new poll and data on the healthiness of our diets to delve into the nation’s ‘immune readiness’. HSIS says the results “reveal that many Britons badly need a nutrition reset with food portions out of control, comfort eating rife and immunity nutrients, such as vitamin D and iron, in decline”.
One of the report’s authors, GP Dr Gill Jenkins, says: “Good nutrition is essential for optimal immunity but, as far as our diets are concerned, key pieces of the puzzle are missing. Vitamins A and C – from fruit and vegetables – and iron from red meat, beans and green veg, are lower than ideal for some age groups, while most adults don’t take a vitamin D supplement as recommended.
“Fish intakes are also too low, leading to a massive shortfall in omega-3 fats, which help the body to calm down potentially dangerous levels of inflammation produced during an immune response.
“These nutrients all play a role in supporting two aspects of our immune function – innate immunity, which creates a barrier against invading pathogens, and adaptive immunity, which helps our bodies to target viruses and create antibodies.
“Given that diets in the UK are far from ideal, it’s a good idea to take a daily vitamin and mineral supplement, as well as an omega-3 supplement if you rarely eat oily fish. Supplementation has been shown to improve several specific aspects of immune health, particularly where deficiencies exist.”
Key findings from the HSIS report show:
· A third of survey respondents (34%) ate more comfort foods and snacks during lockdown.
· More than a fifth (21%) have been advised by a healthcare professional to change their diet to lose weight.
· Intakes of vital immune-supporting nutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin D, B vitamins and iron, have declined over the last decade.
· Almost half (48%) say they have no idea what the Government’s Eatwell Guide advises – that’s the ‘bible’ on what a healthy diet looks like.
· Around two thirds (64%) of adults don’t take a vitamin D supplement.
· Only half are actively following advice to eat more fruit and vegetables.
· Three in five (60%) don’t pay attention to recommended portion sizes or portion control.
The UK immune health micronutrient emergency
With immune-supporting nutrients being seen as more important than ever, the HSIS report highlights a serious gap between recommended intakes of key vitamins and minerals and the “harsh reality of our current diets”, arguing that “the risks to optimal immunity are evident”.
Dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton, who co-authored the HSIS report, says: “A recent study from King’s College London confirms that dietary supplementation can give your immune system a helping hand. Amongst almost half a million people subscribing to a COVID-19 app, the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection was cut by 14% in those who took probiotics, omega-3 fatty acids, multivitamins, or vitamin D.
“As winter approaches, it’s clear our diets will need to deliver more nutritional value to give us optimal immunity support. So, we need to urgently dump our comfort eating habits, watch portion sizes, up our vegetable intake, and choose healthier options for snacks. Tackling low levels of immune-support nutrients with a daily vitamin and mineral supplement is also a useful health hack.