What’s the connection between our diet and our immune system?
The body’s capacity to fight infection and illness depends on its immune system, which is made up of cells, tissues and organs that work together to protect the body from these external aggressions. And this is where food plays such an important role, as all cells, tissues and organs need a variety of nutrients to function well.
The best way to keep the immune system working perfectly is to enjoy a plant-based diet and follow healthy living practices. “Foods that are alive (until we cook or eat them) and come directly from the earth, rather than being highly processed in a factory, will provide much more energy and nutrients,” says Melanie Waxman, nutrition expert at SHA Wellness Clinic.
These foods include whole grains, beans, seaweed, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits. Enjoying these foods daily, prepared in different ways and even fermented, will more efficiently boost the immune system.
Additionally, to being rich in nutrients and having anti-inflammatory and immunological effects, plant-based foods are also responsible for alkalizing our bodies. “And there is another thing to know: just as some foods stimulate the immune system, others can weaken it,” recalls Melanie Waxman.
Diet, Obesity, and Healthy Foods
To strengthen our immune system, our diet should provide a healthy balance of macronutrients: fats, proteins and healthy carbohydrates. Also anti-inflammatory and mineral-rich foods, including many vegetables. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and miso limit sugar, while green and herbal teas aid in hydration.
It is essential to stay away from the health threat posed by obesity, one of the biggest menaces to the immune system. By definition, high rates of obesity can lead to an increase in bacterial and viral infections.
“It puts a stress on all the major organs, so the body has to work harder overall and a state of chronic inflammation is created that compromises the immune system,” notes Melanie Waxman.
Obesity (body mass indexes greater than 24) has become a public health issue, such that some authors believe it is now reaching pandemic proportions in the United States and other advanced societies.
The morbidity associated with overweight and obesity includes diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary disease, hypertension, osteoarthritis, heart failure, sleep apnea syndrome, sterility, menstrual disorders and psychological disorders, among others.
The benefits of eating well
What will we notice in the short and long term when we start eating well? Melanie Waxman answers: “For now, we will soon see that we have more energy, less pain and discomfort, lose weight and sleep better. And we will progressively notice how we improve our stamina and clarity of thought while acquiring stable energy levels and better able to handle stress.
It is essential to eat a diet that allows us to maintain the balance of the intestinal microbiota. Aspects such as a poor diet, antibiotics, stress or age need to be counteracted with increased consumption of fermented foods, more green leafy vegetables (especially dandelion and kale), onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, oats or apples. And do not neglect to supplement them with pro and prebiotics over a period of time.
“Equally important is the elimination of stress, looking at where we are going in life as well as improving sleep and exercise,” recalls Melanie Waxman.
Excess energy and its danger to the body
Too much coffee and high caffeine energy drinks can decrease the immune system’s ability to fight infection.
Caffeine releases high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which then releases more sugar and fat from your body’s reserves to give you energy in stressful times. This release can also cause prostate cancer in men, weight gain, acne, high cholesterol levels, and a weakened immune system.
It is essential to educate ourselves in good healthy habits from a young age. “Healthy eating habits acquired as a child make it much easier to eat well as an adult later on. It can have a positive effect on food choices and table habits in adulthood. But the key is not to be too strict and allow children some freedom of choice,” warns Melanie Waxman.
Having a strong immune system from childhood helps keep that system more efficient as we age.