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Nutritional Health|11 March 2022

Expert tips: 5 essential immunity nutrients and why nutritionists swear by them.

Written by Rasika Thakur Parab
H.O.D. The Nutrition Therapy Department at Fortis Mulund with more than 11 years of experience in dietetics and clinical nutrition | Post Graduate in Dietetics, Healthcare Operations Management.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a wake-up call on practically all fronts—especially human life and health.  As ‘immunity booster’ became the buzzword, we trained our eyes on nutrients that strengthen our immunity. But have we dived deep into what nutrients we need the most and where we can get them?

People have typically sought out specific meals or vitamin supplements for stronger immunity. This is because each stage of the immune response in the body necessitates a large number of micronutrients. Experts Walsh NP, Gleeson M, Pyne DB (Maintaining Immune health), “Some nutrients — including Vitamin C, Vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein — have been recognised as crucial for immune cell growth and function, which defend us from harmful bacteria and diseases every day.” Our body is constantly exposed to these undesirable bacteria. Our immune system, which comprises a complex network of stages and routes in the body, defends us from these, nutrients detect and eliminate all such external invaders. Humans possess two types of immunity: Innate and Adaptive. Nathan Pratt, PhD, RD. states, “Making sure our bodies get enough of nutrients can help support overall health and wellness in these early, vulnerable years.”

A single nutrient shortage can affect the immunological response of the body. Deficits in zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and Vitamins A, B6, C, D, and E have been shown in animal experiments to alter immune responses. Expert nutritionists state that throughout our lives, our immune system remains a powerful defense that keeps our body safe. These nutrients help the immune system in various ways, including acting as an antioxidant to protect healthy cells, promoting immune cell growth and activity, and creating antibodies. Hence, it’s imperative that we know about immunity nutrients that are crucial for us and where we can get them from. 

We have several intakes of food in our day-to-day life. One must ensure that the meals include all these components.

1.   Carbohydrates

Simply called carbs, these are the primary fuel sources for our body. Sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars during digestion and eventually taken into our bloodstream and referred to as blood sugar or blood glucose. Sometimes, with the help of insulin, glucose is entered into our body’s cells from there. Foods with high carbohydrates are Breads, rice, cereals, fruits, lentils, milk and yoghurt.

2.   Proteins 

Proteins are biomolecules and macromolecules made up of one or more long chains of amino acids. Proteins are classified informally into three groups based on their tertiary structures: globular, fibrous, and membrane proteins. A complete protein is found in animal-based meals such as meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and dairy products, whereas plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, and seeds may lack one or more essential amino acids.

3.  Fiber 

Fiber is a carbohydrate that the human body cannot process and classified as soluble and insoluble fibers. Water dissolves soluble fiber. It helps in the reduction of cholesterol and the regulation of blood sugar levels in the body. Fiber, also known as roughage, is the part of plant-based meals that the body cannot break down, such as grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans. As a result, it goes through your body undigested, keeping the digestive system clean and healthy. Foods like beans, broccoli, whole grains and dried fruits are high in fiber. 

4.   Oil and fats 

Oils and fats provide calories and vital fats, as well as helping the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, including A, D, E, and K. The type of fat consumed is equally as significant as the overall amount of fat taken in terms of health. That is why it is critical to prefer unsaturated fats over saturated fats. So, the next time you eat fried foods, keep it light.

5. Water 

One of the most vital components for humans to survive. We need to drink water to keep our body hydrated but it has many other functions. Water protects body organs and tissues, transports nutrients and oxygen to the cells, and lubricates the joints. By draining away waste materials, it reduces the stress on the kidneys and liver.

To keep the body healthy inside out, it’s essential to fortify the immune system. These nutrients will ensure just that.


References:

  • Human nutrition, the gut microbiome and the immune system, Andrew L. Kau, Philip P. Ahern, Nicholas W. Griffin, Andrew L. Goodman & Jeffrey I. Gordon
  • Song et al, 2019; Patel et al 2012 and Gombart et al 2020, and Cohen 2017
  • hsph.harvard.edu
  • The role of nutrition in the Immune System I Part I of II, Breda Gavin-Smith
  • Walsh NP, Gleeson M, Pyne DB, et al. Position statement. Part two: maintaining immune health. Exerc Immunol Rev. 2011;17:64–103.

The views expressed are that of the expert alone.