​Your Diet And How It Can Improve Your Immunity

Having a healthy immune system has never been so important as it is with the current global health crisis. Nutritionists and health professionals prefer to say that a healthy diet plays a vital role in supporting and maintaining a healthy immune system rather than boosting it per se. Either way, eating a diet rich in 'immune system booster foods' and avoiding foods that weaken immune system function is a good way to ensure your immune system stays healthy. 

Immune System Booster Foods

Mine site caterers in particular are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of providing nutritional meals, and have upped their game considerably. Many mess halls these days offer a range of healthy dishes alongside the stodgy, less healthy offerings. Make a point of choosing those healthier options and give your immune system what it needs to remain in good health so it can keep you healthy! Here are a few foods that are known to help promote good immune system health:
  • Avocados are a good source of vitamin E, a compound essential for immune system maintenance and regulation. So, when it comes to fruits that boost immune system function, try adding this exceptionally healthy fruit to some of your dishes. It's also an excellent source of natural healthy saturated fat.
  • Bell peppers aka capsicums and notably the red ones, are also very high in vitamin C (they actually contain around 2 times as much gram for gram) and also beta-carotene. Beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, increases immune cell counts and boosts their activity. As an added advantage, it's also good for your skin and eyes.
  • Broccoli is one of those vegetables that really should be eaten on a regular basis because it truly IS that healthy! It's rich in vitamins A, C and E. It's loaded with minerals, fibre, and antioxidants. However, to reap its full rewards it should be eaten either raw or very lightly cooked.
  • Citrus fruit are high in vitamin C, a natural anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant that is involved in a number of critical body functions. Amongst other things, it helps protect the immune system against oxidative stress and is believed to increase white blood cell production.
  • Garlic is not just a great way to add flavour to a dish but it's also renowned for its health value. Including for your immune system. Research indicates that this seems to be because it has sulphur containing compounds like allicin that help boost immune system function.
  • Ginger has long been used to help reduce inflammation and nausea so including some in your diet could help support your immune system. It contains gingerol, a compound that is related to the capsaicin found in chilli peppers.
  • Green tea, and even black tea, contains a range of health boosting antioxidants called flavonoids. Green tea also has high levels of EGCG, another antioxidant that boosts immune function. Unfortunately, the fermentation process used to produce black tea destroys most of the EGCG in it. Green tea is also rich in L-theanine, an amino acid that could help improve the germ-fighting capabilities of T-cells in the immune system.
  • Kiwi fruit are rich in vitamins C and K, potassium, and folate.
  • Nuts like almonds are rich in vitamin E, integral to good immune system health and function. Half a cup of almonds provides almost your entire RDI of this vitamin.
  • Papaya, or pawpaw, is full of vitamin C; a single fruit provides over twice the RDI of this vitamin. It also has B group vitamins, folate, and potassium. All are essential to good overall health. Papayas additionally have papain, a digestive enzyme with anti-inflammatory qualities.
  • Poultry has high levels of vitamin B6, a compound integral for the creation of new red blood cells. It is also involved in a lot of the chemical reactions that take place in your body. Chicken in particular is known to have protective health benefits generally, and be able to reduce symptoms of viral infections like colds.
  • Shellfish are included on this list because some species are rich in zinc. Our immune system needs this mineral in order to work as its supposed to. Clams, crabs, lobster and mussels are particularly good sources of zinc. But don't go overboard with it because excessive zinc intake can have the reverse effect and inhibit your immune system.
  • Spinach is another green leafy vegetable loaded with antioxidants, beta-carotene and vitamin C that could provide the same immune-supporting benefits as broccoli. It's healthiest eaten lightly cooked because this releases its nutrients and enhances the vitamin A content.
  • Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E and also have vitamin B6, phosphorus, and magnesium.
  • Turmeric is the spice that gives curries and other bright yellow dishes both their colouring and their distinctive flavour. Or, more correctly, the curcumin in it does. However, curcumin is also renowned for its proven anti-inflammatory properties, immunomodulating abilities, and viral fighting capacity.
  • Yoghurt, particularly plain unsweetened yoghurt like Greek yoghurt with active live cultures, is considered to have immune system stimulating properties. Some brands are fortified with vitamin D, which is good for our natural defences against disease generally and also helps regulate immune system function.
In addition to ensuring you get sufficient quantities of these and other nutritionally significants foods in your diet, it's also important to remember that 'variety is the spice of life'. Literally when it comes to diet and nutrition! That means you need to eat a wide variety of foods so you can take advantage of the hundreds of other valuable macro and micronutrients they contain. In other words, too much of a good thing may not be a good thing at all.

Foods That Weaken The Immune System

Now for the bad stuff. If you're interested in helping your immune system be the very best it can be, stay clear of, or reduce your consumption of, the following:
  • Refined sugar tops this list because it is so incredibly bad for you in so many ways. In relation to your immune system, it causes blood sugar spikes. This then causes insulin spikes as the body tries to regulate blood sugar levels. The insulin spikes in turn cause more cortisol to be produced, which suppresses the immune system as we've discussed above. Ditch all foods and drinks known to be high in this toxic substance.
  • Alcohol, particularly wines and liqueurs that contain a fair bit of sugar.
  • Caffeine is a stimulant and can severely affect sleep quality. Given that getting enough quality sleep is vital for good immune system health, it's important to consider restricting your intake of caffeinated beverages as you approach your designated sleep time.
  • Tinned soup often has a plethora of artificial ingredients and a ton of sodium. It's also been found that chemicals from the cans can leach into the soup. Fresh is always best, and tastes far better too!
  • Cereal bars are often not the healthy snack they're purported to be. They have processed sugars albeit disguised by fancy names like dextrose, fructose etc, and unhealthy refined grains as well.
  • Canned fruit is generally full of sugar because it acts as a preservative. Sugar is bad for your immune system. Check the labels carefully and anything that lists sugar, or a sugar pseudonym, amongst the first 3 ingredients should, as a general rule, be put straight back on the shelf. If you must have tinned fruit, check out pie fruit because most reputable brands are 100% fruit.
  • Dried fruit in moderation can be a healthy nutritious snack but you have to remember that one piece is the equivalent nutritionally, and sugar wise, to one piece of fresh fruit. Unfortunately, their compact size makes overeating dried fruit all too easy and therein lays the problem.
  • Processed grains, which are grains that have had their hulls removed, can adversely affect blood sugar, with a corresponding flow on effect on your immune system. Whole grains are a healthier alternative.

Apart from these, there are many other foods that can be either beneficial or detrimental depending on what type they are. Plain natural yoghurt with active cultures and probiotics for example is highly beneficial for your immune system but flavoured yoghurts are often loaded with sugar so bad for it. Some vegetable oils are beneficial whilst others contain high levels of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids.
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Keeping Your Immune System Healthy

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