Optimising your immune system through optimal nutrition
by Ashleigh Feltham
Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist
Having optimal immune function at any time is a good thing and nutrition plays a big role in dictating how strong your immune system is. Did you know that from your 20s, your immune system starts to decline by about 2-3%? No one likes to feel sick or unwell and here are some easy ways you can boost your immune system through the foods and drink you consume:
Herbs and Spices
The use of chilli, garlic, cumin, onion, turmeric, clove and pepper, ginger, cinnamon, star anise help enhance the antioxidant load to stay well. Some of these herbs and spices may also have anti-microbial properties and assist your body with its natural detoxification processes.
Polyphenols which are a type of antioxidant which activate your immune response. These compounds are also loved by your gut which plays a huge role in your immune function.
- Cooking with extra virgin olive oil and including olives in your diet.
- Including plenty of fruit and vegetables in your day.
- Drinking Green, Black or White Tea.
- Enjoying a piece of dark chocolate (80% or higher).
- Including a handful of nuts and seeds daily as a snack, in salads or in your breakfast cereal.
- Using herbs in cooking like parsley, peppermint, rosemary and thyme.
Protein and Zinc
Both protein and zinc are both important for optimal immune function. They both help maintain the integrity of your skin, one of the first lines of defence of your immune system. Zinc is a cofactor for your immune cells so is needed for their creation. Having optimal zinc and protein is beneficial before and if you get sick. Studies have shown that consuming zinc 24 hours after the onset of a cold reduces the severity and duration of the cold. You can get zinc and protein from any of the products from the Safcol Australia range. Other foods to add include eggs, nuts, seeds, meat, dairy, wholegrain and legumes.
A great way to include herbs, spices, polyphenols, protein and zinc in a single meal is heading to the recipes section on the website. There are plenty of delicious recipes which will leave your taste buds happy and immune system primed.
Control your Sweet Tooth
Eating and drinking high GI or simple sugars can reduce your immune response. Some studies show that after just one simple sugar meal your white blood cells called neutrophils are far less aggressive. Remember your body still needs glucose and it does help your immune system have the energy to work optimally. The type of sugar is the key. Opt for lower GI foods which have sustained energy release and will not only leave you feeling fuller for longer but your immune system working at it’s best.
Your immune system needs water to function (not to mention the rest of your body). Aim for 35mls per kilogram of your body weight a day and this is before you exercise. Soups, tea and coffee all can be counted towards this amount.
Beta-glucan from fungi and yeast help support your immune system and may reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections. Try including foods like mushrooms and brewers’ yeast to your diet in the week.
Love your gut
70% of your immune system is determined by the health of your gut. On top of including polyphenols remember probiotics and prebiotics to grow and feed your health microbes which care for your health.
Other immune loving practices to add
Take a Deep Breath
Stress can be detrimental to your immune system. It causes the release of cortisol which is good in small doses but if released for extended periods dampens your immune system. Try going for a walk outside, yoga or meditation, colouring-in or watching a movie which makes you feel happy or taking the dog for a walk.
7-9 hours sleep help boost your T cells which help fight infections in your body. Just one 4-hour night sleep can reduce your natural killer cells (another immune fighting cell in your body) by 70%!
The benefits of exercise are endless but to add one more to list when you exercise you are less likely to get a cold. The key is to move in ways which makes you happy and which you enjoy.
Take home message
You may not be able to control whether you catch a cold but by enhancing your immune function these easy ways mean you don’t have to suffer as long.