Contributed by Christina Iaboni
MHSc, Registered Dietitian
Oats have long been known as a healthy choice to include in our diets, but did you know that oats also contain nutrients that are important in supporting our immune health? A healthy immune system needs a regular supply of several nutrients and while getting enough of these nutrients won’t mean you never get sick or catch a cold, a healthy diet can support your immune system and help you stay healthy.
Oats contain selenium, which is a mineral needed for good health. Selenium is also an antioxidant which can help prevent our cells from being damaged and may play a role in improving our immune function and protecting us from infection. Other good sources of selenium are brazil nuts, meat and seafood. (1)
Zinc is another mineral needed for people of all ages and is important for normal growth and development. Zinc is also needed to strengthen the immune system. Studies have shown that people who are low in zinc are more susceptible to pneumonia and other infections. (2) While oats contain some zinc, the best sources are protein rich foods such as seafood, meat and beans. Milk also contains zinc so topping your oats with cows’ milk will also increase zinc intake.
Vitamin D is well known for its role in bone health, but it is also important for our immune system. Some studies (3) have shown that Vitamin D deficiency has been linked with increased risk of infection. A great source of Vitamin D is the sun but in Canada, especially during the winter months, many people don’t get enough Vitamin D and deficiency is possible. While oats don’t contain Vitamin D, it is a good idea to ensure that the milk or milk alternatives that you have with your oats are fortified with Vitamin D. In Canada, all cows milk has Vitamin D added to it and most milk alternatives found at the grocery store (almond, rice, soy, etc.) also have added Vitamin D. You may also wish to discuss a Vitamin D supplement with your doctor or dietitian.
Oats are a good source of a fibre known as beta-glucan. Like other types of fibre, beta-glucan can help lower cholesterol and assist with blood sugar control, but this fibre can also help boost the immune system. As they pass through the intestine, beta-glucans interact with immune cells and stimulate the immune system. Barley and certain types of mushrooms are also sources of beta-glucans. (4)
Oats are a great food to include in our diets because they contain selenium, zinc and beta-glucan fibre all of which help support a healthy immune system. Top your overnight oats with cows’ milk or a fortified plant-based milk alternative for some extra immune boosting Vitamin D goodness. Other nutrients that support immune health include iron, protein, and Vitamins A, C, and E. Including a wide variety of foods in your diet is a great way to ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need to not only support your immune system but to stay healthy and give you the energy you need to live well.
Read more about foods that maximize your immune system.
1) Selenium. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements.https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Selenium-HealthProfessional/
2) Zinc. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
3) Vitamin D and the Immune System. Cynthia Aranow. J Investig Med. 2011 August; 59(6): 881–886
Christina Iaboni is a registered dietitian practicing in Toronto. She aims to empower her clients to improve their health by eating healthy and delicious food. Follow her @cucina_di_christina and visit www.cucinadichristina.com for healthy eating tips and easy recipes.