Understandably in these unprecedented times, interest in nutrition and diet in relation to immunity has increased, but misconceptions and confusion are common. People often seek for supplements and special foods that are believed to “boost” immunity. While it’s true that nutrition plays a vital role in immune response, it’s important to understand that the design of our immune system is incredibly complex and influenced by many other factors including age, sleep, stress level and other medical conditions. Therefore, no single specific food or product can “boost” our immune system, despite the claims on some labels.
Good dietary patterns and habits on the other hand are able to support a healthy immune system. A balanced diet as depicted by the Malaysia Food Pyramid 2020 and Malaysia Healthy Plate which consists of a variety of food groups can provide us with nutrients that are needed to maintain a functional immune system.
Examples of key nutrients identified as critical for the growth and function of immune cells:
The amino acids found in protein form the building blocks of all the body cells, including the cells that operate our immune system. Aim to consume a variety of protein foods from eggs, poultry, lean meats, seafood, soy products and legumes throughout the day to meet daily protein needs.
Vitamin C helps white blood cells function more effectively and acts as a potent antioxidant. Sources include guavas, bell peppers, kiwi, broccoli, oranges and papaya.
Vitamin A helps protect against infections by keeping the mucous barriers in your eyes, mouth, gut and lungs healthy. Sources include orange, yellow and red fruits and vegetables like carrots, mangos, and bell peppers.
Vitamin E, also an important antioxidant, is known to effectively modulate immune function. Sources include vegetable oils (sunflower oils), nuts and seeds (almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds).
Vitamin D has antimicrobial properties that increase the body’s defence against pathogens. Sources include sunlight, fatty fish (salmon, tuna) and fortified dairy. Above nutrients are easily obtained by consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole
Above nutrients are easily obtained by consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, tubers as well as lean and plant protein in the recommended serving sizes. It’s advised to obtain the nutrients from food instead of supplements as foods confer more health benefits. However, supplements may be needed for certain populations such as pregnant and lactating women, elderly and the critically ill who may have increased nutrient needs. Please consult a dietitian for an individualized diet plan tailored to your health goals.
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