Five Foods To Eat To Support The Immune System
Nutrition plays a big role in supporting our Immune system health. As a dietitian working with professional athletes, I am constantly researching and trialling new recipes that not only taste great but nourish and support our bodies from within. Here are my favourites for your plate.
Top five foods to support the immune system
As much as we are encouraging more plant food in the diet, seafood will give your body a boost of nutrients which are important for your immune system. One of these important nutrients is omega 3 fats found in largest amounts in oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardine. The omega 3 fasts play a number of roles in immune system functioning.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 2-3 serves of fish per week, a serve being 150 grams (a portion around the size of your palm) for an adult and 75 grams for a child (excluding a few types of fish that can be higher in mercury such as swordfish and flake that should be limited to once per week).
Seafood is a valuable source of lean protein. Protein is essential for building white blood cells, antibodies and for healthy skin which is a barrier to prevent entry of bacteria.
Zinc, another essential nutrient is found in seafood also, along with meat, wholegrains, dairy, nuts and legumes. Zinc has many roles in immune function, activating cells to fight infection. It may also have a role in controlling inflammation. The body doesn’t have a specialised zinc storage system like it does for iron, therefore a daily intake is important.
Eggs are little powerhouses of nutrients, packed with protein, iron, zinc and even a little vitamin D in the yolk. All of these nutrients are important for a smooth functioning immune system, packed into one small shell.
One egg contains around 6 grams of protein. In general we are aiming for around 20 grams of protein per meal (depending on your needs), therefore two eggs has you more than half way. If you crack an egg in the pan with some spinach to add iron and some tomato or capsicum for vitamin C to help the absorption of the iron you have a quick immune boosting meal.
A healthy colony of good gut bacteria is important for a strong immune system. Legumes help maintain the gut lining, which acts as a barrier to bad bacteria. They also produce gases that enter the blood stream and signal to the immune system. How do they produce gases? One is by fermenting prebiotic fibre. The prebiotic fibre in legumes is a food source for your gut bacteria. The prebiotic fibre travels undigested through the digestive system to your large intestine where the bacteria ferment it. If you aren’t eating legumes it is time to start. They are great in soups, salads or old-fashioned baked beans on toast!
4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is the oil of choice. It not only is it a healthy monounsaturated fat, but it also has antioxidants. We often think of fruit and vegetables for their antioxidant benefits however extra virgin olive oil that is fresh and good quality will also provide us with antioxidants. Antioxidants help mop up free radicals; reducing the damage caused by oxidation in the body; to keep it healthy. Add extra virgin olive oil to your vegetables and salads, it helps the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, A,D,E and K. It really boosts the nutritional value of the meal.
5. Fresh Fruit
Keep up your vitamin C intake with kiwifruit, capsicum, citrus fruits and berries. Red capsicum (including chilis) have a higher vitamin C level than oranges. 1 cup of red peppers has 3 x the vitamin C of an orange. Vitamin C may help reduce the symptoms and duration of your cold.
There are so many foods that we need to keep our body working at its best. These are just a few to get you started.
- Prasad AS. Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells. Mol Med. 2008;14(5-6):353-357. doi:10.2119/2008-00033.Prasad
- Gammoh NZ, Rink L. Zinc in Infection and Inflammation. Nutrients. 2017;9(6):624. Published 2017 Jun 17. doi:10.3390/nu9060624
- Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 10 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1