Now that the days are getting shorter and the evenings are becoming chillier, it is an opportune time to separate fact from fiction on the topic of nutrition and the immune system.
Here are Dietitian, Nik Adamson’s, tips of what foods and supplements truly support your immune system so you can keep at your healthiest this winter.
Myth: A Multivitamin or Supergreen Powder Will Boost Your Immunity
The Facts: There is some evidence supporting the use multivitamin and supergreen supplements. However, the main benefit appears to occur in people with a poor quality diet that do not achieve a consistent or adequate intake of fruit and vegetables. Multivitamins and supergreens seem to be a Band-Aid solution, with a growing body of research indicating that chronic supplementation may actually be detrimental to health.
What You Can Do
To best support your immune system, concentrate on fixing the underlying issue. Aim to eat the rainbow – include an array of different coloured fruits and vegetables in your diet, this will provide a wide variety of nutrients and offer the greatest benefit to your immune system over supplementing with pills or powders.
Myth: Vitamin C Prevents Colds
The Facts: Vitamin C supplements carry a popular reputation amongst the general population. In reality there is very little evidence to support using high doses of Vitamin C for preventing the common cold. However, there is some research to suggest that Vitamin C may be favourable in reducing the duration of cold symptoms. Currently, there is inadequate evidence to make a recommendation on the optimal dose and duration of Vitamin C supplementation to promote a speedy recovery from a cold.
What You Can Do
Increase your intake of vitamin C rich foods at the first hint of a cold. Fruits such as oranges, berries, kiwi fruit and mandarins, and vegetables like dark leafy greens (spinach), broccoli, tomatoes, capsicums and chillies are all loaded with vitamin C and are a great addition to your winter diet to help reduce the severity of your sniffles.
Myth: Vitamin D Is Only Important For Bone Health
The Facts: Vitamin D is well known for its role in bone health, though it also plays as equally important role in supporting immune function. Vitamin D is particularly important for T-cell mediated immunity – a fancy term for a group of bug fighters in our body. As the winter months are upon us and we spend more time outdoors, seniors are at a particularly heightened risk of Vitamin D deficiency. If you spend most of your time indoors or you are only catching glimpses of sunshine throughout the day, it is worth checking in with your GP to have your Vitamin D levels assessed and see if you need a boost over winter.
What You Can Do
Get out for a walk or sit in the sunshine and read a book! The recommendation for sun exposure during the winter months for people living in New South Wales is between 26-47 minutes per day. Include sources of Vitamin D in your diet, oily fish like salmon and sardines, egg yolks, mushrooms and fortified foods such as milk are good sources of Vitamin D and make easy additions to meals to support your immune system. Supplementing with Vitamin D3 may also be required for older adults to maintain Vitamin D levels through the cooler months (but remember to check with your GP first).
Nutrition does not need to be complicated, if you have any questions or would like more information on how to stay healthy this winter ask your GP or Dietitian.
Author: Nik Adamson (Accredited Practising Dietitian), Alkira Day Therapy and Respite Centre