Jun 25

Use Your Diet to Support your Immune System this Winter

Written by: Registered dietician, Aziwe Booi

Your immune system is a tightly knit defense system that protects your body from harm. Think of your immune system as a machine. Like any well-oiled machine, it has different parts that play a role in ensuring it functions optimally. Those parts include exercise, sleep, sunshine, and a healthy diet, including essential nutrients in our immune system.

Plenty of scientific studies have shown that the less nourished you are, the higher the risk of infection. It is therefore so important to eat in such a way that supports your immune system. The following vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, which can be found in various food sources, including dried fruit, are essential to support your immune health.

Prebiotics and Probiotics
At least 70% of our immune system can be found in our gut. This proves how your diet can influence your immune system. Prebiotics break down in your gut to form the food that feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut. Examples of food sources of prebiotics include wholegrain starches, vegetables, and fruit in all their forms. This includes dried fruit like raisins, dried peaches, and apricots.

Probiotics are also just as important to promote gut health. They are living bacteria beneficial for your gut health and can be found in most fermented foods (like kombucha, kefir, Maas, and yogurt), so make sure to include them as part of your diet.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is known to be a powerful antioxidant. Meaning it gets rid of any of the cells known as free radicals, which damage the healthy cells in your body. Some food sources include plenty of fruit, vegetables, and some nuts and seeds. Particularly dried fruit such as dried apricots are also known to be high in vitamin E.

Vitamin C
Vitamin C is one of the most popular nutrients which are essential for immune health and antioxidant properties. Contrary to popular belief, it only reduces the chances of developing colds and flu in certain groups like athletes. For the general population, it acts by reducing the length and severity of your colds which is still an essential health benefit. Sources of vitamin C include citrus fruit, peppers, kiwi, and dried fruits like dried nectarines and raisins.

Vitamin D and Zinc
Other essential nutrients like vitamin D and zinc are necessary to reduce infection and regulate your body’s immune response. Make sure to incorporate zinc (baked beans, breakfast cereals, and most dried fruit) and vitamin D (sun and oily fish, dairy products, and plant-based milk) food sources to form part of a healthy diet.

Final Thoughts
The next time you are wondering how to support your immune system, know there are plenty of ways in which you can do so. One of the simplest ways is through your diet, so try to include foods from all the different food groups and vegetables and fruit in all its forms- including dried fruit.

References:
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Bresnahan KA, Tanumihardjo SA. Undernutrition, the acute phase response to infection, and its effects on micronutrient status indicators. Adv Nutr. 2014 Nov 14;5(6):702-11. DOI: 10.3945/an.114.006361. PMID: 25398733; PMCID: PMC4224207.
Vighi G, Marcucci F, Sensi L, Di Cara G, Frati F. Allergy and the gastrointestinal system. Clin Exp Immunol. 2008 Sep;153 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):3-6. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2008.03713.x. PMID: 18721321; PMCID: PMC2515351.
Markowiak P, Śliżewska K. Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients. 2017 Sep 15;9(9):1021. DOI: 10.3390/nu9091021. PMID: 28914794; PMCID: PMC5622781.
NIH, 2021. Vitamin E Fact Sheet For Health Professionals. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/
Hemilä H, Chalker E. Vitamin C for preventing and treating the common cold. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jan 31;2013(1): CD000980. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000980.pub4. PMID: 23440782; PMCID: PMC8078152.
NIH, 2021. Vitamin C Fact Sheet For Health Professionals. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/
NIH, 2021. Vitamin D Fact Sheet For Health Professionals. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/
NIH, 2021. Zinc Fact Sheet For Health Professionals. Available at: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/

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