Daily Nutrition & Well-being
How Good Nutrition Supports Your Immune System
Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Sr. Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training 19 October 2023
Our immune system is nothing short of amazing. It’s an incredibly complex network that works quietly and tirelessly to protect and defend us. We tend to focus on immunity more in Autumn and Winter, as colder weather and illnesses tend to go hand-in-hand. This is because we spend more time indoors and are in closer contact with more people with less air circulating, which exposes us to germs that can make us sick.
However, that doesn’t mean our immune system isn’t on alert for the rest of the year! It works 24/7 to protect us from illness and infection by seeking out and then destroying viruses, bacteria and parasites. An effective immune system that functions properly, depends on a nutritious diet and a healthy lifestyle. Give it the best nutrition as possible, so that it can continue to function properly and keep you safe from illness and infection..
Get Enough Protein
Your immune system has some ‘special forces’ in the form of white blood cells. These cells produce specialised proteins called antibodies that seek out and destroy invading viruses and bacteria. Antibodies are proteins. In order for your body to keep manufacturing antibodies, you need to consume an adequate amount of protein in your diet.
Protein sources such as fish, poultry and lean meats in your diet, can provide your body with the building blocks it needs to make these specialised proteins. Other proteins you can try are soya foods and low-fat dairy products.
Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are great sources of vitamins, such as vitamins A and C, which contribute to the normal function of the immune system. Vitamin C contributes to the reduction of tiredness and fatigue, while Vitamin A also supports the maintenance of normal skin and mucous membranes.
Many phytonutrients found in fruits and vegetables act as antioxidants, which contribute to the protection of cells from oxidative stress and can strengthen our body’s ability to fight of illness.
Look after Your Digestive System
It’s important to look after your digestive system and keep it in good condition. Your digestive tract is home to trillions of bacteria with numerous functions that promote health.1 Some strains of bacteria help to digest the fibre in foods, others consume intestinal gas, while others produce vitamins like vitamin K and vitamin B12.2 When your system is populated with these “good” bacteria, they also help to get rid of potentially harmful bacteria that may enter your digestive tract. Other sources of friendly bacteria can be cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir.3
A Balanced and Varied Diet
Some people suffer from medical conditions that can affect their immune systems. In this instance, diet alone won’t help to improve the function of a compromised immune system. However, for healthy people, a balanced and varied diet customised to your personal needs, which can help your body remain in good condition. Whenever you’re trying something new, remember to double check with your doctor about the amount to take that’s right for you.
1Sender R. et al., PLoS Biol. 2016 Aug; 14(8): e1002533
2Hill MJ, Eur J Cancer Prev. 1997 Mar;6 and Rios-Covian D., et al., Front Microbiol. 2020;11:973.
3Groschwitz K.R. and Hogan S.P., J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2009 Jul; 124(1): 3–22.