The link between various diseases and our dietary habits is undeniable. The stress caused by the current events, combined with a struggling economy and other issues, has made many people seek comfort in junk food.
But overindulging in this type of ‘food’ and drink might not just add to our weight, but could potentially put us at greater risk of diseases by damaging our immune system. When we hear the word ‘nutrition,’ what often comes to mind are fancy diets, juice cleanses, and supplements. However, that’s not it.
The Best Defense is a Healthy Immune System
Americans definitely seem concerned with their weight, but one in five Americans consumes almost no vegetables – less than one serving per day. When the focus is on weight-loss products and not daily healthy eating, the basic role that nutrition plays in keeping us well never gets said.
There is a clear, demonstrated association between a balanced diet and a strong, well-regulated immune system. A healthy immune system is our best defense against any type of infection, including the coronavirus. To shield yourself from that, proper nutrition is an absolute must. Good nutrition can reduce the development of chronic disease and lower the weight on the health care system.
Scientists know that people with preexisting health conditions are at greater risk for infections, and that includes those suffering from diabetes, obesity, and kidney, lung, or cardiovascular disease. Most of these illnesses are linked to a dysfunctional immune system.
The Western Diet and Its Impact
The Western diet usually has a massive proportion of red meat, saturated fat, and ‘bliss point foods,’ which are rich in sugar and salt. Proper fruit and vegetable consumption is missing almost completely.
In spite of the massive amounts of calories that usually come with the Western diet, many Americans don’t consume nearly enough of the necessary nutrients our bodies require in order to function properly, including vitamins A, C, and D, as well as the minerals iron and potassium. That causes a defective immune system – too few vitamins and minerals, and too many unhealthy calories.
A healthy immune system responds quickly to curb and prevent infection, but it also immediately ‘turns down the dial’ to stop the damage of the cells of the body. Sugar messes with this balance – a high amount of refined sugar in the diet can lead to chronic, low-grade inflammation besides diabetes and obesity. Basically, it makes the ‘dial’ to never turn off completely.
Although inflammation is a natural part of the immune system reaction, it can be dangerous when it is constantly active. Obesity is characterized by chronic, low-level inflammation and an imbalanced immune response.
How Nutrients Help
Nutrients, necessary substances that help us stay healthy, help maintain the immune system. In comparison to the delayed responses linked with malnutrition, vitamin A fights against numerous infectious conditions, including measles. Together with vitamin D, it balances the immune system and helps avoid its overreaction. Vitamin C, which is an antioxidant, shields us from the damage caused by free radicals.
Polyphenols, a comprehensive group of molecules found in all plants, is also known to have anti-inflammatory properties. There’s enough evidence gathered so far that a diet rich in plant polyphenols can reduce the risk of chronic conditions, such as hypertension, insulin insensitivity, and cardiovascular disease.
Millions of Americans consume food deserts, having very limited access to healthy foods. Under these conditions, education must be mixed with increased access to nutritious products – these long-term aims could result in intense returns with a rather small investment.
In the meantime, all of us can proceed towards gradually improving our own dietary habits. This doesn’t mean we should stop eating cake, french fries, and soda entirely, but we as a society have yet to understand the food that actually makes us feel good and healthy is not junk food.