The Nutrition Nook: food, stress and our immune system

Did you know that our diet can have a direct impact on your immune system? The foods we eat can either help to strengthen or weaken our immune system.

But first, what is the immune system and why is it important?

Our immune system is responsible for protecting us from infections and is the body’s first line of defense. If the immune system is not functioning properly we can get sick.

How does stress and university life affect your immune system? 

Have you ever heard anyone say that when you’re stressed, you’re more likely to get sick? That’s because stress can impact the immune system, especially if it’s for a prolonged period.

Researchers found that our immune cells stop effectively fighting infection when the body is highly stressed (Tortora & Derrickson, 2019). When we are stressed, our bodies release cortisol which is a hormone that slows down the activity of our immune system (Tortora & Derrickson, 2019).

As a student, we have many assessments coming up and you may need to start preparing for exams. You may start losing the health habits you’ve maintained before (maybe you’re not exercising or eating as many well-balanced meals as before). When this happens over a prolonged period, it’s likely that your immune system could become weaker. Maintaining these two habits is important for boosting immunity.

Are there any foods that can strengthen our immune system?

Of course, there is not one food on its own that will ‘boost’ your immune system, however, the foods you eat can have an impact on how strong your immune system is. An overall healthy diet that includes fresh foods, whole foods and minimally processed foods is certainly associated with enhanced immunity as they can provide the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help protect our cells which can help boost immunity.

What does a healthy diet mean exactly?

Consider having a variety of minimally processed foods from the main food groups every day to support your immunity and overall health. These include:

  • Wholegrains and cereals: oats, rice, pasta, quinoa and wholegrain bread
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables and legumes
  • Proteins (lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts, seeds and legumes)
  • Dairy products

Vitamins C, A, D, E, B6, and B12, folate, zinc, iron, copper, and selenium are responsible for strengthening the immune system. Some foods that contain high levels of these vitamins include:

  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemon, mandarin and grapefruit)
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Capsicum
  • Dark green vegetables (broccoli, spinach for example)

There are not many foods that contain vitamin D, but fortunately, our body is capable of synthesising it with the help of some sunlight exposure. It is sufficient to expose the hands, face and arms for 5-10 minutes between the times 10 am and 2 pm (Whitney, Rolfes, Crow & Walsh, 2016).

Try these recipes too:


Better Health Channel. (2022). Immune System Explained.

Immune Deficiencies Foundation Australia. (2020). Lifestyle Series: Nutrition.

Whitney, E. C., Rolfes, S.R.,  Crowe, T. & Walsh, A. (2016). Understanding Nutrition (3rd ed..). Cengage Australia.

Tortora, G. J. & Derrickson, B. (2019). Principles of anatomy and physiology (Second Asia-Pacific edition.). John Wiley & Sons Australia Ltd.