Eating to boost your immune system

Delicious, nutritious ways to keep colds at bay.

With the cooler weather comes a greater threat of colds and flues and the best defence is a strong immune system.  You can build your immune system with nutrient rich foods, getting enough sleep and keeping active. You might be surprised to learn that when it comes to diet, there is no strong evidence that links one particular food to cold and flu prevention. However, there are a number of foods that are important for supporting a healthy immune system.

Brightly coloured foods help fight off the flu
Eating a wide variety of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables can help ensure you are getting ideal amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to support a healthy immune system.

  • Red fruits and vegetables like capsicum, tomato, strawberries and radishes contain antioxidants which protect the body tissues from damage by free radicals. Free radicals are harmful molecules that can increase your risk of cancer, other health problems and may increase the rate of change of the effects of ageing.
  • Green fruit and vegetables contain a range of phytochemicals including carotenoids and flavonoids. Leafy greens also contain folate, an important B-group vitamin
  • Yellow and orange produce get their vibrant colour from carotenoids , a group of protective antioxidants some of which are converted to Vitamin A in the body. Folate, potassium and vitamin C are also often found in orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.
  • Purple-blue fruits and vegetables like red cabbage, eggplant and blueberries are rich in antioxidants and flavonoids.
  • White and brown fruits and vegetables are an important source of health-promoting phytochemicals such as allicin (found in garlic) and anthoxanthins. Bananas and potatoes, are also a good source of potassium, vitamin C, folate, niacin and riboflavin.

2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables a day is recommended but this is a challenge for many of us to meet. Here are some quicks tips for upping your intake of fruit and vegetables over the winter months.

Getting to 5 serves of vegetables a day

  • Get started at breakfast by adding spinach, tomato and mushrooms to an omelette or side of eggs.
  • Snack on a small tin of salt reduced baked beans throughout the day.
  • Making a sauce or casserole - add finely chopped carrots, celery and capsicum browning onions and garlic. Stir through baby spinach and mushrooms toward the end of the cooking time.
  • Soup - Make a large pot of vegetable based soup on the weekend to use over the next few days for lunches and dinner. Add lentils for extra protein and fibre and choose reduced salt stocks to keep the salt content to a minimum.
  • Convenient ways to add vegetables to meals - Keep frozen vegetables in your freezer for an easy, time-saving way to add vegetables to your meal without much preparation. Frozen vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables and do not contain added salt which canned vegetables often do.  

Tips for increasing fruit intake

  • Add fruit to your breakfast - Try chopped pear and dates in porridge or cereal.
  • Make a breakfast smoothie by blending a banana, berries, oats and milk.
  • Keep a bag of frozen berries in your freezer for inspiration – add to yoghurt and baked goods for an antioxidant boost.
  • Fruit makes a fantastic morning or afternoon tea snack at work. At the start of the week take a few pieces along and store them in the fridge for the week.

Specific nutrients to boost your immunity
Zinc is crucial for the normal development and functioning of our immunity cells and antibodies. It’s best to get zinc from food sources as supplements can interfere with the absorption of other nutrients such as iron and copper.
Meat, fish and poultry are the major contributors of zinc to the diet but wholegrain cereals, fortified cereals, nuts and dairy foods also contribute substantial amounts.
Vitamin C
Vitamin C is important for maintaining a strong immune system. If you are having 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables then you will be getting an adequate amount of vitamin C in your diet.
Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin which means it can’t be stored by the body. This means you need to replace it daily by consuming vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables high in Vitamin C include oranges, mandarins, strawberries, kiwi fruit, tomatoes, parsley, capsicum, broccoli and cabbage.

NAQ Nutrition

NAQ Nutrition is a not-for-profit, non-government organisation. We aim to shape the health and wellbeing of our community through informed food choices. Food is life. Food is you. 

Healthy Food Healthy Planet is NAQ Nutrition’s community meal planner and recipe website. It aims to provide people with simple, healthy recipes that are tasty and won’t break the bank.