Boosting Your Immunocompetence With Food: Advice From a Nutritionist


For most of us, our immune system does a damn good job defending us against organisms that can cause disease. Yet, sometimes our immune response falls short and we get sick. As we head into flu season, it’s the perfect time to ensure you are armed with some extra information to make sure your body is as effective as possible at preventing cold and flu. Additionally, flu shots are already available from your general practitioner or pharmacist.

We have long known that malnourished people are more susceptible to disease, and research has identified that nutrient deficiencies in animals have a negative impact on immune response. It is thought that the relationship between immunity, infection and nutrition is bidirectional, that is, changes in one part affect the others. Where possible, obtaining your nutrient requirements from a varied diet is preferable. If you don’t like many fruits or vegetables, I would first recommend spending some time finding new ways to prepare food that you haven’t tried before.

A number of vitamins and minerals are essential for immunocompetence, that is, the adequate functioning of your innate and adaptive immunity, including iron, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, D, E, and B vitamins 2, 6 and 12. There are an abundance of websites which list which foods are high in which nutrient, so I’m not going to provide that here. Instead, I’m listing out some advice for getting your nutrient requirements on a budget.

One of my favourite tips (though not at all original) is to pack extra vitamins and minerals into smoothies. Frozen greens like spinach and zucchini, as well as frozen fruits like banana and avocado are delicious in smoothies and add flavour and texture. Frozen berries are particularly delicious in smoothies. But they’re expensive. I grow my own blueberries in a planter made out of a free pallet that we picked up off the side of the road. Spinach, and other

leafy greens, like most Asian greens and kale, are also very easy to grow yourself in small planters at home. The seeds are extremely cheap, and you’ll have plants ready to harvest in approximately 8 weeks. Last season I grew viking spinach and had an abundant supply. I have loved growing these because you can just snip off a few leaves for an omlette or salad each day, without picking the whole plant. You can pick these seeds up at Bunnings. Other leafy greens I grew last season in planters that grew very well are sweet potato and broccolini (the leaves of both plants are prolific, nutritious and delicious), radicchio, Asian greens and mustard greens. Herbs are another great addition to a home-planter garden. They’re highly nutritious, expensive to buy in store, and very easy to grow.

I think the most important advice I can give is to start small. Try adding one serving of fruit or veg into each meal, each day, or each week. As time goes by, try increasing that number by gradually introducing more nutrients into your favourite meals. I love to grate carrot into bolognaise sauce, mash steamed cauliflower into mashed potato, and add grated zucchini into hash browns. Try thinking less about what calories you’re consuming and try considering what nutrients you are providing your body.

Laura Leyden
Bachelor of Food and Nutrition, Master of Public Health | Archive

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