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Nutrition, Energy, Sunlight & Immunity

Following our popular event on Nutrition and Immunity: Fact and Fiction with Cailie Ford, (you can now watch it on-demand), we asked Cailie to answer some of the questions that our community asked during and after the event.

Clinical nutritionist Cailie Ford answers questions about eating for immunity.

Here’s what Cailie had to say about gut health, getting kids to eat vegetables, how to safely get enough Vitamin D, and including fermented foods in your daily meals.

Can you explain the brain, gut connection?

The gut and the brain are connected through the vagus nerve, think about it as a 2-way highway, where messages are being sent and received in both directions all the time.  

An example of this connection is when you feel nervous, if I were to say you need to speak in front of 1000 people in the next 2 minutes on a topic you’ve never heard about before, you would likely feel it in your stomach, you might sweat.  

That’s an example of the messages going down from your brain to your gut, that stress response.  Conversely, if you think about when you’re really, really hungry, you can actually feel what people describe as hangry or that anxious feeling, and that’s your gut sending messages up to your brain to seek food.  

The relationship between the gut and the brain is really important, and the quality of the messages that are sent and received largely depends on our gut health.  

How can fermented foods help reduce inflammation and improve overall immunity?

Fermented foods, things like kimchi, soy, kombucha or kefir have contain both prebiotics, which is the food for our gut bugs, and also live strains, so probiotics, in the one food source.  They are hugely beneficial.  

In terms of how they improve gut health, they both help to feed the existing microflora, and also add new beneficial strains.  Daily consumption of fermented foods is recommended.

What is the current recommendation of sun exposure?

To synthesise adequate Vitamin D, you need between 15 to 30 minutes of direct sun exposure when the sun is overhead, that’s between the hours of 10 to 3 approximately, and you also need heat.  If you have a darker skin tone, you produce more melanin, and you require a bit longer in the sun.

Does wearing sunscreen interfere with the Vitamin D absorption or reduce the benefits of sun exposure?

Interference of 50+ sunscreen with Vitamin D absorption hasn’t yet been studied.  There was a systematic review that was done in 2018 or 2019 that looked at all of the research to date, and what it determined was that sunscreen didn’t interfere with Vitamin D absorption, but that was SPF15.  

Being sensible with sun exposure is important. Spending hours in the hot sun or sending your kids out for hours between 10am and 2pm when the sun is directly overhead would not be sensible because you risk sunburn, heatstroke and potentially increase risk of skin cancers.  

But when we think about 15 minutes at adequate exposure and going out in the sun at 10am to ensure that you are synthesising Vitamin D. There is an epidemic of Vitamin D deficiency in Australia.  I think it’s 30% are Vitamin D deficient in summer, and 70% are Vitamin D deficient in winter.  So, it’s really important that we do focus on getting adequate Vitamin D exposure, but in a really sensible way.

How do I get some of the fantastic immune foods into my kids?

It’s always such a concern to get these healthy foods into children.  A couple of suggestions that come to mind is, most kids like pasta or rice, you can make a vegetable pasta sauce, jam-packed full of all these immune supporting ingredients like onion and garlic, and colourful vegetables.  

Blend it all together so the fussy eaters can’t identify individual ingredients, and it’s a perfect pasta sauce to use on kids’ pasta. You can load it up with cheese, put it on rice, use it for a lasagne, a pasta bake, literally anything, it’s got so many nutrients in there.  

My second tip for kids is smoothies, kids love smoothies. Try including some berries or banana as a sweetener, you can hide all sorts of things in there — this banana smoothie is a great base recipe!

A classic trick of mine is to include vegetables like carrot, zucchini and cauliflower because they are neutral tasting, I put that in all my kids’ smoothies and in summer time we have smoothies daily.

I really encourage parents to normalise the consumption of fruits and vegetables, and just make it part of every day.

However, I’m conscious that a lot of parents that speak to me say their children will spot something green at a hundred paces and won’t eat it, so I’m very pragmatic about offering strategies that accommodate what a lot of people experience. I know that not everyone’s kids will eat sticks of broccoli, cauliflower and cucumber.

Is fructose healthier than other sugars?

I don’t think it is better or healthier than other sugars. Essentially, fructose is a monosaccharide and a form of fuel for your body, it boosts your energy. I wouldn’t place it as any better than glucose for example.

Do you think there’s been some messaging around being fruit derived that there is more of a health benefit to fructose?

That is a very good point, that’s a very different matter. I feel like fructose, if anything, gets a bad rap. There was someone who famously quit sugar and what that person actually quit was fructose.

That sent a really confusing message because fruit is high in fructose however it is so nutrient dense in so many other ways, vitamins and minerals, and high in fibre, so I would actually argue the other way that in terms of what has been messaged around fructose and people avoiding it. When it comes in the whole food form of fruits I absolutely disagree.

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