As the colder months draw in, coughs, colds and the flu are quite common, which can easily spread from person to person via small droplets in the air. With a strong immune system, your body is better prepared to fight off infection. This month we spoke to Dianne Ivison, a registered dietitian at Panorama Mediclinic about how we can boost immune system ahead of winter. Dianne has been a speaker at the Livewell Wellness Talks. She has been working in private practice for over 20 years and has a keen interest in gut and chronic disease nutrition. She is also a mom of 2 and enjoys long walks with her dogs and gardening.

With winter coming up, it usually means the increase in people getting sick. Is this particularly true?

Unfortunately, winter does bring an increase in colds and flu and those who are most at risk of getting sick are the elderly and immune-compromised. As we age, our immune response can become reduced, leading to a greater risk of infection. Therefore it’s so important to prepare early to ensure your immune system is strong and healthy ahead of the upcoming cold days.

What are some of the easy and simple ways for people, particularly 50+ to boost their immune system?

From a nutrition point of view, I encourage people to eat a variety of foods. Including at least 5 portions of veg and fruit into your daily diet is so important. Now is not the time to diet. Include foods that are high in antioxidants such as vitamin C such as citrus fruits, berries, colourful peppers etc. Zinc and selenium such as raw nuts, seafood, lean red meat and eggs. The more colourful your plate, the better. If you are not able to achieve this, then a good A to Z multivitamin might be a good idea.

What role does diet play in immunity building?

Your first line of defence is to choose a healthy lifestyle. Following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take towards naturally keeping your immune system strong and healthy. Every part of your body, including your immune system, functions better when protected from environmental stresses. General good health tips include:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently
  • Try to minimize stress.

Can you tell us some of the most important food items to have in our kitchen and consume regularly?

  • Fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables, although dried and frozen options are also fine to use.
  • Wholegrains such as wholewheat bread and brown rice.
  • Fresh and dried herbs and spices.
  • Olive oil, avocado pear if seasonal.
  • Dried beans and lentils.
  • Lean protein such as fish, eggs and chicken without the skin.
  • Low-fat plain yoghurt to ensure you get your dose of good bacteria (probiotics).

For those that lack in diet, what supplements do you recommend to boost immunity?

A good A-Z multivitamin and mineral supplement or a nutritional supplement shake such as 1-2 glasses of Ensure if you are unable to eat your regular 3 meals a day.

About Dianne Ivison

Dianne Ivison is a Registered Dietitian working at Panorama Mediclinic for the past 18 years. She has a special interest in gut health, paediatrics and dialysis patients. She has also been fortunate to help write numerous nutrition-related articles for magazines such as Shape, Femina and YOU. She has been an ADSA member since her student days and was chairperson of the Association for Dietetics (ADSA) Western Cape (2009-2011).