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Immune Health & Wellness

Q&A with Andy De Santis

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What are some key nutrients that are important for immune function?

The good functioning of the immune system is in many ways a reflection of the good functioning of the human body as a whole, which explains why several different nutrients have been earmarked as important for immune function.

Generally these include Vitamins A, C & D as well as Zinc, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids.

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How can a balanced diet help support immune health?

A balanced diet is absolutely essential to support immune health because appropriately pursuing variety in different foods and food groups is the only way to ensure you get adequate amounts of the nutrients that are most important for the immune system.

Many of the foods that support immune health do so via anti-inflammatory, antioxidant or gut microbiome boosting effects and without the appropriate balance in one’s diet we cannot fully leverage those benefits.

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Are there specific foods that are particularly beneficial for the immune system?

Absolutely, let’s go through a few examples.

Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, trout and mackerel are a great starting point.

These foods are very high in both Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids, the only family of foods to be rich in both of these elusive immune boosting nutrients.

Fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, kefir and probiotic yogurt may also have a role to play since they can boost the gut microbiome – which plays an important role in immune health.

Similarly, foods high in prebiotic fibre such as onions, garlic and asparagus may help support the growth of healthy gut bacteria and provide additional immune health benefits through a variety of other healthy compounds they contain.

Other items with similar benefits include apples, oatmeal, bananas as well as legumes like lentils and chickpeas.

Let’s break this down a bit further.

Oatmeal, asparagus, legumes and fish are also sources of Zinc – another key immune health nutrient.

Finally, there is a good deal of overlap between foods that are high in Vitamin A & Vitamin C – choices rich in both include mango, bell pepper, papaya, broccoli, brussel sprouts and leafy greens like kale, chard and spinach.

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Can a deficiency in certain nutrients weaken the immune system?

True nutrient deficiencies are not necessarily very common occurrences in most people, but iron and Vitamin D deficiency are two that can occur – both of which come with numerous health consequences including a compromised immune system.

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How does diet play a role in supporting overall immune health?

Food can either directly or indirectly influence immune health via antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, gut microbiome or immune cell boosting effects.

Vitamin D interacts directly with the immune system in various ways which is why we often see people with good Vitamin D status tending to have better immune health, and omega-3s of course are potently anti-inflammatory – another relevant consideration given the role of inflammation in most health conditions.

Green tea is another good example because it contains a unique compound known as EGCG that may directly stimulate immune cells, but it also is known to have an anti-inflammatory and gut microbiome boosting effect on the human body – both of which are relevant considerations for immune health.

About 70% of the immune system is located in the human digestive tract, which indicates the important role of our gut bacteria – bringing us to the next way foods can support immune health, by boosting healthy populations of gut bacteria.

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