Your immune system is your line of defense against getting sick and it helps you recover from illness and infection quickly. Supporting it with plant-based immune-boosting foods is a powerful way to keep it strong so it's ready for anything.
We are all a little nervous about getting sick right now, whether it be the common cold, tonsillitis, or even the dreaded coronavirus. We’re even more nervous to go to any clinic or hospital, for the obvious reason that other sick people have been in and out of those doors. There was never a better time to focus on healthy living and supporting your immune system, than during a pandemic that is affecting our lives on a daily basis.
As people go back to work and social distancing gets more and more difficult as time goes on, you can support your immune system through a plant-based diet and build up your body’s response to any illness that comes your way this year.
What you'll learn in this article:
We are constantly exposed to microbes, or harmful bacteria that cause disease. Our immune system protects us from microbes and diseases by recognizing and fighting harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Our skin, mucus, stomach acid, enzymes, and cells defend the body from microbes. Even our organs create antibodies (proteins that signal the immune system to fight invaders) that generate immune cells to fight harmful bacteria.
Your immune system is actually kind of like an army: it identifies harmful microbes (the threat), multiplies immune cells (your army), then engulfs and recycles the threatening microbes. And, just like an army, your immune system learns through experience. It remembers the harmful microbes so that next time, the antibodies and cells of your immune system are even more successful in keeping you healthy. 2
Taking good care of your immune system helps it take good care of you. This includes the actions you can take to support your health as well as limiting the factors that can slow down your immune system.
According to Harvard,
“Eating enough nutrients as part of a varied diet is required for the health and function of all cells, including immune cells.”
By eating nutrient-dense foods, your immune system will be prepared for microbial attacks. In other words, your army needs a big, healthy dinner to be strong! A high-fiber, plant-based diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes supports immune health. On the other hand, if you eat a diet high in processed foods, refined sugar, and red meat, and low in fruits and vegetables, your immune system will be suppressed. 2
Plant-based diets provide the nutrients your body needs to keep your immune system in balance. Ensuring you ingest healthy levels of nutrients like vitamin E, vitamin A, iron, and selenium can improve your immune responses, helping you stay vital and well.2 Today, we will spotlight these essential nutrients as examples of a plant-based diet supporting immune function. You’ll also find some delicious plant-based recipes that are particularly high in these nutrients.
Taking a plant-based multi-vitamin can help fill in any nutrition gaps you have from your diet or digestive inefficiencies, however, food can be a more powerful medicine. Whole foods provide a blend of co-factors, or helper molecules, that support absorption and nutrient utilization in ways a vitamin pill cannot emulate. As much as we try, we will never fully understand the complexity of whole foods and how these co-factors work together for our benefit. Although helpful, no vitamin supplement can meet all your body’s nutritional needs.
Vitamin E is a powerful, fat-soluble antioxidant that helps your body fight infection. It increases the numbers of immune-supportive cells such as Natural Killer cells and lymphocytes and supports powerful levels of infection and disease-fighting chemicals. It's antioxidant properties protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which, unchecked contributes to all things we do not want, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Vitamin E is part of almost 200 of the body’s biochemical reactions and is important in immune function. 1,3
Vitamin E’s immune system benefits:
Other benefits of vitamin E:
At Your Vegan Family, our recipes are full of nutrient-dense food that fill up your store of nutrients on a daily basis so you always have the building blocks needed to boost your immune system and stay healthy. Eat your vitamins!
Vitamin A is an essential micronutrient, meaning our bodies can’t manufacture it and must absorb it through food. There are two types of this fat-soluble vitamin. Preformed vitamin A is found in meat and dairy products. Provitamin A is found in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. 6,7
Vitamin A’s immune system benefits:
Other benefits of vitamin A:
Iron is a mineral that helps your body grow and develop. Iron helps hemoglobin develop in your red blood cells, which carries oxygen throughout your body. Some hormones are also developed with iron. Plant-based, nonheme iron is absorbed less efficiently than animal-based iron.8 Vitamin C helps you absorb iron, so be sure to eat Vitamin C rich foods with your foods that are high in iron. Foods high in vitamin C include broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, tomatoes, sweet peppers, potatoes, spinach, oranges, and strawberries-yumm!
Iron’s immune system benefits:
Other benefits of iron:
Berry Shortbread Bars (33% US Recommended Daily Allowance)
Selenium is a trace element we hear very little about, but is so important for our overall health. This essential nutrient plays an important role in thyroid hormone metabolism (low thyroid levels can result in low energy and dry/thinning hair), DNA synthesis, and protection from and infection. 9
Selenium’s immune system benefits:
Other benefits of selenium:
Eating a smart plant-based diet will support your immune system by providing the essential nutrients your body needs like vitamin E, vitamin A, iron, and selenium and the co-factors you need to absorb and utilize them.
The best way to stay healthy and happy is to feed your body, cells, and immune system with high-quality, plant-based foods – especially during a pandemic! Get your immune system warriors ready for battle with recipes from Your Vegan Family. Each recipe has a full nutritional analysis included at the bottom of the page.
Through experimenting in our kitchen and getting feedback from our two young sons, we create nutritionally-dense, healthy, plant-based recipes to share with the world. You can find more about our recipes, our family, and our story here: www.yourveganfamily.com
Stacy and Markus live an adventurous vegan lifestyle and write articles about their experiences cooking global vegan cuisine, creating businesses, raising vegan kids, and traveling through more than 65 countries. They earned degrees in molecular biology and acupuncture, consulted over decades for healthcare companies and individuals, created businesses in Asian medicine, eco-tourism, cultural immersion, and taught yoga in myriad venues.
We’ve learned a lot from eating a plant-based diet for 25 years and are eager to share more with you. Learn more on our About Us page.
Other sources of info:
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