Gilda’s Nutrition Showcase:
Foods to support your immune system care of Chef Amy Symington, MSc.
Interested in knowing more about how to eat for optimal health and cancer nutrition, particularly in relation to the foods best suited to support and improve your immune system? Well, no one food or action has been shown to completely protect one from succumbing to illness, however, there are a number of foods and actions that can be taken to ensure that your chances of becoming ill are significantly reduced. Join Chef and nutrition professor Amy as she discusses and demonstrates the types of foods to consume to support your immune system and to encourage optimal health!
Immune function facts:
• “Increasingly there is concern that modern lifestyle changes have resulted in the promotion of ongoing, low-grade, whole-body (systemic) inflammation caused by immune and other cells… Such exposures may include diet quality and quantity.”
• Adequate and appropriate nutrition is required for all cells to function optimally and this includes the cells in the immune system. An “activated” immune system further increases the demand for energy during periods of infection, with greater basal energy expenditure during fever for example.
• Optimal nutrition for best immunological outcomes would include foods that support immune cell function allowing them to act efficiently and effectively and that eliminate any underlying inflammation or reduce chronic inflammation in the first place.
• The immune system’s demands for energy and nutrients can be met via diet or body stores from diet. Certain nutrients and dietary components have very specific roles in the development and maintenance of an effective immune system and/or in reducing chronic inflammation. Ex. vitamin A and zinc regulate cell division and so are essential for a successful proliferative response within the immune system. As a result you can understand why undernutrition is well understood to impair immune function.
• The majority of immune cells in our bodies are located in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT), reflecting the importance of this immune tissue in maintaining host health.
• As they are rich in indigestible fibre, plant-based diets have been shown to enhance the diversity of nutrients that reach the gut microbiome and plant-based foods are best for preventing as well as managing inflammation.
• The development of the immune system in early life is influenced by both feeding practices and environmental exposures.
• As we age our immune function tends to decline and an increase in inflammation is seen.
• Obesity and over nutrition are strongly associated with chronic inflammation.
Foods/nutrients that are important for optimal immune function:
• Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and good quality protein
• Eat foods rich in zinc, vitamin C & A, and B vitamins
• Pro and prebiotics play an important role in gut health aiding in reducing overall inflammation in the body
o Probiotic rich foods such as miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, plant-based yogurts
o Prebiotic rich foods like garlic, onions, asparagus, whole grains
• Vitamin E rich foods – almonds, walnuts, avocado, seeds
• Vitamin D affects gene expression and is present in majority of immune cells
• Amino acid Glutamine (During infection, the rate of glutamine consumption by immune cells is equivalent or greater than that for glucose.) – found in beans, beets, cabbage, spinach, carrots, parsley, vegetable juices and also in wheat, papaya, Brussels sprouts, celery, kale and fermented foods like miso
• Amino acid Arginine – nuts, seeds, soy and seaweed
• Citrus fruit – oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruit
• Green Tea
• Hot peppers
• Orange vegetables
• Leafy Greens
Tips to support your immune system:
• Drink plenty of fluids, focusing on water as your main hydration source
• Eat a healthy, balanced, and fruit/veggie focused diet
• Exercise regularly
• Ensure your vaccinations are up to date
• Keep alcoholic beverages to a minimum
• Keep your home clean and free from harmful bacteria
• Relax – minimize stress using deep breathing exercises, stretching, yoga, meditation, listen to music
• Sleep enough and ensure that your sleep is uninterrupted
• Take your vitamin D – particularly during the winter months when natural sunlight is scarce
• Wash hands regularly with soap and water particularly after washroom use, use of tissues, before and after touching your face, physical contact with others, and before and after handling food.
- Sultan et al., 2014. Immunity: Plants as Effective Mediators. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr
- . 2014;54(10):1298-308. doi: 10.1080/10408398.2011.633249. Retrieved March 2019 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24564587
- Childs, Calder and Miles, 2019. Diet and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2019 Aug; 11(8): 1933. Retrieved June 2020 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723551/