During a time of a viral pandemic is just like any time, it is important to eat to support our immune system to protect us. It might come as a surprise to you when I am say we want to support our immune system, but not over do it. If the immune system is overactive it can be damaging to our body. What we want to do, is support the immune system to work in balance and not send it into over drive. We can eat fresh everyday nutritious food to do this, like we should aim to do anyway, nothing new required.
Our immune system by definition is,(1) ‘the bodily system that protects the body from foreign substances, cells, and tissues by producing the immune response…..’ The immune system when it recognises a foreign substance (allergen) it works to remove it. The immune system keeps a record of every germ it comes in contact with so it can recognise and destroy it if it comes in contact with it again.
If the immune system is overactive it can be damaging to our body. A common example is an allergic reaction, where the body has a very strong response to an allergen such as in hay fever, asthma certain foods or bee stings. Other examples are autoimmune disorders. This is when the immune system reacts to a normal part of the body such as in type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.(2) These are situations where the immune system is not working normally and has gone into over drive!
What do I eat to support my immune system?
1. Fruits and Vegetables for vitamins and minerals
We all know that fruit and vegetables are good for us. Why, they have plenty of vitamins, minerals and compounds called antioxidants; that help protect the cells in our body from harmful chemicals called free radicals that form during many of the chemical processes that occur in our body every day. We need a large range of vitamins and minerals to support the immune system, so there is no need to load up on one particular one. We need vitamin A, B group, C, E, iron, zinc to name a few.
Although the immune system is quite complicated and there are many ‘players’ that each need to perform their role, our diet doesn’t need to be complicated to obtain all the nutrients we need.
Start by trying to, ‘eat a rainbow’ of different coloured fruits and vegetables because it is the different polyphenols(natural chemicals that are a type of antioxidant) and vitamins that each give the varying vibrant colours of fruit and vegetables. For example orange vegetables like carrots and pumpkin get their colour from beta carotene which is turned into vitamin A and the bright red in berries is from a group of natural chemicals called anthocyanins. All you need to remember is to eat a range of colours and variety and you will be eating a variety of nutrients. Try for 30 different plant foods a week!
Aim for 2 fruit and 5 serves of vegetables a day. That might not sound hard, but it seems us Aussies find it hard to do. Only 7%of Australians eat the recommended 5 servings of vegetables per day (3). A serve being 1 cup of fresh salad or ½ cup cooked vegetables. To eat enough think about adding some vegetables with breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Make them tasty, it is the only way. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil, add herbs, spices, roast and sautee.
Try to eat 30 different plant foods (4) a week.
· Mushrooms and tomatoes with breakfast
· Cherry tomatoes and baby cucumbers with a snack
· A bowl of soup featuring vegetables for lunch
· Vegetables on the barbeque with the meat for dinner
· Grated zucchini in a meat sauce
· Roast capsicum,pumpkin and onions with the roast dinner
· Half a plate of various vegetables incorporated in dinner
2. Good Gut Health Matters
Research is showing us a healthy gut microbiota (gut bacteria, fungi and viruses living in our gut,) can influence the health of our immunesystem . One way is by signalling to the immune system with short chain fatty acids (gases such as butyrate) they produce. The bacteria produce the gases when they ferment ‘food’ from our diet. You may have heard of prebiotic fibre this is their food to ferment. It is found in a range of plant foods such as onions, garlic, legumes, almonds, pistachios, blackberries, asparagus and oats to name a few.
Other natural chemicals, one example, polyphenols,often talked about in grapes (and red wine), found in all fruits and vegetables to varying amounts, also promote the growth of good gut bacteria (5,6). These are metabolised by the gut bacteria. Another reason to eat your fruit and vegetables, including legumes, but go easy on the wine!
The gut bacteria also work a little like your own army allowing the good guys, nutrients we want, to move into the blood stream and prevent pathogens, the bad guys, from crossing into the body. To top up your prebiotic fibre try adding:
· More legumes- Add a can of chickpeas to a curry
· A handful of nuts for a snack
· Overnight soaked oats with berries on top
· Fresh asparagus in a salad
· Choosing wholegrain bread (with seeds, grains, even lentils)
3. The Power of Protein
All cells in our body need protein, including those involved in the immune system, from our skin, lung and gut linings, that are the first line of defence, to the hormones and antigens the immune system makes. This doesn’t mean we need to go over board. An easy way to plan for eating enough protein is to choose one food featuring protein as part of each meal. This could be:
· Yoghurt, milk ,eggs or beans with breakfast
· Lean meat, canned fish or cheese in a sandwich at lunch
· Tofu in a stir fry or soup for lunch or dinner
· A handful of nuts and seeds for a snack
· Chickpeas or lentil in a curry at dinner
· A smoothie with cow’s or soy milk as pat of a meal or snack
· Home made fish fingers for dinner
Many of the meat and fish options also have zinc and iron. Iron carries the oxygen around your body as part of your red blood cells and zinc is very important in healing.
What food do I buy?
We don't need to drink ghastly potions or purchase expensive things. We do need to eat for overall health and our body will then take care of the rest. So fill the shopping basket with fresh fruit and vegetables first, (there seems to be way too many of these left on the shelves), add in some whole grains (bread, cereals, grains), legumes, extra virgin olive oil, lean meats or fish, top up with nuts, yoghurt, milk, cheese and other fresh foods you enjoy! There is plenty of fresh produce to still buy.
A virtual picnic anyone? We can enjoy good food, chatter and sunshine.
#immunesystem #coronavirus #vitamins #antioxidnats #healthydiet #nutrition
6. Ozdal,T et al. (2016). The Reciprocal Interactions Between Polyphenols and GutMicrobiota and Effects on Bioaccessibility. Nutrients: 8(2),