The immune system helps protect the body against contagious diseases, such as colds and flu. Diet plays an important role in maintaining a strong immune system. Regular consumption of certain unhealthy foods can prevent the immune system from working properly. This can reduce its ability to perform as well as it could. Some research suggests that diets high in added sugar and excessive salt are associated with an increased risk of certain autoimmune diseases and other chronic diseases.
On the other hand , the consumption of foods containing certain nutrients, such as vitamin C, can help strengthen the immune system.
Any inflammatory or immune diseases, including obesity and type 2 diabetes are not caused by diet alone. Environmental disturbances, medications and genetic predispositions also play a role. This article explores specific foods that can weaken the immune system and others that can help strengthen it.
What foods weaken the immune system?
Anyone looking to support their immune function may want to limit or avoid the following types of foods.
Many processed foods contain unhealthy fats, sugars and additives. These can improve the taste, texture and shelf life of a product, but, as the studies below suggest, they can weaken the immune system.
Processed foods containing high amounts of additives include the following
– canned foods
– cakes and biscuits
A study by 2016 revealed that the consumption of foods containing additives may increase the risk of several chronic inflammatory or metabolic diseases. The study looked at additives such as sucralose, aspartame, carboxymethylcellulose, polysorbate-80, sodium and carrageenan. Researchers have also observed that people with a diet high in additives are more likely to suffer from obesity, immune system-related inflammation and insulin resistance.
At the same time, a review of studies by 2014 noted that high salt intake , refined sugar, saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids, as well as a shortage of omega-3 fatty acids, can damage the immune system. Consuming sugars and fats in processed foods could also lead to overconsumption of calories, which may increase the risk of obesity. Obesity can lead to inflammation, which can lead to insulin resistance, as well as dysregulation of the immune system.
Rich foods in sugar
People whose diets are high in sugar have an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Foods that tend to be high in sugar include:
– preserves, marmalades and sweets
– cookies and cakes
– sweetened dairy products
– sugary cereals for breakfast
– sugary drinks, such as sodas
A diet high in sugar can also limit ability of the immune system to fight disease. This can be done by reducing the efficiency of white blood cells and increasing inflammation.
Foods high in refined carbohydrates
Processed foods high in refined carbohydrates, such as white flour and refined sugar, are associated with increased inflammation and oxidative stress, which can harm the immune system .
Foods that contain refined carbohydrates include the following
– white rice
– white bread
l- sweets, biscuits and cakes made from white flour.
Foods for a Healthy Immune System
A balanced, nutrient-dense diet can help maintain a moderate body weight, which is important for functioning immune system.
The following foods may provide more specific immune system-boosting benefits.
– Citrus fruits
These are good sources of vitamin C, and a study by 2016 revealed that vitamin C has several properties that can contribute to healthy immune function. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants protect important molecules in the body, such as proteins and carbohydrates, from environmental and biological damage. Vitamin C also helps support metabolic energy and hormone regulation, and is necessary for collagen production. The same study by 2016 reports that most people should aim to consume 100 at 200 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C per day.
– Foods that contain zinc
Zinc is an essential mineral that is a key trusted source for maintaining a healthy immune system. The recommended daily intake of zinc ranges from 2 to 13 mg , depending on the person’s age and sex. Pregnant women need 13 to 13 mg.
Here are some sources dietary zinc
– enriched cereals
– chicken breast
– Cruciferous vegetables
These vegetables, especially broccoli and broccoli sprouts, are good sources of the compound sulforaphane, which can help boost the immune system. A study by 2016 observed that sulforaphane has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. A study by 2016 looked at the effect of sulforaphane on colon cancer cells. It found that sulforaphane prevented inflammation of immune cells, which the researchers believe could help prevent the development of cancer.
People have been using ginger to add flavor for centuries. More recently, researchers have studied its effects on the immune system. An analysis in 2016 of high-quality studies found that consuming ginger supplements combats inflammation associated with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The analysis also found that ginger supplements helped reduce body weight in people with obesity. This could mean that ginger also indirectly improves immune system health, as obesity is linked to chronic inflammation.
Anh, NH, et al. (2020). Ginger on human health: A comprehensive systemic review of 100 randomized controlled trials.
Arreola, R., et al. (2015). Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds.
Bessler, H., et al. (2018). Broccoli and human health: Immunomodulatory effect of sulforaphane in a model of colon cancer .
Bhardwaj, B., et al. (2016). Death by carbs: Added sugars and refined carbohydrates cause diabetes and cardiovascular disease in Asian Indians.
Childs, CE, et al. (2019). Diet and immune function.
García-Montero, C., et al. (2021). Nutritional components in Western diet versus Mediterranean diet at the gut microbiota-immune system interplay.
Greaney, AJ, et al. (2016). Sulforaphane inhibits multiple inflammasomes through an Nrf2-independent mechanism .
Nutrition and immunity. (nd).
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