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5 ways to boost immunity

Due to COVID-19, there has never been a greater focus on the importance of a strong immune system.

However, the truth is that boosting your immune health has always been incredibly important, particularly as we age. And one of the simplest ways to do this is through healthy eating. 

Often, we take the “shortcut” of jumping straight into medication and supplement use, but while these can be useful after seeking the appropriate medical advice, the fact is that there are some incredibly effective ways to ensure optimal immune function with good everyday habits and dietary choices. 

We spoke with nutritionist Steph Geddes, who shares her top five tips for reducing your risk of illness as a result of lowered immune function.

1. Gut health

Seventy to 80 per cent of our immune cells reside in our gut, so it makes sense that foods supportive of gut health are also helpful for immunity, according to Geddes.

“Probiotics are particularly helpful as they can communicate with the immune cells in the intestine and have a direct effect on creating an optimal environment for gut and immune function,” she says.

“While diversity in probiotics is helpful, it is also important to look for probiotic strains that are clinically demonstrated to provide immune benefit.

“For example, clinical studies have shown that BB-12 increases the body’s resistance to common respiratory infections as well as reduces the incidence of acute respiratory tract infections.

“Similarly, many clinical studies have demonstrated the impact of probiotic strain LGG on reducing the incidence and duration of flu-like sickness.

“Probiotics are available in supplement form but can also be found in wholefoods such as yoghurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, miso and tempeh.”

2. High-fibre foods

It’s important to support good gut health with good everyday eating habits, and according to Geddes, opting for a wide range of fibre-rich foods is the way to go.

“Fibre is what feeds the bacteria in our gut so aim to pack out your diet with a mix of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds,” she says.

“It also happens that these foods are some of our best sources of immune supporting nutrients like Vitamin C, zinc and Vitamin D, so it’s a win-win.”

3. Hydration

Geddes does point out that there’s a flip side to all those high-fibre foods: they can leave you with sluggish bowel movements and unpleasant digestive symptoms. The best way to combat this is via hydration.

“Drinking at least two litres of water per day is extremely important help to soften and bulk your stools which will help to keep gut and immune function optimal,” she says.

4. Exercise

According to Geddes, studies are showing that exercise can stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut, which can also support our immune system.

“While more research needs to be done in this area to determine the best type, intensity and duration of exercise, what we know is that consistency of exercise is important as any changes in the composition of bacteria that occur from exercise are lost once the exercise is ceased,” Geddes says.

5. Stress management

Stress can suppress our immune system and there is a lot of research looking into how the relationship between the gut and the brain may play a part in this, Geddes says.

“With our gut and brain being able to communicate directly – also referred to as the gut-brain axis – studies are indicating the immune system is one of these communication pathways,” she says.

“Although more research needs to be done in humans, employing stress management tools will go a long way to improving not just your gut and immune health, but also overall health.”

Steph Geddes is a Registered Nutritionist whose recipes are a revelation for anyone wanting to fuel their body with good food that is balanced, easy and seriously delicious. Steph works as a creative recipe developer, corporate public speaker, cooking class teacher and ambassador. Her recipes and nutrition advice are featured in everything from worldwide cafes, to blogs, mainstream media and celebrity cookbooks.