Monday, March 21, 2011

Eating Tips for Promoting a Healthy Immune System

Rachael and her friend Dona (not their real names) stepped into the usually crowded elevator in their office complex and immediately noticed two people coughing and sneezing seriously.

Within a couple of days Dona come down with a bad cold and blames it on that elevator ride. Yet her friend Rachael, exposed to the same germs at the same time remains perfectly healthy.

What made the difference? The power of the immune system.

The immune system is the body’s defense against infectious organisms and other invaders. Through a series of steps called the immune response, the immune system attacks organism and substances that invade body systems and cause disease.
It is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body. The cells involved are white blood cells, or leukocytes, which come in two basic types that combine to seek out and destroy disease-causing organisms or substances. This network helps us avoid illness or sometimes become the underlying reason why we get sick.

Yes! The strength of our immune system is what makes the difference between who gets sick and who doesn’t. When we feed our immune system well, we boost its fighting ability by increasing the number of white blood cells in the immune system army, train them to fight better and help them develop an overall better battle plan. Here are some tips to help you eat better and make your immune system healthier.

  • Eat a Variety of Food Colors
The substance that gives fruits and vegetables their color is called phytochemicals. They are plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties. There are more than a thousand known phytochemicals. Some of the well-known phytochemicals are lycopene in tomatoes, isoflavones in soy and flavanoids in fruits.

Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity and protect our cells against oxidative damage and reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Phytochemicals with antioxidant activity: allyl sulfides (onions, leeks, garlic), carotenoids (fruits, carrots), flavonoids (fruits, vegetables), polyphenols (tea, grapes).  Indoles, which are found in cabbages, stimulate enzymes that make the estrogen less effective and could reduce the risk for breast cancer. Other phytochemicals, which interfere with enzymes, are protease inhibitors (soy and beans), terpenes (citrus fruits and cherries). The list can go on and on! Eat variety of colorful foods and give your immune system the right kick.
  • Choose Foods High In Antioxidants
Antioxidants are phytochemicals, vitamins and other nutrients that protect our cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free Radicals however, are oxygen molecules with an abnormal electron. They are thought to be associated with the development of cancer and heart disease, perhaps other diseases as well. By the way, trans-fatty acids, a process to turn an oil (liquid) to a fat (solid) to delay rancidity also acts the same way, which is why trans-fatty acids (partially hydrogenated oils) should be avoided at all costs. Antioxidants come to the rescue by destroying Free Radicals. The four major antioxidants are: Beta Carotene (a precursor to Vitamin A) Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and the mineral, Selenium. Antioxidants are found largely in fruits and vegetables. Note that you are not going to find these in processed foods, junk foods, or fast foods.

Common sense would dictate that if we don’t consume these in our foods, we are going to have problems with cell integrity and overall all immune response to attackers. This can and most likely will lead to disease and illness.
  • Eat foods rich in Zinc.
This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells that fight infection and helps them fight more aggressively. It also increases killer cells that fight against cancer and helps white cells release more antibodies. Zinc supplements have been shown to slow the growth of cancer. Zinc increases the number of infection-fighting T-cells, especially in elderly people who are often deficient in zinc, and whose immune system often weakens with age. 

A word of caution: too much zinc in the form of supplements (more than 75 milligrams a day) can inhibit immune function. It's safest to stick to getting zinc from your diet. Food sources include; oysters, beef, turkey, crab and beans. The best source of zinc for infants and young children is zinc-fortified cereals.
  • Drink Filtered Water (eight 8oz glasses/day)
Many beverages we do drink (coffee, tea, sodas, etc.) act as diuretics, meaning they increase urination, thus tipping the scales toward dehydration. Various studies show that our water supply is not as clean as we would like to believe. Traces of antibiotics and chemicals from agricultural run-off are most times evident, the popular Naija pure water is not a small suspect (am sure you will agree with me if you‘ve had a taste).

It is in everyone’s best interest to install a water filter system in your home to be used for all drinking water (and cooking). Remember to replace the filter once a year (or as often as needed).
When water intake is too low, a toxic buildup of ammonia, urea, uric acid, and other substances will begin to accumulate in the body.( Click here to read more)

  • Reduce Your Caffeine Consumption
Reduce your Caffeine consumption from all the sources it’s found in. it can interfere in the normal functioning of various body processes.
By the way, “decaf” is not the same thing as “caffeine-free.” Decaf merely means less caffeine than regular caffeine.
  • Add Omega 3 Oils To Your Daily Diet
Sources of Omega 3’s include cold-water fish (e.g. Salmon, Tuna, and Mackerel) flax seed oil, walnuts, and a few other foods. They act as immune boosters by increasing the activity of phagocytes, the white blood cells that fight bacteria
  • Stick to good food preparation.
Good nutrition is not just about eating the right kind of foods, the way you handle, cook or prepare the food is as important. For example, if you throw some vegetables in a pot of water to cook, the water soluble vitamins will leach out into the water. So will some minerals. Please, steam your vegetables.

Lastly, whenever possible, use natural cooking methods and low to moderate cooking temperatures.

Make it a daily habit to eat at least one meal for your immune system.

Add your own tip.