You are currently viewing Here’s how to nourish your immune system
Eat at least 2.5 cups of a variety of fresh vegetables every day to ensure your body stays in the best of health. — Filepic

Here’s how to nourish your immune system

The Covid-19 pandemic remains a formidable challenge worldwide, underscoring the need for us to continue practising good habits to combat the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

An individual’s nutritional health – influenced by factors like age, gender, overall health, lifestyle and medication use – is a key factor in weathering any infectious disease.

Scientific evidence suggests certain nutrients play a vital role in immune function, and while research has primarily focused on supplements, integrating nutrient-rich foods into your diet when sick could be beneficial.

When feeling under the weather, comfort foods are a common go-to. However, the dietary choices we make can significantly impact our immune system’s effectiveness. Sustaining optimal nutrition bolsters the immune system – a vital defence mechanism in these times.

A well-balanced diet is essential to prepare the body to fight off any virus effectively. Additionally, adhering to food safety and proper culinary practices is equally imperative, alongside dietary management.

Eating healthy

More than 2,500 years ago, the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Today, the interplay between diet and disease is particularly evident in developing regions, where the quest for sustenance is relentless.

Poor nutrition, combined with infectious diseases, often culminates in acute malnutrition. Aside from Covid-19, the threat of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens looms, further underlining the importance of robust nutrition to support a resilient immune defence system.

Proper nutrition influences the immune system by modifying gene expression, activating cells and altering signalling molecules. Additionally, dietary components significantly influence the gut microbiome, which in turn dictates immune response. Nutrients such as zinc, iron, and vitamins B, C, D and E are crucial for immune efficacy.

While there’s no proven supplement to “boost” immune response against viral infections – except for Vitamin C, which is vital for immune strength – adhering to recommended dietary allowances and informed food choices is essential in the fight against infectious diseases.

Professional dietary guidelines suggest several strategies to support the body’s defence against dangerous microorganisms through nutrition:

Include a daily variety of fruits in your diet

Aim for two cups a day, which equates to about four servings, featuring guava, apples, bananas, strawberries and other vitamin-rich fruits. Fruits rich in vitamin C provide antioxidants that protect immune cells. Including vitamin C-packed fruits and vegetables in juices or smoothies is an easy way to consume them.

Incorporate a diverse array of fresh vegetables in your meals

Aim for a total of 2.5 cups or five servings of vegetables a day, and don’t forget legumes like beans and lentils. Carrots, high in vitamin E (another powerful antioxidant), support immunity against respiratory infections.

Foods like sunflower seeds and spinach, are also vitamin E-rich. Fibre-rich foods, which are predominantly plant-based, support gut health.

Gut health is closely linked to overall health and may reduce the severity of respiratory diseases. Prepare the vegetables without overcooking to preserve vitamins and minerals. And while selecting dried or canned products, make sure they do not have added sugars or salts.

Consume whole grains and nuts

These include unprocessed maize, oats, wheat, and nuts like almonds and pistachios. Oatmeal provides comfort and is a good source of zinc, which is known for regulating immune function. Research on zinc has explored its potential to alleviate symptoms and severity of Covid-19, often in the form of supplements.

Nuts, containing omega-3 fatty acids, offer anti-inflammatory benefits and may reduce Covid-19 severity and post-Covid stroke risk.

Consume animal proteins moderately

Limit your red meat servings to once or twice weekly, and have poultry and fish several times per week instead. Protein is another crucial nutrient during illness, aiding in the repair and rebuilding of damaged cells.

Beans, as a protein source, also contain lectins with antiviral properties against Covid-19. A varied protein intake, including eggs, fish, lean meats and whey, may help reduce inflammation.

Eggs are another excellent choice, particularly for their vitamin D content, which is crucial for immune regulation and may even hinder the SARS-CoV-2 virus from binding to cells, potentially reducing complications.

While most studies have concentrated on supplementation, increasing dietary vitamin D intake could help prevent deficiencies and support immune defence.

Have healthy snacks

Choose fresh fruits and raw vegetables for snacks over high-sugar or high-fat options. And avoid excessive snacking in general.

Practice moderated salt and fat intake

Watch out for added salt in processed foods and minimise eating out or takeaway where you can’t control the salt levels. Go for unsaturated fats like those in fish and olive oil.

Stay hydrated

Drink eight to 10 glasses of water daily and avoid sugary drinks.

Engage in a healthy lifestyle

Get regular exercise and sufficient sleep, as well as meditate.

Keeping food safe

Moreover, maintaining good food safety practices is crucial to minimise the risk of contamination:

  • Wash fruits and vegetables before consumption.
  • Ensure food is cooked to safe temperatures.
  • Disinfect surfaces and objects regularly.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate to prevent cross- contamination.
  • Use separate utensils for different types of foods.

And when eating out or taking away food, ensure that those serving the food are wearing gloves and face masks, and that the food is not displayed uncovered on self-service counters.

Adhering to these guidelines can fortify the immune system and prevent nutritional deficiencies, contributing to overall physical and mental wellbeing.

It’s advisable to avoid foods that promote inflammation, such as those high in sugar, excessive salt and alcohol. Opt for less processed options to aid recovery when down with an infectious disease.

The key takeaway is that a balanced diet can enhance your immune system’s ability to fend off and recover from illnesses, including infectious diseases.

By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in Star Newspaper, 05 Feb 2024

Leave a Reply