Fighting off colds, flus and infections starts with a strong immune system. There is no magic food to do this, but you can tweak what you eat to help support your immune system.
One of the keys to a diet to a strong immune system is eating plenty of plant foods-a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrain cereals, nuts, legumes and lentils. Some refer to this as a plant based diet. It doesn’t mean you can’teat animal products too, you certainly can. I think of it like a music concert;plants are the main act and animals the supporting act!
It is just that we need to concentrate on eating more of the plant foods,as we know we don’t eat enough of them, in fact 93%of Australian’s don’t eat the recommended 5 servings of vegetables a day and that can’t be good for us!
Plant foods and animal foods provide us with the nutrients we need however animal products do not have dietary fibre that plants do. Some types of dietary fibre (prebiotic fibre, resistant starch) are important for feeding our good gut bacteria- which we know have plenty of influence on the immune system. Antioxidants and vitamins such as vitamins A and C, important for the immune system are particularly high in fresh fruit and vegetables.
How to increase your fruit and vegetables?
We all know that eating fruit and vegetables will help keep us healthy but getting kids, (sometimes the adult kind too) to eat vegetables can be a challenge and the last thing we want is for meal time to become war time. Here are a few tips to make the challenge easier.
1. Vegetables: Each time you eat a meal or snack think veg.
a. Bite sized- cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers, snow peas, carrot sticks, baby beetroots, olives, gherkins are great for the lunchbox, as a snack straight from the fridge or on a tasty weekend grazing platter.
b. Sweet vegetables will be preferred, think roast sweet potato or carrots. Dark green leafy vegetables are important for the iron and other nutrients they provide but they can be bitter, so sweeten them up a little by cooking in a way that will caramelise the small amount of carbohydrate they contain, such as adding extra virgin olive oil and then roasting,grilling or popping them in a stir fry. The oil has the extra bonus of increasing how much of the fat soluble vitamins from the vegetables you can absorb. These are also helpful to the immune system.
c. Mix a variety of vegetables in one dish. Chop them into frittatas or omelets, mix them into soups or salads where they are eaten along with lots of other flavours.
2. Fresh Fruit: 2 fruit everyday is the recommended amount.
a. One easy way is to add some fresh fruit into everyone’s lunchbox. It is often easier to use bite sized fruit such as grapes, berries,mandarin segments or cut up fruit. A whole apple can be overwhelming to get through when you want to go out and play for primary school children and for those of us at work they are easy to eat though the day. Fresh fruit you would have heard is important for vitamin C but it also has an array of other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that play a role in the functioning of the immune system.
b. Add fresh fruit to your breakfast. Slice it on cereal or even on toast; banana with peanut butter on wholegrain toast is a winner!
c. Fresh fruit along with some fresh crisp nuts, tasty cheese or dark chocolate makes a great dessert.
How can the gut microbiome help my immune system?
Having plenty of good gut bacteria, helps create a healthy gut microbiome (the virus, bacteria and fungi). These good gut bacteria can:
· Send signals to the immune system thanks to the help of the short chain fatty acids they produce.
· They can physically form a barrier and block out the bad guys from entering the bloodstream, by lining the intestinal (gut) wall.
· They help with digesting your food into nutrients small enough to be absorbed into your blood stream and travel throughout the body. When the gut is not working efficiently nutrients can miss out on absorption and you may not have all the nutrients you need, including those needed for a strong immune system.
What to eat to feed the good gut bacteria
1. Wholegrains and legumes (beans) do more than keep us regular, some also contain dietary fibre called prebiotic fibre that the good gut bacteria feed on in the large intestines. As the gut bacteria ‘eat’ this fibre they produce short chain fatty acids such as butyrate that help keep the gut lining healthy and work together with the immune system to keep us healthy.
a. Choose wholegrain bread and cereals e.g. heavy rye bread, rolled oats, brown rice
b. Add legumes to your meals e.g. lentil burgers, baked beans on toast, chickpeas in a curry or hummus dip, kidney beans with your mince.
2. Save the leftover cooked pasta, rice and potatoes for another night. These form retrograded starch, also know as resistant starch when cooled which can’t be digested even if reheated again and acts as a prebiotic fibre to feed the gut bacteria. No food waste here!
3. Eat some fermented foods for the bacteria they provide and the metabolites they make during the fermentation process. We are still understanding how this all works, but it seems they may have some benefit.
Omega 3, from the sea
Some nutrients, important for the immune system, such as the minerals iron and zinc, are found in both animal and plant products but are more efficiently absorbed from animals. This too is true for omega 3.These fats from plant sources such as walnuts and flax seeds have the fat in a form where less is absorbed . Omega 3 fatty acids, you probably know are found mostly in oily fish, such as salmon, sardines and maceral. You may turn up your nose to sardines, but they have more omega 3 than tuna or salmon and taste nice on toast with a squeeze of lemon and sliced tomato. Hold your nose and give it a try or cook fresh ones on the barbie! Omega 3 fats are not only good for your brain but also good for our overall health and immune system. If you don’t like fish, there is some omega 3 also found in kangaroo!
We are unlikely to avoid illness completely but can take steps such as eating well, sleeping enough and keeping active to make us as strong as possible to fight off infection. There is plenty more you could also do but start off with these tips and I am sure you will enjoy this way of eating too!
#immunesystem #healthiswealth #plantbasediet