Could there be a better way to mark Nut Day, on 22 October, than with a healthy handful (that’s 30g)…
Nuts and immunity
Nuts and immunity
Do nuts play a role in supporting immunity? Yes! Eating a nutrient-rich diet (in which nuts, along with vegetables, fruits, seeds, legumes, whole grains, fish and healthy fats, are front and centre) will help your immune system function at its best.
And while there’s no magic bullet to ‘boost’ your immunity, you can certainly support your immune system through a healthy lifestyle. Along with a nutritious diet, that means:
- Regular physical activity
- Adequate sleep
- Managing stress, and
- Healthy social connections.
People who eat a well-balanced diet tend to be healthier with stronger immune systems (1).
Eating for immunity
Studies suggest a link between nutrition and immunity, especially in older people (1,2).
Our body’s immune cells need an adequate supply of energy (from foods) to effectively respond to invading infections.
We also need a good supply of amino acids, through our diet, to make immune proteins, enough minerals (like iron, zinc and magnesium) for the synthesis of certain parts of our immune cells, and antioxidant vitamins (like vitamin E and C) to limit tissue damage due to viral infections.
A deficiency in these nutrients has been shown to change our immune response.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines encourage a wide variety of nutritious foods every day. This is to ensure we meet our nutrients requirements for good health – and this includes to support our immune system (3).
Constant low-grade inflammation can weaken the immune system. Dietary patterns which emphasise a regular intake of vegetables, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fish and healthy fats – while limiting sugar, unhealthy fats and salt – are very effective at lowering inflammation (1).
A large study, published in 2021, highlights the role of a healthy diet in easing the burden of infectious diseases (4). Specifically, it found a plant-rich diet could help reduce the risk and severity of COVID-19.
The researchers assessed the diet quality of more than 592,000 study participants, based in the US and the UK. Almost 32,000 went on to develop COVID-19. Those with the highest ‘Plant-based Diet Score’ prior to the pandemic had a 9% lower risk of developing COVID-19 and a 41% lower risk of developing severe COVID-19, compared to those with the lowest diet quality score.
Nuts and immunity
It’s fair to say that nuts have earned their place as a key food within healthy eating patterns. In fact, these nutrient-dense foods are an essential part of a healthy diet – and importantly, nuts have a role in supporting immunity.
Nuts provide plant-based protein and gut-loving fibre, and are rich in antioxidants. And through their nutrients – such as zinc, copper, iron, selenium and vitamin B6 – they contribute to the normal functioning of our immune system.
Nuts are naturally low in ‘pro-inflammatory’ dietary components, such as unhealthy fats and sugar.
Which nut is best for my immune system?
All nuts contain a range of nutrients, so when it comes to supporting immunity, every nut is a great choice!
Certain nuts are top sources of particular nutrients, such as zinc (cashews and pine nuts), copper (Brazil nuts), iron (cashews), selenium (Brazil nuts), folate (hazelnuts), and vitamin C (chestnuts). And almonds and pistachios contain the most plant protein of all tree nuts.
Enjoying a range of tree nuts will give you a range of immunity-supporting nutrients!
Most Australians (98%, in fact), fall well short of the recommended 30g a day, so are missing out on the nutrition and health benefits of a daily handful of nuts (5).
Gut health and immunity
A huge proportion of the body’s immune system is actually in the gastrointestinal tract! So, focusing on your gut health is one sure-fire way to support your immunity.
The best way to feed your gut microbiome is by eating a diet that contains a range of different types of dietary fibre (including prebiotics), and foods that are rich in polyphenols – a group of antioxidant-rich plant compounds found in foods like nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables.
Stock up on nuts
Nuts make a great pantry staple. They’re incredibly versatile.
They also have a long shelf life. To keep nuts at their freshest, store them in a sealed container in the fridge or freezer for up to six months. Just remember to bring them to room temperature before enjoying your healthy handful each day.
Tips to include nuts in your day:
- Roast or lightly toast a mix of nuts for a crunchy snack.
- Toss nuts through salads or stir fries for added texture.
- Puree a handful of nuts into your favourite soup to thicken it, in place of cream or rice.
- Blend together a cup of milk, a handful of nuts, and some fruit for a protein-rich smoothie.
- Push a nut into a fresh date for a sweet and crunchy late-night snack.
Go nuts all day long
- Monye I., Adelowo AB. Strengthening immunity through healthy lifestyle practices: Recommendations for lifestyle interventions in the management of COVID-19. Lifestyle Med, 2020. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/lim2.7
- Harvard Medical School. How to boost your immune system. Harvard Health Publishing, 2021. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-to-boost-your-immune-system (accessed May 2021)
- National health and Medical Research Council. Australian Dietary Guidelines. 2013. NHMRC. https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/
- Merino J., et al. Diet quality and risk and severity of COVID-19: A prospective cohort study. Gut, 2021. Published online first: 6 September 2021. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2021-325353
- Nikodijevic CJ., et al. Nut consumption in a representative survey of Australians: A secondary analysis of the 2011–2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey. Public Health Nutr, 2020:1–11.