A Good Diet Boosts the Immune System

“I feel so much cleaner, as if all my organs are working better!” a friend boasted to me after a year on a plant-based diet.

It is true that one’s body responds positively over time when following a properly balanced plant-based diet. This diet consists mostly of unprocessed plant foods, and a balance of good carbs, mostly plant proteins — of which soya is one of the most important — and healthy fats. This diet ensures that all organs function optimally, providing life-long health benefits.

A plant-based diet and a healthy lifestyle:

  • Boosts immune systems,
  • Protects one against heart disease and lung diseases,
  • Helps one manage diabetes better,
  • Plays a role in managing depression,
  • Improves kidney function,
  • Plays a role in cancer protection

 — and much more!

What is the immune system, and how does it work?

Our Immune System:

  • Is responsible for fighting viral and bacterial infections.
  • Healthy people contracting any viral or bacterial infection will be able to fight the infection more effectively and will experience fewer and/or less critical symptoms, and will recover far more quickly, than those defined as unhealthy.

What is the immune system?

The immune system is the most complex organ in our bodies. It is composed of various organs, white blood cells and antibodies that form alliances against pathogens (foreign invaders entering and threatening our bodies).

There are various layers of protection against intruders into our bodies:

  1. Physical surface barriers, such as the skin and intestinal lining.
  2. White blood cells, such as neutrophils that attack and engulf pathogens directly.
  3. Natural killer cells that destroy pathogens and other cells infected by viruses or bacteria. These natural killer cells target cells marked for destruction by antibodies which are made by B cells. 

What are B Cells? These are special types of white blood cells that make specific antibody proteins, each one being specific for one foreign molecular signature. Example: one B cell specifically makes antibodies against specific allergens (such as grass pollen), whilst another B cell makes antibodies against specific bad bacteria.

Our bodies are incredible in that they have billions of different types of B cells, each producing only one type of antibody, each one only activated when a specific pathogen/venom/allergen/bacteria / other foreign invader enters our body!  When a foreign invader enters the body, a reaction is initiated whereby a specific B cell starts dividing like crazy, producing millions of antibodies against that specific toxin.  

Our goal, therefore, is to find ways of both protecting and boosting immune system function, by boosting natural killer cell activity.

What lifestyle changes can we make to boost immune systems?

1. Live a healthy lifestyle:

  • Eat healthily              
  • Exercise regularly      
  • Get adequate sleep
  • Do not smoke
  • Do not drink alcohol excessively/at all
  • Manage stress

People who live healthily have stronger immune systems than those that lead unhealthy lifestyles (poor diet, minimal/no exercise, insufficient sleep, smoke/drink excessively, and are unable to manage stress).

2. Fill up on Immune-boosting nutrients

  • Micronutrients — Vitamins and minerals found in fresh fruit and veggies) are essential in fighting infection. The best infection fighters are vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, and the minerals iron, selenium, and zinc.
  • Fibre found in wholegrains, fruits, veggies.

3. Protect your gut!

One of the best ways to protect your immune system is to protect the gut / intestinal lining. The reason for this is that the greatest exposure of our bodies to the outside world is through the intestinal lining. The intestines can cover a surface area of approximately 45 square metres, and yet in order for it to absorb fluid and nutrients effectively, it is extremely thin.

Fluid, nutrients, AND potential toxins are absorbed through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream, which then transports these to the rest of the body. As such, it is essential for us to ensure a good defence mechanism in the gut to keep out BAD pathogens.

Luckily for us, we have a special white blood cell (part of our immune defence system) that serves two functions: to condition, repair, and ensure good integrity of the colon, and also to serve as the first line of GUT defence against pathogens.

These specific white blood cells (intraepithelial lymphocytes) are covered with receptors that activate the cells. One of the main keys that fit into the receptor cell lock which activates these cells that boosts immunity is found in — BROCCOLI!

Research shows that cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli not only protect us from the pathogens found in food, but also against pollutants in the environment.

Pollutants such as cigarette smoke, car exhaust, furnaces, burnt meat, exert their toxic effects through the receptors in the intestines. Yet compounds found in cruciferous vegetables may block these pollutants.

Researchers have subsequently found that there are other plants that may also defend against toxic invaders. Phytonutrients in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, tea leaves, SOYA and other beans can block the effects of some of these pollutants. YET it is important to remember that these phytonutrient effects last only a few hours; therefore we need to keep eating healthy foods with EACH meal, in order to maintain your defences against pathogens as well as pollutants.  

THIS YEAR’S COVID-19 PANDEMIC HAS MADE US EVEN MORE AWARE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF HEALTHY FOOD CHOICES

How to eat healthily in a pandemic

It is well known that eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day can boost your immunity, but less well-known that there are specific power foods you should regularly consume to give your immune system that extra boost. 

Now, more than ever, it is essential for us to do everything we can to ensure that our immune systems are optimized to ward off not only the usual colds and flu, but also to protect us from COVID-19 as an added measure to the many other guidelines (mandatory mask-wearing, sanitizing, and social distancing).

By making wise food choices we can, not only reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 and other infections, but we can also significantly minimize the symptoms, and their subsequent impact should we contract this virus or ANY OTHER bacterial/viral infection. 

INCLUDE the following POWER (SUPER) FOODS daily:

IMMUNE-BOOSTING FOODSHOW THESE BENEFIT US
KALEA nutrient-dense food that assists in fighting off infection.
BROCCOLIAn important member of the cruciferous vegetable family that protects us against pathogens (bacteria/ viruses) found in food and pollutants in the environment.
BEETROOTContains pigment phytonutrients that act as antioxidants in the body, are absorbed in the bloodstream, and cleanse your organs, tissues, and body cells.
GARLICContains health-promoting compounds, which are absorbed into your bloodstream after swallowing the garlic, and then exhaled pungently from your lungs in your breath.
Garlic can potentially be used as an additional treatment for cases of pneumonia as it may help destroy bacteria on its way out of the lungs.
BERRIESAssist in disease prevention. Compounds found in berries have the ability to counteract, reduce and repair damage resulting from oxidative stress and inflammation. For this reason, it is believed that berries can also contain anti-cancer properties.
PROBIOTICSProbiotics are the good bacteria found in your gut and have immune-enhancing effects. Evidence to date shows that probiotics can reduce one’s risk of colds and upper-respiratory-tract infections.
It is not necessary to supplement with probiotics, unless there has been a disruption in your gut flora due to a course of antibiotics or if you struggle with gut-related issues (IBS), but rather focus on feeding the good bacteria that are already living in your gut. Probiotics require prebiotics (fibre - found in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, and SOYA) to function optimally: so eat plenty of high fibre foods daily.
MUSHROOMSContain a collection of unique myconutrients (found in fungi) that may boost our immune function. By eating a variety of mushrooms, we can blunt our inflammatory response, potentially offering a boost in immune and anti-cancer function without aggravating diseases of inflammation.

How to include these daily:

  • Make a Berry Smoothie for Breakfast: Blend Soya Life Meal Replacement Shake with 50g blueberries + 6 almonds + 300ml water
  • As an alternative for Breakfast: Have a serving of Soya Life porridge with ¼ cup blueberries/mixed berries.
  • Stir-fry kale, mushrooms, chickpeas, and a delicious stir-fry sauce for Lunch.
  • Include three vegetables for every evening meal: include broccoli/beetroot with two other veggies.

Exercise is a powerful immune booster!

Apart from all the other benefits of regular exercise, research shows that by doing even a small amount of exercise per day boosts the levels of immune cells in the blood significantly, specifically those immune cells in the upper respiratory tract.

In summary

Healthy living may protect you against both airborne and foodborne illnesses. Eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes like SOYA and exercising more frequently can boost your immune system to fight off a whole horde of infections. And lastly, by sticking to a mostly plant-based eating plan will ensure a healthy gut which ensures a stronger immune response and minimized exposure to bacteria, viruses, allergens, food toxins, and environmental toxins.