Support your immune system this winter

Support your immune system this winter

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How a balanced diet can help support your immune system

With winter here, now’s the perfect time to build up your defences against flu season. Eating a balanced diet that’s full of vitamins and minerals can help (and also support other healthy behaviours, including exercise and quality sleep!). So what are some of the vitamins and minerals you should be looking out for, and where can you find them? Nutrition Counsellor and Dietitian, Wendy Audet tells us more.


Up your intake of fruit and veggies

Vitamins A, C and E are all powerful antioxidants which are essential to help your immune system function well. So what do these super vitamins do and where we can find them?

You need vitamin A to maintain healthy cells in your immune, digestive and respiratory systems. It also helps to release stored iron into your body and supports good thyroid health. Red, orange and yellow fruit and veggies are excellent sources of vitamin A and beta carotene (a compound which is converted into vitamin A in the body), so reach for things like mangos, apricots, carrots, sweet potato, capsicum or pumpkin.

Vitamin C helps to keep your skin, bones and connective tissue healthy. It also helps your body to absorb iron and supports healing. Citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, lemons, kiwifruits and berries are good sources of vitamin C, along with dark leafy greens like broccoli, spinach, bok choy and kale.

Vitamin E plays an important role in keeping your immune system healthy. It’s an antioxidant and fights inflammation, and it also helps to keep your skin and eyes healthy. Wheatgerm, olive oil, seeds, nuts, oats and avocado are all great sources.

Vitamins A, C and E work best in combination so don’t forget to ‘eat the rainbow’ and choose a variety of brightly coloured fruit and veggies (and remember to eat the skin if you can).

And don’t forget your herbs and spices! Chives contain antibacterial and antiviral compounds, while rosemary, turmeric and ginger are all high in antioxidants!


Tips for adding in extra serves

  • Soups and stews are a nourishing comfort food during winter and are a great way to pack in some extra veggies.
  • More of a breakfast person? Tomatoes, spinach, avocado and mushrooms are delicious with poached eggs for a healthy and hearty breakfast.
  • Looking for a healthy snack? Hummus, pesto, guacamole and tahini are all great options that are full of nutrients and flavour!


Turn to oily fish

Oily fish is a good source of Omega 3s and vitamin D. Omega 3s are polyunsaturated fats which you need to form immune cells and reduce inflammation in your body, while vitamin D is essential for bone and muscle strength, cell growth and maintaining a healthy immune system. Vitamin D also helps your body to absorb calcium from food and regulates the amount of calcium in your blood. You should aim to eat two to three serves of salmon, sardines, mackerel or tuna a week, but careful sun exposure can also help you to maintain vitamin D levels.


Don’t forget your protein

Red meat, liver, kidney and oysters are all great sources of protein, as well as zinc (which promotes healing and may reduce the duration of cold symptoms) and iron (which support immune function and energy). Fish, legumes, eggs and dairy are lower in these minerals but are still excellent sources of protein. If you prefer a vegetarian option, include seeds, nuts, legumes and lentils, quinoa and spinach to increase your zinc and iron intake. Adding vitamin C (like an orange, tomato or squeeze of lemon) will help your body to absorb the iron from these non-animal sources.


Try some fermented foods

The healthy bacteria in your digestive system are a vital part of your body’s immune defence. If the bacteria are out of balance you increase your chances of getting ill. Probiotics can boost this healthy (or ‘good’) bacteria and can be found naturally in yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and miso. Eating a range of fruit and veggies provides the good bacteria with the nutrients they need to establish and flourish – for a healthier gut, and a healthier you!


Be cautious with supplements

The best way to increase the nutrients your body gets is by eating nutritious food. But if your diet is deficient in nutrients and you’re thinking about taking a supplement, it’s important to speak to your GP first because:

  • Some supplements can build up to toxic levels in the body (excessive vitamin D, iron or zinc supplements can damage the liver, heart and kidneys, and you should avoid vitamin A supplements if you’re pregnant)
  • Not all supplements are equal and cheaper formulations are often harder to absorb (which can give you an upset stomach) or in doses that are too low to actually make a difference to your health
  • Some minerals compete for uptake by the body while others can interact negatively with each other, or prescription medications.


Looking for some advice on diet and nutrition? Don’t forget to check your Nurses & Midwives Health Extras cover for benefits towards support from a dietitian. The Healthy Lifestyle benefit can also help with the cost of some healthy eating and lifestyle programs and more!


Healthcare Services’ Dietitian Support Program is designed to reduce the risk or stop the progression of chronic disease through nutrition intervention. Read more about it, including eligibility criteria.



Written by Valion Health. Valion Health supports eligible Nurses & Midwives Health members through the Cancer Support Program.