Can your diet “boost” your immune system and how?

We live in a time when we are all concerned about our health. Of course, everyone knows that there is a connection between what we eat and how healthy we are, right? So…

What’s the magic food?

What is that one thing we can eat that will definitely keep us from falling ill? The bad news is that there isn’t one. The exact relationship between food and our immune system is so complex that scientists are still trying to figure it out! It’s called a system for a reason – it’s made up of many different parts which interact in complicated ways. Finding out if and how the things we eat influence it is not as easy as it sounds.

How does your immune system work?

To put it simply, some organs in your body produce cells which protect you against foreign invaders – pathogens like viruses, bacteria and parasites. These cells specialise in eating the pathogens or recognising them quickly if they show up again. This is how vaccines work – introducing a small quantity of a usually weakened pathogen into your body triggers the production of antibodies specific to that pathogen. This way, if it does show up for real, it is much more quickly recognised and disposed of – in other words, your immune response has been boosted by the vaccine. But how can diet help? If your immune system is already working correctly, your focus should be not on trying to “supercharge” it through food but on making sure you maintain it. Poor nutrition is one of the things known to lead to poor immune function.

So what should you do?

If there is one thing that we do know, it is that your body benefits from a good balance of nutrients. Balance! That’s the key word! While eating two kilograms of oranges every day might not necessarily make you less likely to fall ill, making sure that nothing is missing from your diet is always sensible. Protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals… You need all of them but in the right quantities (and in the right quality) for your body and lifestyle.

So what’s the takeaway?

How you eat matters a great deal! Just be cautious with articles about magical foods promising to make you superhuman.

Instead, do the following:

  • Maintain a varied diet. Unless there is a good medical reason for it, don’t focus on only one type of food, however healthy it may be.
  • Research the healthiest sources for the nutrients that you need. For example, get healthy unsaturated fats from fish or olive oil.
  • Consider your environment and how active you are, then adjust your diet accordingly. For example, if you don’t go out in the sun enough, make sure your eating choices help you get more vitamin D.

When the rest of your body is in balance, your immune system will have the resources to do the work it was designed for – keeping you safe.