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How to eat a balanced meal for your immune system

Immune system is our body’s first line of defence against germs like bacteria, viruses, fungi or toxins. There are two main parts of immune system:

  1. Innate immunity: We are born with it. It is not specific. 
  2. Acquired immunity: Immunity that our body develops as we are exposed to different germs. 

In an optimal condition, different cells, systems and organs work together to respond to threats in a well-regulated manner. 

  • white blood cells
  • antibodies
  • complement system
  • lymphatic system
  • spleen
  • bone marrow
  • thymus

When it comes to immunity, there is a common misconception that eating a particular food can specifically “boost” our immune system. There is no single food that explicitly targets our immune system. The immune system is a complex system that needs support from various nutrients like vitamins, minerals, protein etc. So instead of thinking about which particular food to eat, focus on these nutrition principles that support our optimal health, in turn, maintain the function of our immune system. 

Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables

High intake of fruits and vegetables is one of the easiest way to supply variety of nutrients like 

  • beta carotene/vitamin A: helps support T-cells
  • vitamin C: acts as antioxidant, helps to maintain the skin health
  • vitamin E: supports a healthy inflammatory response, important component of all cell membranes
  • fibre: acts as food for “good bacteria” in our digestive tract, which plays an important role in promoting immune health

Tips to increase fruits and vegetables intake:

  1. Always fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables. It is recommended to eat at least 2 servings of fruits and 3 servings of vegetables every day.

  2. Always choose at least two different vegetables/fruits to increase the variety
  3. Eat 5 different colours of fruits and vegetables every day for the nutrients variety. 
  4. Vitamins C and B that are crucial for immune function are heat-sensitive vitamins. Use cooking methods like microwaving, steaming, pressure-cooking and sautéing can retain these nutrients
  5. Always store some cut vegetables/fruits in the fridge as an easy snack option. 

Get an adequate amount of protein (immune cells, antibodies, zinc, selenium)

High quality protein sources like egg, poultry, meat and fish contain essential amino acids that are crucial material for immune cells and antibodies production. Food high in protein usually provides minerals like selenium and zinc, which helps produce new immune cells and facilitate the communication between immune cells.

Tips to consume adequate amount of protein:

  1. Always fill a quarter of your plate with protein food (egg, poultry, fish, meat, tofu)
  2. Choose mainly lean protein food to reduce saturated fat intake
  3. Switch it up by having plant-based protein (legumes, tofu, nuts & seeds) as the main source of protein in a meal at least 3 times a week. 

Get whole grains

Wholegrain food is a great source of nutrients like folate, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and protein, which play an important role in immune function. The fiber in wholegrain food also acts as food for the good bacteria in our digestive tract.

Tips to consume an adequate amount of whole grains.

  1. Try to get a ¼ plate of whole grains at least once a day.
  2. Replace half of your carb with wholegrain products like wholemeal bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice, 
  3. Most whole grains take longer to cook, so cook extra to save time later. You can always store extra whole grains in your fridge. 
  4. Whenever you are getting wholegrain products in the grocery store, look for words like whole wheat,whole grain, wholemeal, oats, oatmeal and bran in the ingredient list

Get enough water

Water is one of the most important factors that aid the transportation of nutrients to every part of our body through blood stream, as blood stream is made up of mostly water. It also supports well-functioning of the lymphatic system, which removes the toxins and waste in the system. It is recommended to consume 6 to 8 cups or glasses of fluid a day, including tea and coffee. Allswell™ Immunity Drink could be a good option. Other than electrolytes like sodium, vitamin C and zinc, it contains Wellmune® Yeast Beta Glucan that supports the immune system and protects against negative effects from stress.

Please bear in mind that changing your eating habits won’t make you “sick-less. The purpose of adopting healthy eating habits is to strengthen your immune system and reduce your recovery period. There is no quick fix in this journey to a stronger immune system. Focus on getting a balanced meal that contains a variety of food is the long term solution.

Zhi Ling Lee 
Nutritionist, Master of Science (Community Nutrition)