Looking for ways to change up your diet to support your immune system?
Look no further! The Mediterranean diet, with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) at its core, has been associated with many benefits for immune health.1
What exactly is the Mediterranean Diet?
Although this can vary slightly from country to country, the Mediterranean diet is a simple dietary approach. It includes an abundance of quality extra virgin olive oil, together with plenty of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts and seeds. Also included is moderate amounts of seafood, yoghurt, cheese, poultry and eggs, with low amounts of red and processed meats and foods high in sugar.
Here are some simple ways you can change up your diet, especially over the winter months, to help support your immune health with a Mediterranean twist.
1.Increase your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables1,2
Including more nutrient rich fruit and vegetables in your diet provides your body with key vitamins and minerals that support a healthy immune system. Vitamins A, C and E have specific immune benefits and can be found in foods that are abundant in a Mediterranean diet, such as broccoli, spinach, carrots, red or orange coloured fruits and EVOO. Did you know that if you cook your veggies in EVOO your body will be more able to absorb the fat soluble vitamins A,D E and K?
2.Eat more greens1,3,4
One of the original elements of a Greek Mediterranean diet is the consumption of wild edible greens cooked with or dressed in lashings of EVOO. For those of us who do not live in the Mediterranean, greens such as spinach, endive and dandelion are good substitutes, as they are packed with antioxidants that can help reduce free radical damage in the body. The Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants (known as polyphenols) that have been linked to numerous health benefits, some of which are related to supporting immune health.
3.Add some nuts to your diet2,3,5
Nuts such as pistachios, almonds and walnuts are rich in vitamin E, which is an essential vitamin for immune health. Vitamin E (also found in EVOO) is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to modulate immune function and help fight off infections. Now your daily handful of nuts is not only a satisfying and delicious snack, it also provides your body with immune benefits.
4.Feed your good gut bacteria with prebiotic foods5,6
A healthy gut, with happy gut bacteria is key to a strong immune system. The Mediterranean diet is rich in prebiotics through foods such as legumes, chickpeas, lentils, garlic, onion, grains (e.g. barley, pasta) and nuts. These prebiotic sources ‘feed’ the good gut bacteria which is supportive for good immune health.
Want some ideas on how to incorporate some of these foods in your diet?
- Childs CE, Calder PC, Miles EA. Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1933. Published 2019 Aug 16. doi:10.3390/nu11081933 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723551/
- Lee GY, Han SN. The Role of Vitamin E in Immunity. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1614. Published 2018 Nov 1. doi:10.3390/nu10111614 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6266234/
- J Pérez-Jiménez 1, V Neveu, F Vos, A Scalbert. Identification of the 100 Richest Dietary Sources of Polyphenols: An Application of the Phenol-Explorer Database. Eur J Clin Nutr, 64 Suppl 3, S112-20 Nov 2010 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21045839/
- Ceccanti C, Landi M, Benvenuti S, et al. Mediterranean Wild Edible Plants: Weeds or “New Functional Crops”? Molecules. 2018 Sep 8;23(9):2299. doi: 10.3390/molecules23092299. PMID: 30205584; PMCID: PMC6225202.
- FernandoCardonaabCristinaAndrés-LacuevacdSaraTulipaniaFrancisco J.TinahonesbeMaría IsabelQueipo-Ortuñoab. Benefits of polyphenols on gut microbiota and implications in human health. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry Volume 24, Issue 8, August 2013, Pages 1415-1422 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0955286313000946