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Immunity

Supporting your Immune System - A Continuous Journey

Simone Austin
Written by Simone Austin | Swisse Accredited Practising Dietitian
Immune health journey girl in field

Supporting your immune system to fight infections and illnesses is a continuous journey, not something we can do for a while and then forget.

Diet is one of the key components for a healthy immune system. The good news is it doesn’t need to be tasteless or boring. Eating a healthy, nourishing diet can be fun, enjoyable and easy too.

Too much Salt weakens the Immune System

Recent research1 has shown that a high salt diet is not only bad for your blood pressure but for the immune system too. The excess salt may inhibit the function of the most common immune cell in the blood, granulocytes. These are scavenger cells that attack bacteria and if they are not doing their job sufficiently infections may proceed more severely.

The WHO2 recommends for adults to eat less than 5 grams (around a teaspoon) of salt (sodium chloride, 2000mg of sodium) per day. Studies3 have shown that Australians eat around 9 grams of salt per day, nearly double the recommended amount. So what can we do? Reduce our salt and flavour our food another way.

The salt shaker is often the first thing people reach for to flavour food, however we have so many wonderful, tasty herbs and spices to play with. They not only add flavour but they bring with them plenty of phytochemicals, compounds that have antioxidant activity which research4 shows can improve immune system function.

Adding fresh herbs such as parsley, coriander, rosemary, basil or sage, many that can be grown easily at home, add taste and nutrients to our food. The small quantities add up over the days as too does the less salt you will use.

Many herbs and spices have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, such as turmeric, garlic and ginger. Modern science5 supports many of these including ginger’s anti-inflammatory and, anti-oxidative benefits, which may help support your immune system. It can be enjoyed in many ways in; a warm drink, adding a kick to a smoothie, in a bowl of soup or stir fry.

Before you grab the salt shaker experiment with other ways you can add flavour. This is an easy way to help support the immune system.

Healthy Fats important to the Immune System

The oil you use can make a difference to your health. Fresh extra virgin olive oil provides important polyphenols that other refined oils don't have. These have antioxidant activity to help fight against inflammation.6 Choose fresh extra virgin olive oil and note it can be used in all of your cooking, even at high temperatures.


Healthy fats are also found in nuts. A handful a day7 just might help keep the doctor away! They are a good source of zinc, which also helps support your immune system.

Avocados are an important source of healthy fats, antioxidant compounds and important nutrients that also help support our immune system, such as vitamin C, E and beta-carotene. Healthy fats help the body absorb some of these important nutrients, particularly fat soluble nutrients such as vitamins A,D,E and K.

Including healthy fats in your diet is not hard to do and it adds flavour. Think about how delicious crispy roast vegetables drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh herbs such as rosemary taste.

Vitamin C for the Immune System

We all know how important vitamin C is to support immune health, but did you know your body doesn’t store it? We need to get a regular dose of vitamin C which the good news is, it is not hard to do. Many of our fresh fruit and vegetables are plentiful in vitamin C and you can get your daily dose generally with 2 fruit serves a day. Kiwifruit, strawberries, oranges, lemons, mandarins, blackcurrants to name just a few. Vegetables can have plenty of vitamin C also, red capsicum is one of the highest vitamin C containing foods and broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cabbage are also good sources. Vitamin C helps absorption of iron from plant foods, with iron being an important nutrient for the immune system too.

Adding fresh fruit to your shopping list, cutting up fruit so it is ready for the family to grab and go are easy ways to make it easier to have your two serves a day.

There are many areas that diet plays a part in continually supporting the immune system, this is an ongoing role!

References:

  1. Katarzyna Jobin, Natascha E. Stumpf, Sebastian Schwab, Melanie Eichler et al A high-salt diet compromises antibacterial neutrophil responses through hormonal perturbation. Science Translational Medicine, 2020 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aay3850
  2. https://stm.sciencemag.org/content/12/536/eaay3850
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/salt-reduction#:~:text=For%20adults%3A%20WHO%20recommends%20that,salt%20per%20day%20(1).
  4. https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/Heart-health-education/Salt-and-heart-health
  5. https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ben/ctmc/2011/00000011/00000014/art00002;jsessionid=2sq7qffp9gqb.x-ic-live-02
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27783083/
  8. https://www.nutsforlife.com.au/resource/are-nuts-anti-inflammatory/