How important is diet for a healthy immunity system?

Claims you can boost your immunity by eating particular foods have hit the headlines over the past year, but do they stack up?

How important is diet for a healthy immune system?

A healthy, balanced diet is important for supporting your immunity system.

Says Sarah Stanner, Science Director at the British Nutrition Foundation.

So do you need to make changes to your diet for the sake of your immune health?

The importance of five a day

Aim to eat a wide range of fruit and veg to ensure you get all the nutrients your immune system needs. “Each micronutrient plays a different role in the immunity system – don’t make a hero of just one”, says Stanner.

Fruit and veg are packed with vitamins, minerals and chemical compounds known as phytochemicals.

Tinned fruit and veg, including beans and lentils, including beans and lentils, count towards your five a day.

Nutrients for immunity

Stanner highlights the following nutrients as important for normal immune function:

  • Vitamin A supports T Cells (a type of white blood cells that identifies pathogens). Your body converts beta carotenes, from foods such as yellow, red and green (leafy) veg, carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers and yellow fruits, into vitamin A. Liver, whole milk and cheese contains retinol, a preformed version of vitamin A.
  • Vitamin B6, B12, folate, selenium and zinc help produce immune cells. Poultry, fish, egg and bananas contain B6. Meat, salmon, cod, milk, cheese, eggs and fortified foods contain B12. Green vegetables, pulses, nuts and seeds are good sources of folate. Brazil nuts, fish, meat and eggs contain selenium, while zinc can be found in meat, shellfish, dairy, bread and cereal products such as wheatgerm.
  • Copper helps protect and fuel immune cells. Nuts, shellfish and offal are good sources.