Wendy Lord Freelance Health Writer & Dietitian

Blog: The Dietician's Plate

What To Eat To Give Your Immune System A Boost

Eating for

We are exposed to pathogens, bacteria, viruses and fungi, on a daily basis. The human body is well adapted to recognize these microorganisms and neutralize them. We become ill for a short period of time and then we recover and go back to normal.

It is nice to know that we have a built-in health protecting system. But if the last year and half has taught us anything, it is that sometimes this system fails. What can we do to give our bodies a fighting chance against new devastating diseases? Does what we eat make a difference?

Immunity and COVID-19

Everyone is talking about immunity these days. COVID-19 has changed the way we live and how we interact with people. If you haven't already had COVID-19, you definitely know someone who has. And you are taking all the precautions to try and avoid contracting it.

Everyone has their opinion on the best practice for protecting yourself from the disease. We all know that wearing a mask, washing your hands and keeping your distance from people can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus - and other diseases. But what happens when you get it?

Thankfully the medical practitioners have stepped up and figured out how to manage COVID-19 as best they can. Unfortunately, their efforts to treat us are not always successful. Sadly a lot of people become extremely ill and succumb to their illness.

How your body responds to the virus depends on your immunity foundations. Have you been looking after your immune system? A healthy lifestyle that includes nutrition, exercise, sleep and relaxation goes a long way to ensuring that your immune system is firing on all cylinders.

Dr Suzy Green is psychologist who practices positive psychology. She asks all her patients if they are taking their MEDS - Meditation, exercise, diet and sleep?

Nutrition and The Coronavirus

While nutrition is not a protective dome that will prevent you from catching the coronavirus, eating well and meeting your nutritional requirements sets your body up to be more effective at overcoming the virus. Making sure to meet not only your energy requirements, but also your micronutrient requirements is essential if your want your immune system to be at its fighting best.
Eat brightly coloured fruit

Eating for immunity

The human immune system is sophisticated, adaptable and highly effective. It is there to protect the body against an ever present invasion of microorganisms. The immune system has 2 branches: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system, both providing important protection from bacteria and viruses.

The organs that are involved in the immune system are the bone marrow, spleen, thymus, lymph nodes and the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT).

A variety of cells complete the immune system army: neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, macrophages, natural killer cells, B-cells, and T-cells.

Definitely a complex system! Thank goodness we don't have to worry about making sure that it is all coordinated!

I get asked often what we should eat in order to boost our immunity. Every time, I take a deep breath and wish that I could give people a magic bullet that will make them more resistant to whichever virus it is that is doing the rounds.

Unfortunately, there is no magic bullet. Eating a clove of garlic everyday, or grating ginger into your tea, or drinking immune booster shots is not going to give you the results you are looking for. The bottom line is we need to eat a healthy, balanced diet, bursting with colour. Everyday!

Nutrients that support the immune system

The food we eat determines the health of our immune system. We need to meet our energy requirements from carbohydrates, protein and fat. But even more important is to eat enough healthful foods. Foods that provide the full spectrum of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Micronutrients are used in almost all chemical pathways in the human body. Those that support the immune system include:
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Folate
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Zinc

We have all become familiar with the need to increase our intake of Vitamin C, Zinc and Vitamin D to help us deal with a coronavirus infection. But as you can see, we need more than just those three supplements.

The goal is to eat food that provides all of the micronutrients listed above - and more.

Immune system nutrients

Where to find immune-boosting nutrients

The table below lists the best food sources for each nutrient.

For Vitamin A we want to eat more liver, dairy products, fish, dark green leafy vegetables, yellow, orange and red veggies

Foods rich in vitamin B6 include meat, fish, chicken, organ meats, nuts, lentils, potatoes with their skin, banana and avocado pears.

Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, chicken, eggs and milk.

We all think oranges when we want to eat more vitamin C. But these foods are also good, if not better sources of vitamin C: guava, peppers, broccoli, paw-paw, kiwi fruit, lychees and strawberries.

There are very few good food sources of vitamin D. We are designed to make our own vitamin D by exposing our skin to the sun. But we don't spend enough time outdoors and when we do venture outside, we cover our skin with clothes or sunblock. You can get some vitamin D from pork, liver, salmon, trout, eggs and mushrooms. (PS - Did you know that mushrooms produce vitamin D when you leave them in the sun for 15 minutes?)

Vitamin E is a strong antioxidant. Foods that contain vitamin E include: almonds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, eggs, sardines, hazelnuts and peanut butter.

Zinc is a well known immune system supporter. Liver, beef, lamb, pumpkin, nuts, legumes, oysters and cheese are good sources of zinc.

Folate is well known for preventing birth defects and protecting the heart. But it is also an important nutrient for immunity. Food sources include: edamame beans, spinach, broccoli, asparagus, potatoes with their skin, avocado per, paw-paw and legumes.

Foods to boost nutrition for improved immunity

A Healthy Diet = A Healthy Immune System

So, once again it goes back to basics:
  • Choose whole grain, low GI carbohydrates.
  • Eat good quality protein from a variety of sources, both animal and plant.
  • Fill your plate with veggies.
  • Eat fruit everyday.
  • Eat a rainbow!
  • Choose healthy sources of essential fatty acids.
  • Dairy products have a lot to offer too.

If you feel your diet is lacking, top up with a supplement. But first prize is always going to be food.

Wendy Signature
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