Dr Kerryn Phelps explains which nutrients to add to your diet to improve your immunity and mental health

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We’ve all heard the old adage ‘you are what you eat.’

For centuries, it’s been proven time and time again the benefits a healthy diet can have on your immune system and your mental health.

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Now, Dr Kerryn Phelps and her dietitian daughter, Jaime Rose Chambers, have released a guide focusing on these benefits – showcasing a huge range of meals and their medicinal effects.

From heart health to mood food, the book comes at the perfect time as Aussies spend more and more time in the kitchen.

“In general terms, nutrition is probably the most important part of enhancing your immune system,” Phelps said.

“We know that worldwide, the most common cause of immune deficiency is micronutrient deficiency.

“The sorts of nutrients you would be looking for to make sure your immune system was healthy as possible to cope with any onslaught will be nutrients like folate, iron, zinc, selenium, and all of the antioxidants vitamins like A, C, and E.”

Lacking in fruit and veg

“Having a variety of plant-based foods – fresh fruits and vegetables – are really important,” Phelps said.

“Over 90 per cent of Australians don’t have the recommended five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day.

Over 90 per cent of Australians don’t have the recommended five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day.
Over 90 per cent of Australians don’t have the recommended five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day. Credit: Getty Images

“Start by thinking about not just your standard fruits, but also some interesting and different fruits – mix up different types of berries, for example, and make sure you have a source of vitamin C every day.

“Think about seafood in your diet – and look at ways of making it interesting. A crust of sesame seeds is a great source of calcium, for example.

“There are lots of different nutrients that give you a medicinal quality that will actually help to create a health effect.”

Food and mental health

“’Mood food’ doesn’t mean comfort eating,” Phelps said.

“Lots of people don’t realise that the food you can eat can have an important effect on your mental state.

“A poor diet that’s lacking in essential nutrients or elements can contribute to fatigue, depression and anxiety.

“If you are experiencing those mental health effects, one of the first places you can look – apart from exercising and being able to talk out your problems with somebody that you trust – is the nutrients in your diet.

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“See if you are missing things like essential fatty acids from oily fish, for example – or whether you are missing nuts and seeds, and whether you are including legumes and lentils, cherries and berries for the colour and phytonutrients that those coloured vegetables and fruits provide.

“Dark chocolate is a mood enhancer as well. Look at fermented foods to promote good gut bacteria as well.

“And avoid foods that we know are bad for us – such as soft drinks, excessive red meats, refined grains, trans fats and packaged foods.

“We know what to avoid, but it is important to think about the sorts of things we can include in a positive way.”

Dr Kerryn Phelps and Jaime Rose Chambers’ book Everyday Food As Medicine is available where all good books are sold.

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