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Fruit and veg to boost your immune system

Can certain foods really strengthen the immune system? You bet! These five fruits and vegetables are a great way to build up your body’s defence.

One small thing:One or two freshly squeezed oranges are a great way to boost your vitamin C intake. If you have a juicer, add raw ginger and carrots as well.

Your immune system is your body’s built-in defence mechanism, so it makes sense to keep it strong with proper nutrition – much of what our bodies need to fight off infection and ward off illness can be found in food.

Registered dietitian Teresa Harris gives us the lowdown on the top fruit and vegetables that can help boost your immune system.

  • 1. Citrus fruits are a good source of folate (an essential B vitamin) and an excellent source of immune-boosting vitamin C.
    Must try: Freshly squeeze one or two oranges and grapefruit together with ginger and carrots for a health cocktail full of beneficial nutrients.
  • 2. Broccoli is often called a superfood and for good reason. It is an excellent source of vitamin C, beta carotene and folate. Being a member of the cruciferous plant family, broccoli contains beneficial phytochemicals that not only boost immunity but may even help protect against cancer.
    Must try: Chop broccoli finely and add it to your favourite salad – eating it raw is even better for you than cooked.
  • 3. Pawpaw is another immune-boosting fruit – just half a small pawpaw provides an adult’s daily requirement of vitamin C and a healthy boost of the antioxidant beta carotene.
    Must try: Make a salsa with pawpaw, lemon juice, fresh coriander and finely chopped spring onion, and serve with grilled fish or chicken.
  • 4. Blueberries contain beneficial antioxidants called anthocyanins, which are thought to play a role in boosting immunity and cancer prevention.
    Must try: Add a handful of blueberries to your plain low-fat yoghurt in the morning, or blend frozen blueberries with banana and plain low-fat yoghurt for a refreshing, nutrient-rich smoothie .
  • 5. Mangoes are not only a great source of vitamin C, they also contain a rich amount of beta carotene.
    Must try: Slice mangoes and layer them with low-fat yoghurt, honey and toasted almonds for a delicious and healthy dessert.

 

In addition to these immune-boosting fruits and vegetables, there are many others that also offer similar health benefits. Health professionals recommend that we eat between five and nine servings of a variety of fruit and/or vegetables every day. One serving of fruit is equal to a medium-sized fruit, while for vegetables it’s half a cup.

Keep your gut healthy too

Interestingly, about 80% of your immune system involves the colon so it’s really important to ensure it’s healthy and working optimally. Prebiotics and probiotics support the essential bacteria in the gut and are therefore also an important consideration when planning our diet.

Prebiotics are materials in foods that we can’t digest, but which promote the growth of good bacteria in the large intestine – they’re found in chicory, onions, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes, as well as honey, rye, bananas, maple sugar and oats.

Probiotics change or improve the balance of bacteria in your digestive system, which assists your digestion and helps protect against harmful bacteria. The most common forms of probiotics are Lactobacillus organisms and bifidobacteria. These beneficial bacteria stop overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Boost your intake of these probiotics by eating yoghurt containing live cultures and consider taking a probiotic supplement to boost your gut integrity, especially if you are on antibiotics.

If you have a question for our dietitians, click here, or to find a dietitian in your area, visit adsa.org.za. To get in touch with us, email healthhotline@pnp.co.za.