What to eat to reduce your chance of becoming ill
A healthy gut microbiota can give you an improved immune system. Food rich in polyphenols increase the variety and strength of your good gut bacteria to better fight unwanted bacteria. Food rich in polyphenols include colourful fruits and vegetables such as blackcurrants, plums, raspberries, strawberries, olives, carrots and capsicum. Other foods that keep your microbiota healthy include natural products high in fibre, such as spinach, broccoli, leeks, mushrooms, chia seeds, legumes; healthy fats such as nuts and avocado; and fermented food such as Kefir, Kombucha, miso and unpasteurised sauerkraut. Nuts and avocado also contain magnesuim and manganese to aid protein synthesis which boosts immunity.
Regularly eating oily fish which is high in vitamin D, reduces the rates of illness and infection linked to Vitamin D deficiency.
In addition, an adequate intake of micro nutrients is required for the effective functioning of the body’s defence mechanisms. Undernutrition is a real issue for people in many developed countries as it reduces their ability to fight off infections. The young and elderly are particularly susceptible to undernutrition however anybody can potentially be undernourished without it being physically apparent. A good diverse balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds ensure the optimal functioning of immune processes.
Once you are ill what should you eat?
Infection increases the energy requirements of the body due to an increase in the basal metabolic rate. Therefore, if you are unwell, this is not the time to try to reduce your calorie intake. The requirement of protein increases so the body is able to produce an array of defence tissues, cells and their products to protect the body against invading organisms. The recommended daily intake of the protein building block, glutamine should be reached to help to prevent upper respiratory tract infections. You can find protein in the following foods, meat, cottage cheese, edamame beans, green peas, hemp seeds, chia seeds, eggs, tofu and lentils.
Vitamin B6, Selenium, Copper, Zinc and glutamate are required for antibody, B cell production. Meat, seafood, nuts,milk and eggs contain most of these nutritional requirements.
Fatty acids (fat) are a component of cell membranes. Poly-unsaturated fat positively affects the immune system directly. Diets rich in N-6 poly-unsaturated fats promote immune responses. These are found in nuts, vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, poultry, eggs, wholegrain breads, pumpkin seeds and hulled sesame seeds.
During an infection, oxidative stress is increased as the immune system goes into overdrive. A plentiful intake of a variety of the following anti-oxidants can relieve oxidative stress - fresh garlic, leeks, onions, berries and grapes. Also carrots, spinach, mangos, pumpkin seeds, seafood, lean meat, milk and nuts.
Everything in balance
Too much of anything in regards to the human body can have a negative effect. Be that any one food type or even too much exercise. Prolonged and intensive workouts activate stress hormones, which suppress the immune system. However there is a link between moderate regular exercise and a healthy immune system.
If you eat a variety of the foods mentioned above every week, you have the ability to build defences so you are less susceptible to illness.
Dr Natalie Michell read Molecular Biology at University College London. She carries a Masters Degree and has a PhD from the University of New South Wales where she studied the effects of neurotransmitters and how they affect hunger, energy expenditure and fat storage. Natalie has research experience in the fields of Cancer, Energy, Metabolism and Neuroscience. To hear more about nutrition from Natalie visit the pirkx member nutrition pages and follow her on Instagram
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