Sometimes the world around us can seem like a scary place. The good news is that our body has a magnificent and highly adaptive system for dealing with the immune threats that may be all around us. More sophisticated than any man-made defense system, a healthy immune system is designed deal with a wide variety of obstacles and challenges. How do we keep our immune system in tip top shape? Starting today, we can make some simple changes to our lifestyle and environment that can help us avoid common things sabotaging our immune system.
You and your immune system are what you eat.
When we don’t feel well, most of us turn to our favorite comfort foods or home-based remedies, like chicken noodle soup, electrolyte beverages, superfood immunity shots and juices. But did you know that your immune system’s ability to optimally operate is not just about what you are feeding it once you get sick, but also about your overall nutritional status? Your overall nutritional status is determined by how well you’ve been eating long before you feel the first inkling of illness.
That is why it is not surprising that people who have healthier long-term eating patterns, like plant-based diets, have been shown to have reduced levels of inflammation; lower risk factors for chronic illness; and, better immune function. Plant-based diets with higher levels of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in phytonutrients and vitamins compared to animal-based diets. These phytochemicals, like polyphenols and flavonoids, have been shown to have antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory activity. Some studies found that plant-based diets may also increase several different kinds of important immune cells, like natural killer cells which are the front-line soldiers of your immune system.
Besides these critical phytonutrients, plants are also the source of key prebiotics which in turn support immune function through positive modulation of the microbiome and gut health.
New Research on Plant Based Diets
Nutrition research used to be very focused on studying the effect of a single nutrient, like Vitamin C, Zinc or Vitamin D, and while that research has validated the benefits of these vitamins for things like supporting immunity, the latest research is taking a more holistic approach. Researching dietary patterns, instead of nutrients, is more representative of the way people actually eat. Nutrients are not eaten in isolation; rather, they are consumed as part of a lifestyle or selected diet. New research is exploding on a variety of dietary configurations, and some of the best studied are diets focused on plant nutrition.
Research on plant-based diets, so far, has demonstrated that they can improve health in 3 key ways:
- Improving Prebiotic and Fiber Consumption
- Increasing Nutrient Dense Foods Rich in Polyphenols, Vitamins and Other Phytonutrients.
Diets high in whole food, plant-based nutrition are rich in polyphenols, some vitamins and other superfood nutrients. Polyphenol intake has been linked to protective benefits against many chronic conditions. The beneficial actions of polyphenols and flavonoids, include their capacity to:
i) protect cellular barriers;
ii) influence enzymes involved in lipid and carbohydrate absorption;
iii) modulate the secretion of gut hormones;
v) support immune system;
vi) shape microbiome composition and function;
vii) slow or modulate aging processes;
viii) support bone and cardiovascular health.
Make plants a priority in your diet. Slowly, add extra servings of plant protein, vegetables or fruits to your diet each week until you reach 10+ servings. Your servings should be more veggie than fruit. Try to eat a wide variety to get plenty of healthy phytonutrients.