ParenTalk: Immunity Building Food- Truth or Myth?
‘Immunity’ has been the buzzword in the post Covid-19 world. Everyone wants to be woke about the subject and include trending foods and fad diets in their daily routine, which are touted to ‘boost immunity’. But whether our immune system really needs boosting or can it be boosted by certain foods still remains debatable.
Immune System – A two-fold defense mechanism.
Our immune system works in a complex dual response mechanism – Innate Immune Response and Adaptive Immune Response. These two kinds of immune responses are naturally present in our body and as per immunologists, cannot be built or boosted by foods or supplements.
The innate immune system is inherited and active from birth. It is the natural defense mechanism wherein the immune cells present in the body surround and attack the invading agents of diseases called pathogens. This immediate and non-specific first line of defense ensues from the natural in-built innate immunity that we all possess.
The second kind of defense is a learned or acquired immune response to the harmful germs and bacteria that the body has already come in contact with and has stored information about the ways to fight with it. This enables our body to recognize the pathogens quickly and fight them off effectively during subsequent attacks. Because the adaptive immune system is constantly learning and adapting, the body can also fight bacteria or viruses that change over time.
How is the immune system activated?
The immune system can be activated by a lot of different things that the body considers foreign. These are called antigens. Examples of antigens include the proteins on the surfaces of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Antigens may be present on invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and transplanted organs, or on abnormal cells, such as cancer cells.
Antigens stimulate an immune response by activating the white blood cells that fight disease. When these antigens attach to special receptors on the immune cells (immune system cells), a whole series of processes are triggered in the body. When the immune system detects presence of antigens in the body it produces a specific disease-fighting protein called Antibodies, which mark and fight off these harmful germs, bacteria and viruses.
Immunity building foods: myth or truth
Most immunologists trash the claims that certain foods and supplements can boost the immune system. They believe these claims about boosting immunity are irrational and unscientific. Immunology experts state that there is a range of molecules and cells in the body that don’t do anything until some outside stimulus triggers them. So there is no way for healthy adults to improve their immunity through foods or products. The components and mechanism of the immune system if stimulated in absence of diseases or toxins will result in inflammation.
So is there no connect between food and immunity?
More than 2500 years ago, Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” What he meant was that if you eat the right foods adequately well, then the nutrients from these foods will help you live longer and stronger. Linking food with immunity has been done in all cultures since ancient times and food is considered the fuel, which the body needs to make all its systems and mechanisms function properly, including the immune system.
A weak immune system manifests itself in many ways - frequent cold, infections, digestive problems, delayed wound healing, skin infections, fatigue, organ problem, delayed growth, a blood disorder, and autoimmune diseases
Optimal nutrition and dietary nutrient intake impact the immune system as it does other functions like the gastrointestinal functions. In addition, various dietary ingredients are determinants of gut microbial composition and subsequently shape the immune responses in the body.
So the key is to consume a variety of foods that cater to all nutritional needs of the body and not just focus on specific foods that are hyped for boosting immunity. An adequate intake of zinc, iron, and vitamins A, B 12, B6, C, and E is essential for the maintenance of immune function.
Foods that are high in nutrient density, which means higher micronutrients per calorie such as green vegetables, colorful fresh fruits and cruciferous vegetables, must be included in our daily diet.
You may follow these daily diet and nutritional guidelines by ICMR that will boost overall health and functioning of the immune system.
- Eat a minimum of 150 gm of fruits daily especially seasonal/regional fruits (guava, apple, banana, strawberry, mango, melon, grapefruit, pineapple, papaya, orange)
- Eat 350 gm of fresh vegetables and green leafy vegetables (potatoes, cauliflower, lady finger, peppers, garlic, ginger, spinach, peas, carrots, turnip lime, coriander, broccoli etc )
- Variety of 90 gm of pulses, legumes.
- 240 gm of Cereals, whole grains and nutricereals like maize, oats, wheat, millet, brown rice, jowar, bajra etc)
- Eat 30 gms of nuts and seeds like almonds, coconut, and pistachio, cashew, walnuts, groundnuts etc.
- Red meat can be eaten once or twice per week, and poultry 2−3 times per week. Foods from animal sources (e.g. fish, fish, eggs, and milk) can replace vegetable protein sources like pulses and legumes.
- For snacks, choose fresh fruits and raw vegetables rather than processed foods that are high in sugar, salt or fat. Avoid all fizzy, carbonated, concentrated juices, and all drinks, which contain sugar.
- Do not overcook vegetables as it leads to the loss of important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
- When using dried or canned fruits and vegetables, choose varieties without added sugar, salt and preservatives.
- Avoid stale food.
- Limit the salt intake to 5gm a day.
- Consume unsaturated fats (found in nuts, rice bran, soy, olive oil, canola, corn oil, and sunflower) or healthy saturated fats (found in butter, ghee, and cream)
- Drink 8–10 glasses of water every day. It helps to transport nutrients in the blood, gets rid of toxins, and regulates the body temperature.
Final Takeaway – Health Equilibrium
Our body is a very efficient but complex machinery, just consuming a healthy diet may only do half the job in maintaining it in mint condition. Researchers have found that the efficiency of disease fighting T cells increases while we sleep. A minimum 7-8 hrs of regular sleep is also required to support the immune system and efficiently fight of illness and disorders.
An active healthy lifestyle of exercise, meditation and sports coupled with balanced diet and good sleep ensures a strong body and a robust immune function that is always ready for combat with harmful pathogens and protect us from deadly diseases.