Paula Southworth

Nutritionist and Health Coach

BSc Nutrition and Sports Science

Massey University, Auckland

New Zealand

Boost your immune system and ward off bugs as we go into Spring.

With the official date of Spring just around the corner and the changeable weather at the moment, it seems to bring on another round of bugs. Boosting our immune systems is the best way to avoid or reduce their effects. Our immune systems are beautifully created to ward off the dreaded lurgies, but when our diets are lacking in certain nutrients, our immune systems are compromised and are unable to function as they were designed to.  So load up on some immune boosting foods and ward of the nasties.

Buying fruit and veggies that are in season is cheaper, fresher, tastier and has a better nutritional value.  A lot of the winter fruit and veg are still pretty cheap.

Some winter veg to stock up on:

Beetroot; broccoli; brussel sprouts; buttercup squash; butternut; cabbage; cauliflower; carrots; celeriac ; celery; eggplant; fennel; garlic; kumara; leeks; lettuce; mushrooms; onions; potatoes; pumpkin; radish; rhubarb; salad greens; silverbeet; spinach; swedes; turnip; watercress and yams.

Winter fruit:

Apples; grapefruit; lemons; kiwifruit; mandarins; oranges; pears; persimmons; tangelos; tamarillos.

Nutrients that enhance our immune systems:

Vitamin C is important in helping our bodies fight infection. It is an antioxidant which protects our immune cells (called phagocytes) and enables them to do their job of destroying bacteria.  The recommended daily intake for adults is around 45 mg, but this varies with age & whether a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding.  When we are unwell and our immune systems are working hard to fight off the infection, our requirements for Vitamin C are even higher. One orange contains 45 mg of vitamin C, a boiled kumara contains around 30 mg, ½ cup cooked broccoli 47 mg and our lovely kiwifruit pack a powerful punch with a fantastic 85 mg!  Fortunately vitamin C is water soluble, so whatever the body doesn’t need, it can easily eliminate, there is no danger of toxicity.

Vitamin A and its sidekicks, the carotenoids, keep the membranes of our respiratory system, our gastrointestinal system & our urinary system intact. Healthy membranes prevent bacteria from entering our bodies. This is our body’s first line of defense against bugs. Good sources are: Pumpkin, sweet potato, carrots, spinach, butternut squash, persimmons, cheese, milk, butter and of course the obvious one, liver.

Vitamin E is also an antioxidant, which protects phagocytes, enabling them to destroy bacteria that enter our bodies. I’m so excited about the beautiful avocados we are getting at the moment, especially because they are a great source of vitamin E and are full of lots of lovely, healthy fats!  Almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds are also excellent sources.

Zinc is important in ensuring that our bodies produce enough white blood cells, which are the little soldiers of our immune system, they seek out and destroy any foreign invaders in our bodies. Again, recommended daily amounts vary with age, gender and whether a women is pregnant or breastfeeding ranging from just 3 mg per day for infants up to 14 mg per day for adult men. Some good sources of zinc are oysters, mussels, beef, chicken, chickpeas and pumpkin seeds.

Our white blood cells also need Copper in order for them to multiply. Some good sources of copper are liver, oysters, cashew nuts, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, almonds, lentils and mushrooms.

Iron has a rather complex relationship with our immune system.  Too little prevents white blood cells from multiplying and too much encourages the growth of bugs in our bodies and damages the white blood cells.  It is unlikely that we can consume too much iron from food sources only, generally, excess iron may only be a problem if taken in supplement form.  Pregnant women have the highest iron requirements (27 mg per day); while infants, teenagers and women between the ages of 19 and 50, have the next highest requirements. Iron can be found in red meat, green lipped mussels, liver, chicken, tofu, red kidney beans, chickpeas, dates and spinach.

Selenium encourages the multiplication of white blood cells and antibodies. However, just like iron, too much can be harmful to our immune systems.  Brazil nuts, eggs, hoki and canned tuna are all good sources.

Go to my website for a gorgeous pumpkin hummus recipe.  Pumpkins and chickpeas are high in immune boosting nutrients, and give your immune system a lift today.


 Printed in the Rodney Times on September 2, 2014 by Paula Southworth.