Eating well in combination with personal hygiene, a good night’s sleep, managing stress and keeping active are key for putting our best immune defence forward. Here are our top nutrition tips for optimising immunity.
Tip 1: Fuel your body adequately
Above all it is important that we get enough energy from our food to fuel our body and all of its important functions, including the immune system. We also need to eat enough to cover any exercise that we are doing.
If we are under eating, whether intentional or not, our immune cells do not have enough fuel to fight off infection. This increases our chances of getting sick and for athletes it could mean missing training or competition.
Carbohydrate is a great fuel for our immune cells. It can also help protect our immune system if eaten before as well as during longer or harder training sessions. Protein on the other hand is key for making and repairing immune cells. It provides the building blocks.
Tip 2: Eat the rainbow
Eating the rainbow is probably the most flogged nutrition recommendation, but it is bang on. And not just for immunity, but any aspect of health. Eating an array of different-coloured foods ensures we get a variety of the nutrients our bodies need. Some key players for immune function and their sources include:
- Vitamin C from citrus fruits, dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli etc), capsicum, tomatoes and berries (especially blackcurrants)
- Some of the B Vitamins (Folate, B6, B12) from meat, fish, poultry, soy, wholegrains, peanuts, dark green leafy vegetables, chickpeas
- Vitamin D from safe sun exposure, oily fish, eggs and fortified foods ( such as some milks in New Zealand)
- Zinc form meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, dairy, wholegrains, eggs
- Iron from meat, fish, poultry, legumes, soy, nuts, seed, eggs, dark green leafy vegetables
- Omega 3 fats from oily fish, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts
Tip 3: Look after your gut
Did you know the majority of our immune cells are in our gut? That makes it a pretty important line of defence for our immune system.
One way we can support our gut health is by eating a diverse plant-based diet. Now that does not mean you have to exclusively eat plant foods or become a vegan. It simply means, as the word “based” implies, that majority of your foods should come from plants. A good goal is to aim for 30 different plant foods a week. Think fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds as well as wholegrains. Plant foods are rich in prebiotics which feed the good bacteria in our gut known as probiotics.
Eating probiotics themselves is also beneficial. We can get these from some supplements as well as fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, kefir and some yoghurts (with live cultures).
Tip 4: Keep well hydrated
We have antibodies in our saliva. Think of these guys as the front line soldiers for our immune system. With common respiratory infections gaining entry through the mouth it is important we have a good defence set up here. If we become dehydrated we produce less saliva. Less saliva means less antibodies to fight off infection.
How do we monitor hydration? It’s simple. The colour of your pee. If you are well hydrated your urine will be pale yellow in colour. If it is dark yellow and concentrated it is a sign you are not drinking enough water. It is worth noting though that the colour of your urine can be affected by particular foods and supplements. You can find out more about this here.
So there you have it! Our top nutrition tips for optimising immunity. Keep healthy everyone.