Benefits of a resilient immune system
A strong immune system is the by-product of a nutritionally robust diet, consumed on a consistent basis. Immunity against harmful bacteria, viruses and fungi is the body’s natural and first line of defense. As such, keeping our immune system well-nourished by consuming ample amounts of immune supporting agents through our diet is crucial for our well-being.
When a foreign particle (antigen) enters the body, it responds by producing antibodies in the blood as a defense mechanism to destroy the antigens. Major immune cells in the blood are the white blood cells, which comprise of T-cells and B-cells, responsible for producing antibodies in the blood that perform the immune function. These immune cells derive nourishment from the naturally occurring plant substances, Phytochemicals (phyto = plant). Phytochemicals are the active compounds derived from plants that help with production, maintenance and functioning of the white blood cells.
Eat your rainbow!
Foods rich in Phytochemicals: Also known as phytonutrients, these chemicals are found to help the immune system as they have anticancer, antimicrobial, hormonal support, and enzyme stimulating properties. Found across a host of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts these phytonutrients are power packed and an excellent source of plant-based immune boosters. Examples of the phytochemical containing foods include:
- Soy proteins - Soy products like soy chunks, soy isolates, soy concentrates, soy oil, soy milk, tofu, and sauces made of soy are good sources of Genistein. When consumed, Genistein, a pungent tasting substance, supports the immune system by enhancing the cytokine production (substances secreted by immune cells) from the T-cells which increase the immune response to pathogens.
- Citrus fruits - The phytonutrient Hesperidin is found in citrus fruits like Tangerine (orange), sweet lime, lemon, and grape fruit. Hesperidin helps enhance the levels of Immunocompetence; providing an immediate response to the antigens that invade the body.
- Yellow-orange pigments - Also known as carotenoids, that are found in yellow – orange fruits and vegetables like papaya, ripe mango, pumpkin, carrots, sweet potatoes, red – yellow bell peppers and green vegetables like kale, spinach and lettuce are replete with the phytonutrient, Beta- Carotene. These carotenoids play a vital role in Immunomodulating; helping repair the immune system to attack the antigens, when stimulated.
- Anti-viral agent - The Gingerol is a class of phytochemical’s that is found in fresh and dry ginger root. It is an efficient and effective remedy for cold and flu. The Gingerol acts by warming up the body from inside. Due to this warming effect, it’s highly effective as an anti-viral agent especially when consumed raw and with water.
- Turmeric - The active compound of turmeric is Curcumin; acts by suppressing the T – cells apoptosis (cellular suicide). Curcumin also demonstrates a high amount of anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, and it acts by reducing the growth of several disease-causing bacteria and viruses thus supporting the immune system functions.
- Chocolate and nuts – everything, including chocolates, nuts and wine, when consumed in moderation can be a big help in strengthening the immune system. Raisins, pistachios, peanuts and dark chocolate owe their cardiovascular support and cerebral blood flow increasing attributes to Resveratrol. This phytochemical is primarily found in grape skin and in raisins and wine that are prepared from grapes. Resveratrol supports cognitive health by increasing the cerebral blood flow.
- Apples and berries - Fruits like apples, strawberries, blueberries, black berries, grapes and veggies like onions, teas- buckwheat and green tea, and honey are a rich source for the phytonutrient, Quercetin. Belonging to the class of flavoring compounds, Quercetin is known to reduce inflammation from allergic reactions, help control blood sugar levels and disrupt the growth of cancer cells.
Prebiotics - Prebiotics are not a classification of phytochemicals, but are a class of indigestible fibers which are essential for the growth and nourishment of the gut micro flora (micro –organisms in the intestine). These good bacteria are useful for digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food. They also prevent the growth of other harmful pathogens by inhibiting their adhesion and growth within the gut.
Prebiotics are found in foods such as:
- Roots - chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, konjac, burdock, yacona and jicama roots
- Whole grains - oats, barley and wheat bran
- Tubers – onions and garlic
- Green leafy veggies – leeks, asparagus and dandelion greens
- Fruits – apples and bananas
Nature has bestowed us with power – packed foods that when consumed in right quantities will support our overall well-being. The different varieties of phytochemicals found in a range of naturally occurring foods and the probiotics are an excellent resource for replenishing and maintaining the body’s defense mechanism. With the ever growing host of pathogens in our lives, developing and sustaining a robust immune system is vital for surviving and living a healthy life.
This article was written by the Fitday Nutrition team. For any questions, comments and clarifications please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you liked this article please leave us a comment below- we love chatting with you, too!