We’re at a time where having a strong immune systems is pretty important. Reducing our chances of getting sick, and helping us to get better quickly when we do. There are times where taking herbs and supplements can be extremely helpful – particularly if you’re someone who gets sick frequently, you’re sick at the moment or have been recently (if this sounds like you, perhaps it’s time to book in). But for those who are generally wanting to support their immune system, diet is an excellent place to start.
Here are some basic tips that you can follow to support your immune health:
#1) Choose a diet rich in wholefoods & low in processed foods
There are multiple benefits to following this tip – increased nutritional status (hello happy immune system! Hello energy!), supportive of a healthy weight, reduced inflammation, supportive of overall health, including heart health. Limiting processed and packaged foods, and switching them instead for fruit and veg, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, good quality oils such as extra virgin olive oil and good quality animal products (if this is something that you choose to include in your diet) you’re much more likely to be including significantly more nutrients in your diet, while limiting calories, reducing added sugar, excess added salt & excess added oils.
This is the basis of a good diet, and something that we discuss consistently in the clinic.
#2) Include a good variety of fruits & veg
Studies have shown the importance of eating enough fruit & veg for reducing the frequency and severity of common colds.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 5 serves (1 serve = 1/2 cup of chopped veg, or 1 cup of leafy veg) of veg for women aged 19-50 per day, 6 for men in this age group, and 7.5 serves daily for pregnant women. Ensuring that you eat different coloured vegetables throughout the day (yes, that’s right – include your veggies at breakfast, lunch and dinner – they can make a great snack too, especially paired with hummus) and not only relying on having vegetables at dinner time is an excellent way to help you achieve this. Consider including both raw & cooked vegetables in your meals. Switching from meat or mock meat to legumes such as lentils, chickpeas or red kidney beans is an excellent way to increase your vegetable intake.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend 2 serves of fruit to anybody over the age of 9. Again, try to include a variety of fruits in your diet, perhaps choosing to have different fruits on different days of the week.
Research on kiwi fruit has shown that cold and flu symptoms actually passed quicker when consuming kiwi fruit specifically. Additionally, the study suggested that those who are frequently eating kiwi fruits were less likely to get sick.
Other fruits, such as blueberries have also been studied for their immune-regulatory actions. Hence further identifying the importance of including a variety of fruits in your diet.
#3) Make sure you’re getting enough zinc – especially if you’re vegetarian or vegan
My personal favourite food when it comes to zinc, is pumpkin seeds. They can be added to salads, sprinkled on top of almost any cooked food, or made into a declicious (and easy) breakfast pudding.
Other sources of zinc include:
Oysters (these contain the highest amount of zinc)
#4) How is your gut health?
Did you know that over 70% of the immune system is in your gut?
This shows just how important a healthy gut is in maintaining a strong immune system.
The simplest tips for caring for your gut we have already discussed in tips 1 & 2. Limiting processed & packaged foods, and eating a diverse range of fruits and veg. Ensuring adequate fibre intake is another goodie when it comes to caring for your gut. Fibre can be found in fruit (including green bananas for resistant starch – you can also purchase this as a powder/flour) and veg (including potatoes – particularly if cooked and then cooled down before eaten as this releases resistant starches), seeds – flaxseed (freshly ground), chia seeds; legumes, grains – think rice, quinoa, oats; psyllium husk.
Ensure that fruits and veg are consumed in their whole form or in a smoothie (where the whole fruit is used) in comparison to in juices where there is little/no fibre.
Like the immune system, the gut also relies on nutrients such as zinc and protein.
And of course there are probiotics, however these are something that I’d recommend seeing a practitioner about so that you get the right strain of probiotic, and so that it is at an apporpriate dose. Unfortunately, probiotics aren’t a ‘fix all’ and need to be prescribed properly in order to get those awesome results that you’re expecting.
#5) How much alcohol have you been drinking?
If I have a patient come in who has been frequently sick, this is one of the questions that I ask them. Alcohol both affects your gut microbiome and directly affects your immune cells, making it easier for you to get sick and harder for you to get better.
If you’re sick, or worried about getting sick, reducing your alcohol intake is likely going to be really beneficial, with the biggest benefits if you do this long term. However, at the least aim to reduce your alcohol intake while sick and directly after being sick.
#6) Check your vitamin D status
Vitamin D is something that is quite low in our diets generally, as our body is able to make vitamin D when the sun shines on our skin. However, there are a lot of really complicated things that make this possible including the time of day (and this is constantly changing), cloud cover, what clothes you’re wearing.
So if you’re someone who spends a lot of time in doors or if you live in Melbourne, it might be a good idea to pop down to the GP and get your vitamin D tested. A recent study showed that only 40% of Victorians had sufficient vitamin D levels.
If this sounds like you, discussing a vitamin D supplement with your Naturopath or GP may be beneficial.
So there you go.
A few tips to get you thinking about how what you’re eating is affecting your immune system. The immune system is pretty complicated, and can be affected by a number of things (outside of diet) including stress , alcohol & drug use, gut health which I’ve briefly touched on and many other things that might be going on in inside your body. If you feel like you’re doing all of the right things, but you’re still getting sick it might be time for us to do some further investigation into why this is actually happening. If this sounds like you, or if you’re looking for more individualised tips & support in implementing these, please get in touch.
Disclaimer: This advise is general in nature and not meant as prescriptive advice. For individualised prescriptive advice, please book in with a Naturopath or other health care practitioner. Following these steps does not guarantee that you will not get sick, or that you will recover any quicker from illness.