How to eat for a healthy immune system
Every one of us is born with our best doctor in the world, our immune system. Our immune system is like our body’s own army, working hard around the clock to protect us from all sorts of internal and external invaders — such as viruses, bacteria, pollutants, and even our own dead cells — that may be harmful to our health.
The link between food and our immune system
Nutritional Immunology is a science that reveals the link between nutrition and the human immune system.
It emphasises that a well balanced nutrition has a profound impact on the health of our immune system. It also advocates that we get our nutrition from wholesome plant foods.
Nutritional Immunology goes beyond the study of basic nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates. Instead, it focuses on how nutrients like phytochemicals (or phytonutrients), polysaccharides, and antioxidants can help strengthen our immune system.
Healthy immune cells can defend us against countless disease-causing viruses, bacteria and pathogens. Plant foods nutrients like phytochemicals, polysaccharides, and antioxidants can greatly contribute to the health of these immune cells.
Chronic illnesses develop over a long period of time
When we are not sick, we tend to assume that we are healthy and therefore do not pay great attention to our health. Human nature, totally normal.
However, chronic illnesses do not develop overnight. Chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease develop over a long period of time during which our immune system is continuously compromised.
Some cancers take 8 to 10 years to develop in our body before we experience symptoms that are significant enough to lead to a diagnosis.
Some viruses can stay in our body for up to several years without showing any symptoms. When our immune system becomes weak and compromised, it gives way to these viruses.
Not being sick doesn’t necessarily indicate that we are healthy. Ignoring our diet and nutrition, and compromising our immune system over a long period of time may create an environment for cancer cells and other chronic illnesses to develop.
Prevention is SO MUCH better than trying to cure
A common misconception is that with all the medical advances today, doctors and medicines are able to cure our illnesses.
Take the United States for example, a country well known for its highly developed medicine and medical technology.
- Medical errors are reported to be the cause of 44,000 to 98,000 deaths in the US yearly. This makes medical errors one of the leading cause of deaths in the United States alone.
- Approximately 2 million patients check in to US hospitals every year due to infection, and out of those, 90,000 are reported dead.
- Cancer is reported to be the cause of 42,000 deaths in the US yearly, and AIDS leads to 16,000 deaths.
- Those who get infected while in the hospitals do not count toward the stats for medical errors, because they technically are not.
- Wrong prescription of medicines is an astonishing 1 million cases a year, out of which 7,000 are reported dead. These numbers do not include those who die of side effects.
These statistics and reports caught the attention of many, and it was concluded that we must take our own health into our own hands.
At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own health!
How can we stay healthy?
In order to stay healthy, we need to ensure that we have a well balanced nutrition, adequate and good quality sleep, exercise, and keeping a positive attitude.
In this blog post we’re going to focus on diet and nutrition.
How to eat in order to stay healthy
We’ve all heard that a well balanced diet can nourish and strengthen our immune system. Likewise, when we lack balance in our nutritional intake, our immune system becomes compromised.
Why you should eat less meat and animal products
When we consume meat and animal products, our body produces a type of hormone called prostaglandin 2. Once these hormones are produced, our immune system becomes weakened.
Protein intake from animal foods can also increase our risk of osteoporosis, because an increase in animal protein causes an increase in the loss of calcium from the body.
Meat and animal products also contain fats that, when consumed in large amount, speed up the aging process.
Animal products also contain hormones that contribute to the risk of developing various types of cancers.
Why you should eat more plant based foods
Plant foods are the best foods for our health and immune system.
The foods that we consume must contain the following essential compounds to be beneficial for our immune system:
- Phytochemicals (or phytonutrients)
Are basic nutrients still important?
Basic nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein and carbohydrates are very important. However, these basic nutrients are already present, sometimes in abundance, in today’s modern diet. A lack of these basic nutrients is NOT the cause most of today’s illnesses.
We do, however, need to pay more attention to the three (3) main groups of compounds that greatly contribute to our immune system.
The three (3) compounds that are essential to our immune system health
1. Phytochemicals or phytonutrients
In plants, phytochemicals or phytonutrients work to protect the plants from external damages, such as UV damage from the sun.
Each type of phytochemical has been shown to have very specific function in inhibiting the growth of different stages of tumour and cancer.
The development of cancer in our body is affected by many factors, including hormones, pollutants in the air, and environmental toxins. A single plant food contains multiple phytochemicals, each working to inhibit the growth of cancer cells at various stages during their development.
Take for example a meal where we consume some smoked meat or bacon. When this processed meat gets into our stomach, nitric acid and amine react to form a cancer-causing carcinogen called nitrosamine. And then, during this same meal, we eat some fruit for dessert instead of, say, ice cream. Fruit contains phytochemicals that are able to break down the carcinogens formed by the processed meat earlier, and eliminate their cancer-causing potential from our body.
Therefore, always make sure to include various vegetables and fruit along with a meal, especially when you are consuming rather large amount of meat during that meal. The phytonutrients in these fruit and vegetables can break down the carcinogens formed by the animal foods you just consume, as well as clear them out of your system.
In conclusion, phytonutrients are critical in our daily diet as they greatly contribute to lowering or eliminating risks of developing chronic illnesses such as cancer.
Antioxidants have an indirect impact on our immune system. They work by slowing down the aging process.
Some 40 year olds can have the immune system of a 30 year old. Likewise, some 50 year olds may have the immune cells of a 60 year old. The ‘older’ our immune cells are, the more vulnerable we become to diseases. Therefore, it is extremely important to slow down the aging process.
Antioxidants are a must-have in our daily diet. They are present in high amounts in some fruit and vegetables, especially foods like:
- Grape seeds: they contain a powerful antioxidant called OPC, which is 50 times stronger than vitamin C or vitamin E.
- Rose: it contains 50 times more antioxidant vitamin C than lemon. At this amount, it greatly aids our body’s ability to produce collagen that prevents wrinkles on the skin.
Polysaccharides have a direct impact on our immune system.
Unlike phytochemicals and antioxidants that are only found in plant foods, polysaccharides can also be found in animal foods. However, the largest amount of polysaccharides is found in mushrooms, for example shiitake mushrooms, Brazilian mushrooms, ganoderma or reishi (lingzhi).
Each of these mushrooms have different types of polysaccharides. And each type of polysaccharides plays a different role in stimulating and balancing the different functions of our complex immune system.
- Cloud mushrooms or yun-zhi are particularly helpful in enabling our immune system to fight off viruses.
- The polysaccharides in Brazilian mushrooms are particularly helpful for enabling our immune system to inhibit the growth of tumour or cancer cells by increasing the activity of Natural Killer (NK) cells, so they can be stronger in killing off the formation of cancer cells.
By eating less meat and animal products, and including a variety of plant foods from fruit, vegetables and mushrooms every single day, we ensure that we get enough phytochemicals, antioxidants, and polysaccharides to help our immune system fight off illnesses and protect the health of ourselves and our loved ones.