As we enter the winter months, supporting our immune system to guard against common infections like colds and the flu becomes more important to us all.
The science is clear that diet plays a substantial role in our ability to resist infections1, but many of us don’t understand why, and what foods are going to effectively help our immunity to ward off illness.
Enjoying a balanced diet including foods rich in prebiotics helps to support our immune system to fight and avoid common infections like cold and flu2,3.
Enjoying a range of whole grain or high fibre grain foods may also enhance immune health. This is through a prebiotic effect – an increase in the balance of beneficial bacteria in the digestive system which provide a range of health benefits including improved immune responses.
4 Facts on Immune Health
- Prebiotics can enhance good bacteria in our guts. Prebiotics, including resistant starch found in whole grain, high fibre grain foods, have the potential to induce the same sorts of immune enhancing effects as probiotics, acting through similar mechanisms2,4.
- Immune responses are fuelled by diet. There is increased demand for energy and essential nutrients to produce the cells required for a specific immune response. Ultimately the foods we eat are the source of the essential amino acids, essential fats, vitamins and minerals required for the immune system to function on a day-to-day basis and to respond optimally2,5.
- A balanced diet helps to resist infection. Enjoying a balanced diet, as recommended by the Australian Dietary Guidelines, provides the nutrition the immune system requires to work effectively and resist infection. An inadequate diet impairs immune defences, increasing the risk of infection1,6. This can be due to insufficient intake of energy and macronutrients (protein, essential fats, carbohydrates) and/or due to deficiencies in specific vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, D, E, and B vitamins, zinc, iron, iodine and selenium2,6.
- Whole grains contain a range of valuable nutrients. Grain foods are leading contributors of a range of nutrients which play an essential role in immune function including folate, thiamin, niacin, magnesium, iron, zinc and protein6.
The bottom line
Whole diets feed our immune system to fight and avoid common infections like cold and flu. Enjoying a varied and balanced diet, as per the Australians Dietary Guidelines combined with healthy lifestyle factors such as adequate sleep and exercise, most effectively primes the body to fight infection.