How to strengthen your immune system on a Whole Food, Plant-Based diet?
The ongoing encounters with fatal infections couldn’t be more telling of how crucial it is to strengthen your immune system. Our survival depends on it.
Not to mention, what we eat is one of the most critical factors in supporting immunity.
It is one thing to eat a plant-based diet and another to ensure the diet supports your immune system. Along with an adequate supply of different micronutrients and macronutrients, other lifestyle factors also contribute to strengthening the immune system.
In this article, you’ll find all about why you need to have strong immunity and how you can strengthen your immune system on a Whole Food, Plant-Based diet.
The importance of a healthy immune system
Our body’s immune system is a vast network of cells and tissues that constantly keep a watch against disease-causing organisms (viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, or toxins). If such foreign entities are found inside the body, the immune cells attack them and protect our body from infections.
A strong immune system can fight off the deadliest of diseases. On the other hand, a weak immune system fails to provide optimal protection, making you prone to infections and various other health issues.
The strength of the immune response varies from person to person. From diet to genetics, many factors impact the health of your immune system.
If your immune system is compromised, you may experience:
- Frequent colds, fever, and allergies
- Persistent tiredness
- Infections such as pneumonia, meningitis, and chronic sinusitis
- Skin conditions
- Digestive problems like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, or appetite loss
- Blood disorders like anemia
- Delay in wound healing
- Unexplained weight changes
- Cold hands
At an extreme end, a weak immune system can lead to severe diseases like HIV/AIDS, Cancer, and Hepatitis.
Some people may have an overactive immune system causing autoimmune diseases like asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, etc.
As so much depends on the health of your immunity, you cannot ignore it at any cost. The good news is: your plant-based diet can easily strengthen your immune system. Let’s see how!
What does science say about plant-based diets and the immune system?
Science has established the role of nutrition to be one of the most vital in maintaining overall health. Research shows malnutrition can suppress the immune response.
Along the same lines, plant-based diets being rich in a variety of nutrients help boost immunity. Various types of nutrients have direct and indirect roles in the functioning of the immune system.
Plant-based foods strengthen the immune system is by improving gut health. Since most of the immune cells are present in the lining of the intestine, fiber-rich food promotes the growth of good microbes, which ultimately protects against pathogen attacks.
Moreover, the phytochemicals from colorful fruits and vegetables also support the immune response by reducing inflammation, decreasing oxidative stress, boosting white blood cell effectiveness, and other functions.
In one of the studies on elderly people, increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables improved their immune response. The moderate and severe symptoms of the common cold were also reduced by 20% after 5 weeks of the dietary intervention.
Many other studies reinforce plant-based nutrition helps to strengthen your immune system through a wide range of activities in the body.
Let’s now get straight into what are the ways to support your immune system.
10 immune-boosting plant-based foods
While eating a balanced diet that provides all kinds of nutrition is essential, some foods have more pronounced immune-boosting effects than others. You can get incredible benefits if you include these frequently in your meals.
Here are the top plant-based foods to boost your immune system.
Beetroot is one of the healthiest foods on the planet. It is an excellent source of many essential vitamins and minerals, such as folate, manganese, vitamin C, iron, and others.
The specific plant chemicals present in beets – betanin, vulgaxanthin, and inorganic nitrates – have numerous health benefits. The activities of these nutrients promote blood health and support immune function in various ways.
You can include beets in your diet in multiple forms, whether raw or cooked. Raw beets can be added to juices or salads. If you wish to eat them cooked, you can bake or boil them to add to different dishes.
As vibrant as they look and taste, berries have a stellar capacity to strengthen your immunity. The different colors of berries contain beneficial flavonoids that reduce damage to cells and boost immunity.
Berries also consist of many other nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin A, minerals, fiber that further promote immune health. Some of the most common types of berries you can find at a supermarket include:
Berries are a versatile ingredient. You can add them to oatmeals, smoothies, pancakes, muffins or eat them whole.
3. Citrus fruits
One of the most popular home remedies for cough and cold worldwide is increasing vitamin C intake. It is so for a reason.
Researchers have found vitamin C to be among the most effective nutrients against pathogens. It accumulates in some types of immune cells and kills the microbes that have entered the body.
Hence, adequate daily intake of vitamin C is essential to keeping your immune system healthy, and the best sources are citrus fruits. Some of the most popular and readily available options you can go for are:
- Limes or lemons
4. Cruciferous vegetables
The next on the list of plant-based foods to boost your immune system is cruciferous vegetables. These vegetables are packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, antioxidants, fiber, glucosinolates, and many other nutrients which help to strengthen your immunity.
There are many different types of cruciferous veggies that you can find from season to season. These include:
- Bok Choy
- Brussels sprouts
- Collard greens
These vegetables are best eaten lightly cooked to get maximum nutrients.
When it comes to plant-based diets and the immune system, you cannot leave behind garlic. Garlic is considered to be one of the most potent medicinal foods since ancient times. Scientific studies also back the claim.
A compound present in garlic (called diallyl sulfide) is known to have powerful antibiotic effects. This compound, along with others, also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidative effects, which help to strengthen your immune system.
You can eat garlic raw or add to a variety of dishes such as pasta, curries, sauces, or whatever you can think of.
Like garlic, ginger is another powerful medicinal food that enhances flavor and helps boost immunity.
A compound called gingerol has excellent anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties that protect the body from infections and many other ailments. Ginger is also loaded with other nutrients such as dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and magnesium.
There are numerous ways to use ginger in your daily diet. You can use it raw, dried, or powdered into the dishes, whether it is juice, curries, sauces, or sandwiches.
If you didn’t envision the humble oats to be one of the immunity-boosting foods, you’re in for a pleasant surprise. Eating oatmeal can help you strengthen your immunity like no other.
Studies have found oatmeals to make the immune system more efficient by stimulating white blood cells and other immune cells. The nutrients present in oats – like selenium, zinc, arginine – also support the immune response through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Moreover, oats have one of a kind antioxidant compound (known as avenanthramides) that aid immune functions.
Check out some of the breakfast recipes with oats.
8. Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are another powerful one on the list of immunity-boosting plant-based foods.
Sunflower seeds are excellent sources of zinc and selenium, which play a crucial role in developing the immune system. These compounds also help reduce inflammation and fight infection. Further, vitamin E, vitamin B1, and other nutrients also have immune-supporting effects.
You can add sunflower seeds to your diet in so many ways. You can sprinkle them on top of salads, oatmeals, or smoothies. Or, you can roast them and munch on them as midday snacks.
9. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are another power-packed food that can support your immune health. These are loaded in vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, flavonoids, carotenoids, fiber, and many other nutrients that have immune-boosting effects.
The immense benefits of sweet potatoes can be realized from their prominence in the traditional Okinawa diet. It is considered to be the secret to the longevity and good health of the Okinawans.
The best way to eat a sweet potato is to simply bake it. You can also use the mashed sweet potatoes as a base to make your dishes thick and creamy.
Turmeric is yet another incredibly potent immune-boosting food, backed by traditional medicines as well as scientific studies. Its main component, curcumin has been found to treat immune disorders effectively.
Curcumin and other compounds present in turmeric have powerful anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activities that aid immunity.
You can sprinkle turmeric as a spice in dishes like curries and sauces. You can use turmeric in beverages such as turmeric tea, smoothies, or juices.
10 tips to strengthen your immune system
Eating immune-boosting plant-based foods alone is not sufficient. There are other lifestyle factors that also affect your immune system. From diet to sleep, you need to take care of everything.
Here are some tips to help you strengthen your immune system in its entirety.
1. Eat a balanced diet
Eating a diet that fulfills the body’s nutritional requirements for keeping the immune system healthy and maintaining overall health. Make sure your diet has adequate daily amounts of proteins, carbs, vitamins, and minerals.
Check out the Whole Food Plant-Based pyramid to find out what to eat and how much.
2. Keep your meals colorful
The different colors of fruits and vegetables are packed with a variety of beneficial nutrients. Include the different colored plant-based ingredients to maximize the nutrition and thus, a stronger immunity.
3. Take vitamin B12 supplements
Plant-based foods often lack the crucial nutrient vitamin B12, which has an indirect role in immune function. Therefore, it is essential to take vitamin B12 supplements to avoid its deficiency in your body.
4. Swear by fiber
As mentioned earlier, dietary fiber plays a key role in the functioning of the immune system. It is one of the main reasons why a plant-based diet helps to strengthen your immunity. So, make sure you keep the fiber intake high in your plant-based diet.
5. Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity is often linked to an impaired immune system and a starting point of many ailments. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is crucial to support the immune system.
6. Sleep well
Studies have found sleep to be a key regulator of the immune response. A prolonged lack of sleep can prove to be detrimental to your health. Therefore, you must keep a check on your sleep cycle and get enough sleep every day.
7. Exercise regularly
Like diet and sleep, exercise is another critical factor for boosting immunity. Regular physical activity improves the immune cells’ ability to fight off pathogens and prevent infections. Whether it is cycling, walking, sports, gym, or yoga, you must devote some time daily to exercise.
8. Eliminate stress
Stress is another element that can suppress your immunity due to the excessive release of the stress hormone cortisol. So, reducing your stress levels can help you strengthen your immunity. You can go for meditation, indulge in fun activities, or spend some time with loved ones to overcome stress.
9. Maintain good hygiene
Hygiene is also critical for supporting your immune system. The pandemic sure has taught its importance. Maintaining good hygiene prevents harmful pathogens from entering our body and thus protects us from several diseases.
10. Avoid smoking
It’s a no-brainer that smoking is injurious to health. Its harmful effects on the body suppress the immune function as well. It’s best to avoid smoking altogether if you want to strengthen your immune system and stay healthy.
In today’s time, you cannot afford to neglect your immunity. A strong immune system is indispensable to ensure you don’t fall prey to the ever-growing health crisis.
We hope this article leads you in the right direction. Stay happy and healthy!