Immunity-boosting Czech superfoods to eat this winter

If you want to protect your immunity against illness in Czechia, incorporate some of these beloved Czech foods into your diet Staff

Written by Staff Published on 01.02.2023 07:30:00 (updated on 08.02.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

This article was written in cooperation with Canadian Medical. Read more about our partner content policies here.

At the height of flu, RSV, and coronavirus season, strengthening immunity is now more important than ever to keep illness at bay.

Our immune systems consist of many types of different cells, tissues, and substances, which collectively play a key role in defending our bodies against illness brought on by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and their toxins.

Risks also lurk inside the body, meaning the immune system must eliminate its own, potentially harmful cells (for example, those that are old, damaged, or tumorous).

Sometimes that system fails and germs successfully invade and make us sick. Is it possible to intervene in this process and boost your immune system?

We spoke with M.Sc. Jitka Jirků, a nutritional therapist from the Canadian Medical clinic about the link between diet, lifestyle, and immunity and how to activate your immune defenses this winter.

Eat your way to wellness

"Our immune system is always active, it never rests, and it is during an infection that it is much more active and more resource-demanding (metabolism speeds up, there is an increased need for substances for the formation of new cells, etc.), which it must obtain from the diet," says Jirků.

A sufficient amount of vitamins and trace elements plays a key role in the proper functioning of the immune system both from the point of view of prevention and in the treatment of the disease. A healthy intestinal microbiota (intestinal bacteria) is an integral part of an optimally functioning immune system.

Incorporating plant-based food, fiber, and fermented foods like sauerkraut – that popular Czech side dish – into your diet is important for the growth and support of healthy intestinal microbiota.

5 immunity-boosting foods found on the Czech table

  • Sauerkraut White or red, “zeli” is full of immune-boosting probiotics and nutrients. 
  • Mackerel Rich in omega-3 fats, smoked mackerel is easy to come by
  • Kefir Fermented dairy products are widely consumed in Czechia and are high in nutrients and probiotics that are beneficial for gut health
  • Garlic Anti-inflammatory garlic makes for a warming and healthful traditional soup
  • Green tea Drink your vitamin C and antioxidants in a cup of “zelený čaj”

Regular and sufficient consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, nuts, eggs, fish, and dairy products (preferably sour) is also key to boosting immunity.

Omega-3 fatty acids contained in fatty fish have an anti-inflammatory effect, and are also an indispensable component of the diet. Eating a variety of these foods will help achieve optimal intake during the period of increased demands on the body for all immune functions in the body.

Give your diet a vitamin boost

According to Jirků vitamins A, C, and D are key to the fight against infection as they are directly responsible for the maturation and effectiveness of immune cells, including their ability to distinguish harmful substances and the effectiveness of their response.

Vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid support the activity of white blood cells. A healthy diet must include antioxidant vitamins C and E and antioxidant enzymes, which include selenium, zinc, copper, and iron. These protect our organisms against oxidative stress, which is an integral part of our defenses.

  • In Czechia, vitamins do not need to be prescribed by a doctor, they can be purchased over the counter in pharmacies in various forms.
  • In some cases, a doctor prescribes vitamins, e.g. when there is a clear lack of a certain vitamin, related to a certain condition (e.g. osteoporosis), or because the patient needs a vitamin in prescription strength.
  • Before taking any kind of vitamin, ask your doctor for advice. He or she may also be willing to write you a prescription for vitamins which will cover some of the cost if used for medicinal purposes.

Vitamin D is also of fundamental importance for human health. “Its deficiency has an adverse effect on immunity - for example, on respiratory diseases, heart and muscle function, blood pressure, nervous system, healthy development of bones and teeth, or the risk of developing certain tumors, '' says Jirků.

Unfortunately, research shows that a vitamin D deficiency is diagnosed in more than 40 percent of the European population each year.

Healthy living is the best medicine

While there is no scientifically proven direct link between lifestyle and enhanced immune function, researchers have long studied the effects of diet, exercise, age, psychological stress, and other factors on the immune response.

Jirků notes that people with reduced immunity are among the most at-risk groups in terms of infection. “Because immunity decreases as we age, seniors are most susceptible to illness as the body slows down production of immune cells versus an increased inflammatory reaction of the body.

Obesity is another factor that has a negative impact on the immune system.

"Obesity causes a partial loss of immune capacity (impaired activity of white blood cells, reduced production of antibodies). At the same time, obese people tend to have a worse course of the disease, because fat tissue is a source of pro-inflammatory substances that cause a state of chronic inflammation in the body even before infection," she says.

That’s why the best strategy against illness is to adopt a healthy lifestyle all around, and not only to support immune function but to achieve numerous other benefits for the body and mind. “Immunity is our defense shield,” says Jirků. “We must activate it properly.”

Canadian Medical is a private medical facility that places special emphasis on the highest quality of medical care. It provides medical care at 8 clinics in Prague and Brno, and we have expanded our services to include an inpatient department with two modern operating rooms. They are a facility of choice for English-speaking foreigners living in Prague.

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