You may have heard the saying, “A calorie is a calorie.” However, it's common to be well-fed yet undernourished. The foods we eat can have a positive or negative effect on our energy levels as well as our ability to lose weight, prevent disease, and fight colds and viruses. Let’s take a look at how the foods we eat affect our immune systems.
The Connection Between Nutrition and Your Immune System
The foods we eat and our immune system are closely connected. To maintain the healthy cells, tissues, and organs that are involved in immune response, we need to take care of them. Providing our cells with the nutrients they need will help them function their best and, in turn, help beat infections. With that in mind, it is important to set realistic expectations. As we explored in Part I of this series, the immune response is complex and involves many factors outside of nutrition, and while nutrition plays an important role in immunity, there are no magical foods or supplements that will prevent us from getting sick.
Although nutrition is by no means a cure-all, nutritional deficiencies often contribute to medical conditions over time. For example, did you know that a calcium deficiency can lead to osteoporosis? That a lack of vitamin C can result in scurvy? Or that an iodine deficiency can lead to goiters? Ensuring that foods have essential vitamins and minerals has helped decrease the incidence of these once-common nutritional deficiencies.
How Food Habits Can Harm Your Immune System
The standard American diet tends to be energy-rich and nutrient-poor, meaning that most people are well-fed but undernourished. In fact, more than 80% of Americans do not eat the daily recommended amount of vegetables. Consequently, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most Americans do not get enough vitamin D, iron, or vitamin C (among others) in their diets. In fact, 94.3% of Americans are not meeting their vitamin D requirements, and 38.9% are not getting enough vitamin C!
Why is this important? Because research shows that nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin D, protein, iron, selenium, and zinc are linked to the growth and maintenance of healthy immune cells. Not getting enough of these nutrients (or “being deficient”) makes it harder for our immune cells to function properly and protect our health.
In addition to being low in beneficial nutrients that aid in immunity, a diet with a lot of processed foods that are high in sugar and low in fiber affects the health of our immune system. These changes can further decrease the immune response and make it harder for the body to fight infection and disease.
How Food Habits Can Help Your Immune System
Fortunately, there are steps we can take to support a healthy immune system and prevent the problems mentioned above! It's important to fuel the body with anti-inflammatory whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, plant-based proteins, and fermented foods (e.g., sauerkraut, fermented pickles, kombucha). These foods contain nutrients such as omega 3, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics (healthy bacteria for the gut). In Part III of this series, we'll take a closer look at how each nutrient boosts our immune system and explore how to incorporate them into our diets, so stay tuned!
If you aren’t sure how to structure your diet to include all of these important foods, let us know. Our team of Registered Dietitians can work with you to evaluate your current food intake and address your needs with evidenced-based nutrition resources. If you are interested in finding out more about services from GemCare Wellness, please visit our website. We would love to work with you!
Disclaimer: The information contained here within is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read.
If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the emergency department, or call 911 immediately. GemCare Wellness (GCW) does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned here within. Reliance on any information provided by GCW, GCW employees, contracted writers, or medical professionals presenting content for publication here within is solely at your own risk.