Nutrition: Eating to boost the immune system -  part 1

Friday 04 May 2018

The immune system is very complex elaborate interactive system of cells, chemicals and tissues distributed throughout the body so much so that consultants become immunologist specialising only in the immune system. I do not pretend to be anywhere in there league but can recommend how to try and boost it through the food that we choose and how to keep it functioning well as we can.

Challenges to the immune system

Today there seems to be a barrage of challenges that affect the way immune system  functions, things like stress, poor diet, environmental pollution, alcohol and medical intervention to name a few. Some of these we can control some we cannot, having said that, although our immune system is constantly challenged it works extremely hard to protect us by adapting to our circumstances..

Among the most important components of the immune system are white blood cells such as lymphocytes, chemicals such as cytokines, antibodies, the system and tissues such as lymph nodes. These form the sharp end of the immune system so to speak. These are the tools that the body uses to destroy and eliminate harmful antigens such as bacteria, viruses and tumour cells.

The immune response is a fundamental physical process of healing.
It is accepted that causes of cancer are many and sometimes a complete mystery as to why it develops. What we do know is that the immune system can be adversely  affected by the disease and that anything that we can do ourselves, to make it stronger has got to be positive. Through research it is well recognised that some foods will help to boost immunity and help us fight disease. This theory is well established and accepted by people working in the field of nutrition including the,

The world Cancer Research Fund  (WCRF) who have painstakingly reviewed thousands of studies investigating the link between diet and health and cancer.

Fruit and veg

One of the most fundamental findings is the very positive role of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Our Government recommends 5 portions a day but the WRCF recommend as much as 10 This sounds a lot but not too difficult with a bit of planning. The reason for these recommendations are simply because fruits and vegetables are abundantly rich in vitamins, minerals, which include antioxidants, and phytochemicals (phyto meaning plant) sometimes referred to as phytonutrients.

Some fruits and vegetables have been elevated because they have been shown to have a bigger impact on supporting the immune system.   We will look at some of these through recipes.

Before we do this I want to make my philosophy clear. I believe in a good mixed diet which includes regular use some of these powerful fruits and vegetables,  Just knowing that if they are included regularly they are going to be of great benefit but in a sensible balanced way.

Now I do know that to have your 10 a day is ideal and when you have cancer I know there will be times when this is not workable. Days when it just does not happen but always remember that is fine. Just noting that on days when it is achievable that you try and go for it.

Here are a few ways that we can up our intake of fruits and vegetable.

  • Large imaginative salads, using a wide variety of colour. i.e. your basic lettuce cucumber and tomato with perhaps some beetroot or slices of mixed peppers, grated carrots, sweetcorn, red onion, radish, rocket etc. Dress these with a seed oil or nut oil dressing like walnut oil or pumpkin seed oil etc.
  • Soups, fresh homemade is best but ‘fresh shop bought are fine but I would avoid the creamy ones and go for the vegetable based ones or lentil, bean types.
  • Juices of course, if you are into these, using a mixture of fruit and veg. e.g celery, apple and broccoli is delicious
  • Stir fries so quick and easy, using olive oil and a tablespoon of water when cooking. The water prevents the oil getting too hot and becoming damaged. The addition of the water creates a sort of steam fry.
  • Oven baked again using olive oil, here you could perhaps use the more unusual vegetables like aubergine, butternut squash, courgettes and some red onion.
  • Stews and casseroles when the season is right.
  • Steamed medleys again using a wide variety of colour like cauliflower, broccoli and carrots in the same steamer, so easy and less washing up.
  • Frozen vegetables are a good standby as they are usually harvested and frozen within hours of picking. This means that the vitamins have been preserved quickly. Canned vegetables should be avoided as the canning process actually destroys the vitamins. Having said that canned tomatoes are the exception and not forgetting the good old baked bean but try and buy a low sugar variety

It is worth remembering here that fruits and vegetables are very high in potassium which is alkaline forming and links nicely with last week’s blog.

Baked Brown Rice with Mushrooms (serves 4)

I have chosen this for the shiitaki mushrooms which I will blog about more next week along with some other foods that have been elevated for their immune boosting qualities.
It is quick to prepare, cooks itself and easy for the family. Other seasonal vegetables could be added to make more of the vegetables in season. Serve with a large green salad and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

15g pack of dried shiitake mushrooms.
1 onion finely diced.
2 tbsp of olive oil
4 cloves garlic peeled and crushed. (sometimes I use a tsp of lazy garlic!!!!)
500g/1ib 2oz chestnut mushrooms sliced.
350g/12oz short grain brown rice.
150mls/ ¼ pt vegetable stock  (could use red wine)
Freshly chopped parsley and some grated parmesan cheese (optional).

  1. Preheat oven 150’C/gas 3. Put a large casserole dish in the oven to warm up.
  2. Put dried mushrooms in a bowl and add 1pt of boiling water, put to one side.
  3. In a large pan fry the onion in the oil till soft, stir in the garlic and chestnut mushrooms and cook uncovered until the mushrooms are soft. This will take about 10min.
  4. Stir in the rice, pour in the stock and heat until the liquid is bubbling and almost disappeared.
  5. Add the dried mushrooms  and the water they were soaking in plus another  1 ¼ pts water. Season well. Transfer to the warmed casserole in the oven
  6. Bake for 1hour, give a stir from time to time.

Stir in a good handful of chopped parsley and serve topping with cheese if you want to.


Blog originally written by Caroline July 2012

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