The food we consume contributes to our immunity. To understand this, let’s first have a look into what is immunity.
The word “immunity” derives from the Latin word ‘immunis’, meaning exemption from military service, tax payments, or other public services. Immunity as a medical term describes a state of having sufficient biological defenses to avoid infection, disease, or other unwanted biological invasions. The term ‘immune system’ appeared in the scientific arena around 1960.
Our immune system has a significant role in our survival. Because, our body’s defense/immunity against germs, harmful substances, and cell changes that cause illness, comes from our immune system, without which we would be exposed to frequent attacks from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and more. The immune system is spread throughout our body and is made up of different organs, cells, and proteins working together.
Association between nutrition and immunity
The WHO guidance on diet, especially during the current pandemic states that “good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back”(WHO,2020).
Nutrients ingested in the diet are essential for growth, energy supply, and immune defense. Vitamins, minerals, proteins work collectively for the optimal functioning of our immune system. These nutrients must be obtained through a healthy diet. The deficiency of any of these nutrients can increase the frequency and severity of infections. Processed food is poor in nutrients and regular intake of such food can impair our immunity.
A balanced healthy diet helps to keep our immune system healthy. Along with a healthy diet, there are other factors that have a role in preparing our bodies to fight infections. These factors include regular exercise, good sleep, stress management, avoiding smoking.
Here is a list of nutrients particularly having an important role in maintaining a functional immune system along with their sources:
|Nutrient||Role in immunity||Sources|
|Vitamin C||Stimulates the formation of antibodies, and the production, function, and movement of white blood cells.||citrus fruits, red and green peppers, kiwi fruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, and Brussel sprouts.|
|Vitamin A||Helps protect against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines, and respiratory system healthy.||Carrots, sweet potato, cod liver oil, spinach, black-eyed peas, broccoli, red pepper, mango, dry apricots, tomato, salmon.|
|Vitamin D||Helps regulate antimicrobial proteins that can directly kill pathogens.||Oily fish, egg yolk, fortified food. Produced in response to exposure of skin to sunlight.|
|Vitamin E||Works as an antioxidant to protect the integrity of cell membranes from damage caused by free radicals.||Vegetable oils, almonds, sunflower seeds, green leafy vegetables, peanuts, hazelnuts.|
|Vitamin B6||Helps in maintaining a healthy nervous system and immune system.||Dark leafy greens, chickpeas, banana, papaya, poultry, salmon, tuna.|
|Zinc||Needed for wound healing and supports immune response.||Mushrooms, lentils, nuts, seeds, oysters, chicken, red meat, oatmeal, tofu.|
|Iron||Component of enzymes critical for immune cell function.||Figs, dates, raisins, prunes, flax seeds, almonds, dark leafy greens, broccoli, red meat, clams, sardines, oysters.|
|Selenium||Helps lower oxidative stress in the body, which reduces inflammation and enhances immunity.||Brown rice, brazil nuts, mushrooms, tofu, chicken, shrimp.|
|Folic Acid||Plays an important role in the production of red blood cells. Contributes to the normal function of the immune system||Spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, beans and peas, avocados, orange, strawberry, broccoli, corn, eggs.|
We can ensure supplying our body with these nutrients regularly, by following a balanced diet. A balanced diet combined with a healthy lifestyle equips our body to fight infections and diseases. In conclusion, the choice is yours to make you healthy.
Watch my YouTube video on ‘balanced diet’ using the link given here, to know what a balanced diet comprises: https://youtu.be/ktdrMvT7C2I