5 nutrients that bolster the immune system (and the foods where you can find them!)
Written by naturopath, Laura Gale
It’s official: it’s winter in Melbourne and we’re all bracing for the cold, dark mornings and evenings and rushing out to stock up on cold & flu tablets to ensure we don’t succumb to the office lurgy. In amongst all of this, some of us might ask ourselves, “is there anything more I can do to stave off the seemingly inevitable winter cold?”
The short answer is Yes. Every time you open your mouth to eat, you have the opportunity to foster health or feed illness; and these are opportunities you need to be maximising, especially during winter.
The following list of nutrients are key players in the strength and responsiveness of our immune systems. Before you go rushing off to buy supplements, however, try and get what you need through the diet. The complex ways that nutrients work together, as well as the vast array of other protective features of fresh, whole foods mean that a good diet will often put you much further ahead than a complex supplement regime
- Vitamin C
We have all heard Vitamin C touted as the ultimate weapon for the immune system. Vitamin C stimulates the immune system by enhancing the function of the white blood cells (key cells of the immune system), as well as reducing inflammation. It has been found to reduce the duration of common cold symptoms which means that boosting your intake of Vitamin C containing foods is well worthwhile over the cooler months to keep you firing.
Find it: Vitamin C is abundant in many different fruits and vegetables; especially blackcurrants, oranges, strawberries, green and red capsicum, and broccoli.
Iron is a key mineral for the growth and proliferation of all body cells, including those within the immune system. The proliferation of immune cells is critical to protect against any invading bacteria or viral infections, such as the common cold virus. In addition, patients with an iron deficiency have been shown to have increased susceptibility to infection.
Find it: As well as lean red meat and chicken, you can find iron in nuts, legumes, dried fruit and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and silver beet.
Another one we’ve all heard about, zinc assists with a number of key activities within the immune system. Like iron, zinc is also responsible for the development of healthy and, most important, responsive immune cells. Having a good amount of alert immune cells means that the body is better able to protect against infection. In addition, studies have shown that a zinc deficiency can increase the number of opportunistic infections experienced by an individual.
Find it: To top up your zinc stores, look to lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, tofu and green beans.
One of our key macronutrients, protein-containing foods should be consumed throughout the day, at every meal. Protein in the body is broken down into amino acids, which are vital for every single function that occurs within the body. A low intake of dietary protein has been associated with increased risk of infection due to impaired functioning of the immune system.
Find it: Try and source your dietary protein from a range of sources, not just meat and animal products. Tofu is a fabulous source of protein, as are lentils and legumes, quinoa and buckwheat.
- Vitamin E
Vitamin E, although not as well-known as an immune boosting nutrient, is another important inclusion in the diet. Vitamin E increases the body’s resistance to bacterial and viral infections through its activity as an antioxidant, as well as its ability to enhance the activity of key cells within the immune system.
Find it: Vitamin E is contained in hazelnuts, spinach, kale, sweet potato and eggs.
The main thing to keep in mind is to consume a diet jam-packed with nutrient-dense, colourful whole foods that supply an abundance of immune-boosting properties to see you through the cooler months.
This guide is a great place to start, however for more information on what to take out of the diet, as well as targeted supplementation advice to really ensure you kick winter’s butt, please book an appointment by calling 9570 1277.
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Nairz, M., Haschka, D., Demetz, E. & Weiss, G. (2014). Iron at the interface of immunity and infection. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 5(152).
Prasad, A. (2013). Discovery of human zinc deficiency: its impact on human health and disease. Advances in Nutrition, 4, 176-190.