Nutrition is regarded as an important determinant of immunity. The human immune system is designed to provide protection from all types of organisms or toxins that tend to damage tissues and organs. The immune system destroys the threats with enzymes or other detoxifying means. It is important to improve and maintain our immunity and health.
Feeding our body with different foods may help keep our immune system strong, but one must understand its macro and micronutrients to eat healthily. Surplus or deficit in nutrition and obesity can harm our immune system.
Food is a combination of macro and micronutrients. Macronutrients are needed in larger quantities such as carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Micronutrients are needed in smaller quantities by our body such as various vitamins and minerals. A Balanced Diet requires one to intake of right amount of these nutrients. The amount of these nutrients changes with individuals as per the body type, hence it is very important to talk to a specialist.
A few dietary guidelines to follow:
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and phytonutrients that are primarily available in fruits, vegetables, greens, nuts, and whole grains play an important role in several metabolic pathways that aid in optimal immune function.
The guidelines are:
- They enhance both native and adaptive immune function and prevent infection.
- They regulate immune function, keep inflammation under control and prevent tissue damage.
- Aid immune memory formation that helps prevent re-infection with the same pathogen
- They help clear/scavenge oxidant species (toxins) that are produced in large quantities in the body during infection and immune response.
- They increase beneficial probiotic bacteria in the intestine that favour good immune function and reduce inflammation.
The micronutrients such as Vitamins A, E, and D – the three fat-soluble vitamins; Vitamin C & B, and minerals such as zinc, selenium, iron, copper etc. and phytonutrients, amino acids, fatty acids are necessary for optimal immune function. In addition, many other immune-related functions are carried out by these nutrients and phytonutrients. For instance, vitamin A maintains the structure and functions of the mucosal epithelial cells of the respiratory tract and enhances mucosal immunity (critical for the prevention of respiratory infection), vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamins C & B, Zinc, Selenium act as potent antioxidants and reduces oxidative stress in the body.
To provide your body with all these nutrients balance your diet with:
- Limit the consumption of highly processed foods and prefer having whole grains.
- Include dals and whole grams in the diet regularly.
- Include milk and milk products daily in the diet.
- An Egg can be taken regularly.
- Meat /poultry may be included in moderation.
- 4-5 servings of vegetables and 1-2 servings of fruits in the diet.
- Avoid too much fat (3tsp/day – preferably more than 2 varieties of oils)
- Salt (no more than 5gm/person/day).
- Avoid having carbonated drinks and packaged juices that are high in sugar and poor in other nutrients.
- Sugar is just calories with no nutrients, hence, keep it to the bare minimum.
- Maintain ideal body weight. Being underweight or overweight/obese – impairs immunity and increases inflammation.
- Keep your body hydrated with adequate water intake for a good immune response to any infection.
Remember: too less or too much can increase susceptibility to infections. So following a balanced healthy diet help in maintaining immunity.
* Smoking & alcohol adversely affect immunity and increase the risk and severity of infections, hence must be avoided.
There are many factors affecting immunity:
- Gut-health and diet
- Stress and exercise
- Sleep and rest
- Maintain hygiene
Gut health and Immunity:
Our gut is considered as the no.1 defence mechanism when fighting diseases. So taking care of gut health helps to maintain immunity. Research findings say that “The Microbiome” in our gut is essential. This Microbiome is made up of over 100 trillion different little creatures that live and thrive in our digestive system. The composition of the Gut Microbiome changes over the period, in response to dietary components and environmental factors. Some of the bacteria are not so good and can cause problems, but the beneficial bacteria (known as probiotics) play a role in your health. One of the most important areas for people to understand is that eating a healthy diet rich in foods with probiotics can help to maintain or improve the gut microbiota. Foods such as Sauerkraut, fermented vegetables, Kefir, Curd etc. All of these contain more beneficial bacteria than some of the probiotics supplements, so incorporating these into your daily diet will help to support your gut health and immunity.
Stress, fitness, and sleep:
- Improve your sleep pattern: Sleep for 7-8 hours. Make a habit of going to sleep at the same time daily. As we sleep our immune system works to heal and repair the body. Ensuring adequate sound restful sleep is essential for restoring, repairing and healing.
- Exercise: One of the best ways to manage stress and maintain a healthy immune system. Moderate physical activity/yoga will reduce stress and build immunity. This will speed up circulation and blood flow deliver nutrients and oxygen to all your system which helps your physical and mental well-being.
- Meditation: Helps to reduce stress levels and strengthens the immune system. At least 10-30 minutes daily.
Most infections can be prevented by practising good personal hygiene such as:
- Washing hands before preparing or eating food.
- Washing hands after cleaning vegetables or meat.
- Clean the vegetables properly before keeping them in the refrigerator and cooking.
- Covering mouth with a tissue or cloth while coughing or sneezing.
Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has come up with some guidelines on how to clean fruits and vegetables. They suggest:
- Keep the fruits and vegetables bought from vendors within the packet itself in an isolated place.
- Wash the fruits and vegetables thoroughly or put a drop of 50ppm chlorine in warm water and dip them in it for 5 minutes.
- Wash them with potable or clean drinking water
- Do not use disinfectants, cleaning wipes or soap on fresh produce.
- Keep fruits and vegetables required to be refrigerated in the refrigerator. Keep the rest at room temperature in baskets or racks.
- Do not make use of cleaning wipes, disinfectants, or soaps on the fruits and vegetables.
- Clean the sink and platform where food items have been washed. Do not let the drip fall on the floor or else you must wipe it immediately.