4 Diet tips for a strong immune system

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Simone Austin is an advanced
sports dietitian, keynote
speaker and author.

Eating a nourish diet is one step closer to having a strong immune system, something we all want. There is no one magic food, but you can tweak what you eat to help support your immune system.

Four steps to help you on your journey

1. ‘Eat a rainbow’ of different coloured fruits and vegetables.

This will not only make your food look great it will give you a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support both your immune system and recovery after exercise. We know 93% of Australian’s don’t eat the recommended 5 servings of vegetables a day and that can’t be good for us! Try for an extra handful of vegetables a day.

  • Try a mixed vegetable soup for lunch
  • Reduce the meat serve in a stirfry and add in extra vegetables
  • Cut up carrots, capsicum and mushrooms to dip into hummus
  • Have a punnet of cherry tomatoes on your desk with your handful of almonds

2.   Eat plenty of plant foods to feed your gut bacteria.

Eating plenty of plant foods ensures you eat plenty of dietary fibre. This helps look after your gut where a huge proportion of your immune system is; around 70%. The gastrointestinal system (mouth to anus) is the largest area that the body meets the outside world, so it makes sense it needs to be on alert and that we need to take care of it. On average 60 tonnes of food passes through a person’s digestive system in a life time!

Some dietary fibre, called prebiotic fibre, is food for the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut, mostly the large intestines- the lower part of the digestive system. For good bacteria to thrive feeding them this fibre is important and plays an important role in your immune system. Prebiotic fibre is found in lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, seeds, legumes and some nuts including almonds.

3. Eat Protein foods throughout the day.

More than for muscle building protein has many functions in the immune system, including making antibodies and forming white blood cells. Beef, chicken, fish, milk, almonds, chickpeas and tofu are some good protein foods.

It is best for muscle building and maintenance to spread your protein out over the day. By keeping your muscle you can keep active, important for a strong immune system.  A handful of almonds during the day is a good way to add in some protein, along with vitamins, minerals and dietary fibre all important for the immune system.

4. Eat carbohydrate and protein foods before and after exercise.

Being active helps strengthen our immune system. High intensity regular activity (>90minutes) however can put the immune system under stress. By eating a meal or snack with carbohydrate and protein before and after the exercise you can help restore the body’s stress response to exercise back to normal more quickly.

Eating enough to make sure your body has the energy it needs to fuel your exercise is also critical for both performance and your body’s immune system. Here are some combination ideas to try pre or post exercise:

  • Cheese, tuna, egg or almond butter sandwich
  • Smoothie with milk, fruit and almond meal
  • Handful of almonds and dried fruit or fresh fruit
  • Baked beans
  • Scrambled eggs on toast
  • Lentil soup
  • Yoghurt with almonds
  • Move a usual meal to eat pre or post your exercise

Nutritious food will support your performance and immune system.

References:

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/food-nutrition/poor-diet/contents/poor-diet-in-adults

https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/eating-well/add-extra-handful-veggies

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/research/advancements-in-research/fundamentals/in-depth/the-gut-where-bacteria-and-immune-system-meet

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433529/

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/HealthyLiving/protein

https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/A-Guide-to-Supporting-Immunity-for-Athletes.pdf

https://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Recovery-Nutrition.pdf