Talking with an expert: immunity building in stressful times

by mera

By Helene Ravlich and Nicola Gillies

There has never been a better time than now to focus on building your immunity – for yourself as well as your family and loved ones. Boosting your immunity through a healthy diet, positive lifestyle and new, nourishing routines means your body will become more resilient, and better able to cope with whatever you throw at it. A strong immune system increases your chances of only experiencing mild to moderate symptoms and recovering well if you contract any type of virus, and it’s a great thing to focus on while you have some extra time on your hands.

With all of this in mind, we tapped registered dietician, Nicola Gillies from Mission Nutrition to delve a little deeper into what we should be doing to benefit our immunity during unsettling times. With a MHSc – Nutrition and Dietetics (First Class Honours) and Bsc in Human Nutrition, we’ll let the expert take it away…

When it comes to supporting our immune system to function at its best, the pillars in our diet are a variety of nutrient-rich and colourful foods. While it’s tempting to lean into the promise of immune-boosting foods and supplements, this really over-simplifies our wonderfully complicated immune system.

An abundance of nutrient-rich whole foods

Although it doesn’t sound glam, getting back to the basics of a variety of fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts/seeds, and quality protein sources really do provide us with all of the nutrients needed to keep our immune system optimally functioning.

The stars of immune health nutrients include vitamins A, C, D, and E, alongside selenium and zinc. Conveniently (or perhaps not), there’s no single food which covers all of your needs. Prioritise bringing an abundance of these foods into your diet – variety is key! Building food choices around these nutrient-dense foods also naturally crowds out highly-processed foods, a win-win for our immunity as these foods can suppress our immune system.

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Look after your gut

Over 70 per cent of the immune system is localised in the gut, and the two share a close relationship. Looking after our gut is one of the best things we can do for our immune health. The golden rule of gut health is eating a variety of plant-based foods, giving us enough fibre to support all the wonderful gut bugs which communicate with the immune system.

When it comes to gut health, the superstars are prebiotic and probiotic foods which feed and introduce the ‘good bugs’. Prebiotic fibres allow the healthy bugs to thrive, which can be found in onions, garlic, and legumes. Probiotics support a diverse range of happy bugs. My favourites are a good quality yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and tempeh.

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Eat the rainbow

Perhaps a bit cliché, but it really is a wonderful motto when it comes to immunity. Different colours of foods reflect different phytonutrients, each of which have unique functions in supporting the immune system.

Red/orange/yellow – Many of these foods happen to be rich sources vitamin A and C – think carrots, pumpkin, peppers, tomatoes, and citrus fruits.

Green – Spinach isn’t the only green! Try adding different greens to your repertoire –kale varieties, silverbeet, lettuces, and rocket are wonderful options to freshen up your salads. If greens aren’t your thing, adding microgreens as a garnish is a quick, easy, and nourishing choice.

Blue/purple – NZ blackcurrants are a bit of a powerhouse when it comes to immunity – rich in vitamin C and antioxidant compounds which also support a healthy gut. My tip – try swapping a coffee for Ārepa’s brain-boosting blackcurrant drinks.

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Look beyond your diet

Sleep, stress, and exercise all have such a powerful impact on our immune system, which a perfect diet can’t make up for.

Stress – There’s a lot going on that we can’t control right now, finding a meditation that works for you is a powerful way to help manage some of these stressful thoughts. My favourite is the box breath meditation, which is a great way to fill WFH breaks.

Exercise – There’s no perfect way to exercise, except for finding something that you enjoy – whether that’s an online HIIT workout, a gentle walk, or even a dance around the house.

Sleep – Easier said than done, but putting a sleep routine into place can help with duration and quality. This might be as simple as a night-time ritual of a cup of tea, or trying to have 15 minutes of reading before bed instead of screen time.

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Header Image Unsplash @nevenkrcmarek

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