Eating for the immune system
You have likely heard the buzz phrase boosting the immune system or something similar but what does that actually mean, what does the immune system actually do and how do our choices affect it?
Without an immune system, we would have no way to fight harmful things that enter our body from the outside or harmful changes that occur inside our body. The main tasks of the body’s immune system are:
- to fight disease-causing germs (pathogens) like bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi, and to remove them from the body,
- to recognize and neutralize harmful substances from the environment, and
- to fight disease-causing changes in the body, such as cancer cells.
The immune system is a complicated network described HERE beautifully by Lindsey Elmore, a health & wellness blogger. I won’t recreate her work so I am going to continue on with practices anyone can incorporate into their daily routine to support their body’s immune system.
I want to talk about how to eat for your immune system. Food is such a
powerful tool – it can be used as preventive medicine. We just need a few basic tools to know what to eat and when to eat it.
Eat a whole food, nutrient-dense diet. Our immune system relies on nutrient-dense whole foods to function well. Whole food mean anything that isn’t processed or altered; eat foods that are as close to their original state as possible.
Anything that is grown or hunted is usually a whole food. Things that you find in the middle of the grocery store aisle, packages that have expiration dates that are months or years out are generally processed foods.
Can you think of some whole food versus processed food examples? An example would be oats – organic steel cut oats vs a store bought granola bar.
Why are whole foods better for our body and processed foods worse? With whole foods, the nutrients (the vitamins and minerals, along with the protein, naturally occurring carbohydrates, and naturally occurring “good fats”) are preserved and passed directly into your body. Your body knows how to use these!
When food is processed, that processing breaks down and/or removes the components and adds unnecessary sodium, processed fats, junk grains, and sugars to make them more palatable.
Let me give you an example – potato vs potato chips vs frozen French fries
If you wanted to eat the same volume in potato chips as 1 potato, the nutrition
profile would look like 750 calories and 45g fat. But notice that a whole potato does not contain any fat, so all the fat added to potato chips and french fries is processed fat -> translation -> low quality fats that can oxidize in your body and harm your cells.
Back to those French fries for a moment, I want to show the ingredient label to some popular frozen French fries – potatoes, vegetable oil (canola, palm, soybean and/or sunflower), salt, sodium acid pyrophosphate (to promote color retention), caramel color, annatto and turmeric (color), dextrose (a form of sugar).
*If you wouldn’t purposely add these things to food you make at home, don’t let food manufacturers add it for you*
If you really want French fries, make your own using the basic ingredients of potatoes, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. You can find that recipe HERE.
Why is this important? Death from infections in the developing world is often not due to the infection itself but the body’s inability to fight it because of nutrient deficiencies. Since more than 90% of Americans are deficient in one or more nutrients at the minimum dose to prevent deficiency diseases like scurvy, we all need to focus on improving the quality of our diet.
Diabetics are more likely to die from COVID-19 and one in two Americans is pre-diabetic or diabetic, this is a great opportunity to cut sugar and starch which suppress the immune system.
Now has never been a better time for a sugar and junk food detox. Studies have shown that refined sugars and starches can suppress your immune system for hours after ingesting. This means your body is less able to fight external germs and internal abnormalities for a large portion of the day.
Sugar is inflammatory, especially white, processed sugar. It drives up insulin and blood glucose, leading to insulin resistance. It also makes your cells less likely to take in sugar when they truly need it, stressing your body out.
This doesn’t mean avoid it all together. In natural fruits, for instance, it can be perfectly fine. But grabbing a cola during lunch, loading up your coffee or eating too many desserts creates sugar spikes that can compromise your immune system.
Here are some popular foods that contain sugars and starches and should be limited or eliminated: cereal, pressed potato chips, crackers, cookies, muffins, candy, frozen French fries, etc… Not sure what to eat now that we’ve taken processed foods off the table?
Here is a blog that I use frequently for whole food meal ideas:
https://www.fasterwaytofatloss.com/blog/2020/3/23/pantry-freezer-staples-to-always-have-on-hand It’ll give you ideas of what to add to your next shopping list.
Now you know how important a whole-food approach to eating is for your immune system and you have some hints on how to do it. Follow along in The Hassle-Free Family this week to get even more tips on specific foods to focus on and how to craft meals that give you the most bang for your buck.