how to build a strong immune system with nutrition

The days are shorter and the evenings are colder… and winter is (sadly) well and truly here. At this time of year, talk of ‘boosting your immune system’ is found in every corner of cyberspace – but there’s a lot of nonsense, especially when it comes to nutrition.

A foundation of core, wholefoods is the best place to start, but other lifestyle factors are incredibly important, too. A regular sweat session will help to strengthen your immune system, while getting enough shut eye means your body produces compounds that help to fight infection.

To give you a helping hand on the food front, here are seven scientifically-proven things you can do to help build a strong immune system this winter – and beyond.

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1. Antioxidants

Fruit and vegetables are jam-packed with disease-fighting antioxidants that fight off free radicals and protect your body. The antioxidants in fruit and veg are responsible for their colour – so if your shopping trolley looks like a rainbow of fresh produce, you’re getting a wide range of antioxidants. You go girl!

2. Iron and zinc

If you’re low in iron or zinc, your immune system will suffer. These nutrients are often paired up in the same foods: red meat like beef and lamb, chicken, eggs, seafood (particularly oysters), legumes, nuts and seeds.

3. Vitamin A

Vitamin A is important for the upkeep of your skin, gut and respiratory system, which together are your body’s first barrier against germs. Vitamin A is found in liver and eggs. Orange and yellow fruits and vegetables like oranges and carrots are jam-packed with an antioxidant called beta-carotene, which is converted to Vitamin A in the body.

4. Vitamin C

Vitamin C gets a lot of the limelight when it comes to foods to support your immune system – but loading up on megadoses of Vitamin C supplements to prevent colds and flus isn’t necessary. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can provide more than enough Vitamin C to keep you fighting fit.

5. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for specific immune cells. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, we get most of our Vitamin D from non-food sources. Nonetheless, eggs and oily fish like salmon can help to top up your Vitamin D levels.

6. Probiotics and fibre

More and more, science is showing that your gut plays an integral role in your overall health and immune system, so feeding it properly is essential. Probiotics, which are good bacteria for your gut, are key – you’ll find them in foods like yoghurt, sourdough bread, kimchi and sauerkraut. High fibre foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are also essential.

7. Drink enough water

You know the drill – eight glasses of water (or two litres) a day, at the minimum. Day to day, water is vital for many processes in the body. When you’ve got the sniffles, being dehydrated can make symptoms worse. So, drink up!

Melissa Meier is a Sydney-based accredited practising dietitian. You can connect with her on Instagram @honest_nutrition.