6 Foods You Should Eat To Support Your Immune System, According To A Nutritionist

Science-backed and so delicious

Between the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the onset of Australia’s flu season, it’s safe to say that many of us are wondering how we can continue to support our immune systems this winter.

And while maintaining social distancing, good hygiene practices and getting the flu vaccine (if it’s an option for you) are the first steps, there are other lifestyle changes we can make to give our bodies a little extra TLC— starting with our diet.

As dull as it sounds, following a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to support the functioning of your immune system. So, to help you figure out which foods would do your body that extra bit of good this winter, we consulted nutritionist Madeline Calfas to give us the low down.

Scroll on to see them all.

1. Kiwi Fruit

Kiwi fruit is high in vitamin C and folate in particular, both of which have been shown to boost the immune system,” Calfas tells marie claire.

“Vitamin C supports the immune defence by helping the cellular functions of both the innate immune system and adaptive immune systems (your body has two types of immune systems). [Vitamin C] helps with B cells (which create antibodies) and T cells (which attack pathogens), scavenges free radicals, and ultimately enhances microbial killing.

“Folate further helps to strengthen the T cell proliferation, so your body actually increases the number of T cells to help fight any invading bacteria, which means your immune system’s ‘army’ is larger.”

Not sure how to enjoy kiwi fruit? Consider throwing it into your morning oats (keep the skin on for added fibre), blend it into your smoothies or enjoy it as a snack by itself.

2. Turmeric

“Turmeric rates as a high immunity-boosting food due to the levels of curcumin that are found in it. Curcumin can enhance the antibody response by activating the T cells, B cells, neutrophils (white blood cells that heal damaged tissues and resolve infections) and Natural Killer cells, all of which help your body to fight off infection,” Calfas explained.

“Curcumin is also a fantastic anti-inflammatory, which helps your immune system by reducing the amount of inflammation within your body. The more inflammation you have, the less able your body is able to fight off any potential microbes.”

While a common ingredient in most Indian curries, turmeric also adds flavour to scrambled eggs, roast veggies, rice, and soups. It is also great sprinkled into a smoothie or consumed as a warm, turmeric latte. It’s also fabulous in a turmeric face mask (though not really the best way to get its immune-boosting benefits!).

3. Green Tea

“Green Tea is loaded with flavonoids, which are antioxidants that help protect your body from free radical oxidisation, and, in particular, an antioxidant and polyphenol called epigallocatechin (EGCG),” says Calfas.

“EGCG has been shown to help increase the number and frequency of  regulatory T cells which can help to control the immune response. 

“The compounds found in green tea have also been shown to have anticancer, antiviral and antifungal properties due to their immune system modulating effects.”

4. Shellfish

“Shellfish such as oysters, crab, lobster and mussels contain high levels of zinc. Zinc is fantastic for the immune system as it helps on multiple aspects,” explains Calfas.

“Zinc is super important for the normal development and function of cells that are responsible for the innate immune system, such as Natural Killer cells and neutrophils. The ability of your immune system to do what it is supposed to do is directly affected by your zinc levels.

“Having too little zinc can have a negative effect on the size and function of the T and B cells, which in turn affects your body’s ability to fight off pathogens.” 

5. Fatty Fish

Fatty fish like tuna, salmon and mackerel are great dietary sources of vitamin D, which is essential for a healthy immune system, Calfas emphasises.

“The science behind vitamin D and its impact on our immune system shows that vitamin D helps to regulate inflammatory responses, and also has a positive effect on the mechanisms connected to autoimmune disease,” she says.

“It has also been shown that there is a link between high vitamin D levels and a decrease in upper respiratory infections, such as the common cold.”

6. Spinach

“Spinach is great for the immune system because it  not only has antioxidant properties, but it is also a fabulous source of vitamin D and vitamin A,” Calfas tells marie claire.

“It also  contains zinc, potassium, Vitamin B1 and choline, all of which are important to immune function. Vitamin A, in particular, is important to immune function as it helps to regulate a tissue-specific immune response, as well as helping to prevent inflammation and auto-immunity.”

If the idea of scarfing down a salad in the middle of winter leaves you less than enthralled (we don’t blame you), consider throwing a mix of spinach and your other favourite greens to make a nutrient-rich, heartwarming soup.

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