The immune system is your body’s armour against disease. Here are a few ways to keep it working at peak efficiency.
Eat plenty of plants
Why? Any healthy diet starts with more fruit and vegetables. Plant foods provide our bodies with an abundance of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, active compounds and fiber. Vitamins and minerals help us metabolize our food and build the cells we need to bolster our immune function. Antioxidants help protect our body against cell damage that leads to ageing and even disease. Fiber is important because it helps clean and scrub out the gut. It also absorbs toxins and “packs” them away for removal so that they don’t enter the bloodstream. Eating a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables will ensure you get a full complement of nutrients for a healthy immune system. Eat them all and remember the brighter the color, the richer they are in antioxidants.
Maintain a healthy weight
Why? There is nothing good about carrying extra weight. As well as putting extra stress on your joints and heart, it also hurts your metabolic and immune systems. Research has shown that obesity can cause an inflammatory response in the body that can decrease the activation of the immune cells and therefore decrease the immune response. Maintaining a healthy weight is important to keep all systems in the body functioning properly.
If you’re not sure what a healthy weight is for you, use an Ideal Weight calculator. This will give you a weight range based on various calculations and data, such as your current weight, age and height. These calculators are not 100 percent accurate but they can help you see where you are within that range. And of course, you can seek help from a healthcare professional.
Avoid inflammatory foods
Why? Inflammatory foods include sugar, artificial fats such as trans fats and vegetable fats, refined carbohydrates such as white flour, alcohol and processed meats. These foods have very little nutritional value and not only cause inflammation but can also counteract the anti-inflammatory effects of other nutrients in your diet.
Make no mistake: avoiding these foods is key. Instead, eat food made mostly with fresh ingredients in their natural form, or as close as possible to it. Fresh food tends to be located around the perimeter of supermarkets, so that’s where you should do most of your grocery shopping. Avoid the inside aisles, which is where you find the processed and refined foods. Where possible, choose produce that’s organic, free range and hormone-free.
Have good eating habits
Why? Eating a diet high in sugar, fat and calories will not do you any favors. Much is said about aiming for a “balanced” diet and here’s what it means: 40 percent of the calories you consume should come from protein, 30 percent from carbs and 30 percent from fats. Those proportions might vary according to how active you are.
It is also important to eat at regular intervals throughout the day – around every three to four hours, depending on how hungry you are. This keeps your energy levels stable so you are less likely to overeat. Pack your diet with energizing food: chicken, fish, eggs and lean red meat for protein, any and all fruits and vegetables and nuts, seeds, avocados and olives for healthy fats.
Adopt a healthy lifestyle
Why? A healthy diet is all very well but it won’t do you much good if you’re not making changes to your overall lifestyle. Stress can have a big impact on your immune system. It can disrupt your metabolic system, alter your hormones and cause you to eat more or less. It can even make you crave sugar and fat. Regular exercise lowers stress, increases blood flow, stimulates the metabolism and releases endorphins, the “feel-good” hormones. It is also good for you mentally as it gives you valuable thinking time to refocus your thoughts. Whatever your health plan, it must include exercise.
De Heredia FP, et al. Obesity, Inflammation and the Immune System. Proc Nutr Soc. 2012. 71(2): 332-8.