5 nutrition tips for a healthy immune system

Follow these tips for building a healthy immune system to help fight infection.

Diet, stress, fatigue, pollutants and stimulants all affect the immune system which may affect your health. During the winter months we are more prone to catching viruses like colds and flu so this is a good time to work on optimising your health by following this advice.

1. Look after your gut

Our gastrointestinal tract plays an important role in immunity so it is important that we look after our gut health to help protect immune function. In the winter months include plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet and if necessary take a probiotic supplement, these will help to encourage the growth of the friendly bacteria which help protect against harmful gut microbes which lead to infections.

Good sources of probiotics are live yoghurt, kefir, fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and kimchi (Asian form of sauerkraut).

Prebiotic foods feed your microflora (friendly bacteria) and stimulate their growth. These include leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, asparagus, legumes and whole grains.

2. Include plenty of foods which are high in antioxidants

Antioxidants help to combat damage by free radicals. Free radicals are made when your body breaks down food or when you are exposed to tobacco smoke or radiation. The buildup of free radicals over time is largely responsible for the aging process. Free radicals may play a role in cancer, heart disease, and conditions like arthritis.

Find out more about antioxidants.

3. Avoid immune suppressants for example refined, processed sugar

Some foods and drinks prevent your immune system from doing its job properly. Sugar inhibits the activity of white blood cells which protect us against pathogens and alcohol and cigarettes can also lower immunity. Too much alcohol will compromise the liver’s ability to deal with the by-products of viruses and bacteria and also deprives the body of valuable immune-boosting nutrients such as vitamin A. This makes white cells - your body's defence against illness and disease - less able to kill germs.

4. Avoid too much caffeine

Because caffeine can inhibit the absorption of vital nutrients it's best to stick to one cup of a caffeinated drink a day. This includes fizzy 'energy' drinks, which contain as much caffeine (and in some cases more caffeine) than a cup of coffee.

5. Drink plenty of water

Water is essential for your body to function but it also helps to clear the body of toxins. You should drink a minimum of two litres of water a day, more if you are exercising.

Last updated Monday 25 April 2022

First published on Monday 19 October 2015