Eating for Immune Health

Good nutrition is essential for good health! We have become more aware of the grossly underestimated link between what we feed our bodies and what we get from them in return. Researchers all over the world have demonstrated time and time again that we really are what we eat. There are three main nutrients that provide energy to our bodies, namely protein, carbohydrate and fat. Food consists of a combination of these nutrients.  There are very few foods that consist entirely of one single nutrient, although some may well be higher in certain nutrients than others. Some foods are also rich sources of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are termed ‘micronutrients’ because we only require them in tiny amounts. They have a number of functions and are vital to good health, but they do not contribute any energy to the diet. On the whole your immune system does a remarkable job of defending you against disease causing micro-organisms. On occasion a germ manages to invade your immune system and make you sick. Certain foods help the immune system stay stronger which is particularly important when there are lots of germs around which typically occurs with changes in seasons.

Every part of your body, including your immune system will function better when protected from environmental assaults and bolstered by health living strategies, which include the following lifestyle practices:

  • Abstain from smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get adequate sleep
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
  • Try to minimize stress
  • Keep hydrated

Dietary wise there is also a lot we can do to reduce the incidence of infections. These include the following:

Ensure protein content is adequate for immune health

Protein is essential for building, maintaining and repairing tissue. Although the body can manufacture its own protein, there are certain protein components that can only be obtained through the diet. The quality of different proteins varies:  some proteins are of a higher quality as they provide all the protein components and are thus termed ‘complete’ proteins. Good sources of protein include foods such as lean meat, poultry in moderation, fish, seafood, eggs, dairy products, nut or peanut butters, nuts, dried beans, peas (split peas) and lentils. Protein also provides important vitamins (B complex), and minerals, including iron and zinc. Zinc is also particularly important for immune functioning.

Eat a balanced diet high in plant- based foods

Although vitamins and minerals do not contribute any energy to the diet and occur in much smaller amounts in foods, they are essential for survival as they perform vital functions in the body. They are scattered throughout different foods, but are found in particularly high amounts in fruit and vegetables.  By choosing a wide variety of different foods in your diet you should ensure that you meet your micronutrient requirements. Products like PhytoGanix and OrganiX PhytoFood are great to boost plant based phytonutrient intake. They are designed to support intestinal health and immune function.

Ensure plenty of vitamin C from a dietary source

Vitamin C is needed for the "cement" (collagen) that keeps our cells together. It is necessary for healthy gums and teeth, bones, and strong blood vessels. It plays an important role in wound healing and the body's defense mechanism. It is critical for producing white blood cells and antibodies that fight off infection. Good sources include: citrus fruits (oranges, naartjies, limes, lemons), guavas, mangos, strawberries and other berries, kiwi fruit, pineapples, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, cabbage and any other dark green leafy vegetable. Vitamin C can be boosted when you feel you are getting sick by supplementing for a short period of time. Ensure sufficient water intake at the same time as high levels of vitamin C can promote kidney stones when dehydrated.

Check vitamin D levels and supplement if necessary

Vitamin D was always thought in the past in terms of bone health but more studies are being published promoting the benefit of good vitamin D levels to prevent respiratory infections, cancer and dementia. Vitamin D3 is the preferred form of Vitamin D for best absorption. A maximum dose of 5000IU a day can be taken. Being a fat soluble vitamin, blood levels should be checked if vitamin D is taken on a longer term basis.

Foods rich in vitamin A

There are two forms of vitamin A. The one is pre-formed vitamin A and the other is called beta-carotene. Pre-formed vitamin A occurs only in food of an animal origin but beta-carotene is found in food from vegetable origin. Beta-carotene can be recognized by the orange/yellow/red pigmentation it gives to the food.  However, it is also found in dark green vegetables. Vitamin A is essential for normal growth as well as healthy eyes, teeth, skin and hair. Vitamin A is a nutrient required for overall good health and immune function. The body converts beta-carotene when needed to Vitamin A. Vitamin A is used by the body when you are sick. Usually dietary sources are sufficient as large doses of Vitamin A in supplement form can be harmful. Good sources of vitamin A include: liver, the fat of milk and dairy products, and eggs. Good sources of beta-carotene include: carrots, pumpkin, butternut, Hubbard squash, yellow sweet potatoes, spinach, green beans and peas, broccoli, mangos, oranges, yellow peaches, apricots and paw paws.


Zinc is another mineral important to a healthy immune system. People with a low zinc level tend to have a poorer immune response to infections. Zinc is needed to produce and activate some types of white blood cells that help fight infections. Good sources of zinc include: lean meat, poultry, seafood (especially oysters), wholegrain products, beans, seeds and nuts. Zinc supplements if used shouldn’t be more than 25mg a day.

Use herbs and spices

Herbs and spices have been used for thousands of years to support health. Cooking with fresh herbs and using lots of spices is one way to boost your immune defences as the seasons begin to change. Cooking liberally with herbs and spices will improve taste and depth to your dishes while adding considerably health benefits to every meal. Three of the most important herbs and spices include turmeric, cayenne pepper and oregano. Turmeric is a bright yellow spice known as a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. The active ingredient found in turmeric is called curcumin. Cayenne is used to add a bit of heat to dishes. Its benefit is to thin phlegm and eases it passage through the lungs. Oregano is a fragrant herb that has exceptionally high antioxidant content. The active compounds in oregano are carvacrol and thymol. These compounds have strong antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties.