Healthy nutrition for strong immune system "Powerful weapon against stresses, diseases beyond pandemic"
Within the period following the lockdowns and apparent return to the normal after the uneasiness brought about by the pandemic, it is imperative to continue to observe good hygiene practices (personal, hand and environmental).
It is also the utmost responsibility of every person to observe proper dietary practices: eating well – good quality well balanced nutritious and hygienic food to ensure good health and a sustained boosted immune system to overcome exposure to several stresses and diseases, including COVID-19, non-communicable and chronic diseases and other infections.
The immune system acts as the body’s defence against diseases; and is strengthened by consuming natural foods, rich in nutraceuticals and bioactive phytochemicals in significant amounts to equip the body for combatting causative agents for infection and stress.
A balanced diet, containing foods from all food groups, in their required quantities, should be able to boost and sustain the body’s natural immunity.
A rainbow diet, prepared from natural sources that are as colourful as possible, is recommended.
Foods must be rich in protein, vitamins (A, B, C, D, E) and minerals (Zinc, Iron, selenium), antioxidant, probiotics, prebiotics.
The immune system is modulated by adequate amounts of Vitamin D, obtained by exposing the body to the sun (mid-morning) for a maximum of one hour daily. Sunlight is the best and cheapest source of vitamin D.
Dietary sources include fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel; fish liver oils; egg; beef liver and Vitamin D fortified dairy products (milk and milk products), cereal and cereal products, cooking oils and edible mushrooms (wild and cultivated).
Vitamin A supports the immune system to be self- regulating.
Dietary sources include orange and yellow fruits and vegetables like carrots, spinach, chilli and sweet peppers, pumpkin, broccoli, mangoes, pawpaw, guava, tomatoes, red and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.
Vitamin A can also be found in fortified foods labeled “Fortified with Vitamin A,” such as certain oils and fats, milk, or cereals and biofortified crops such as orange-fleshed sweet potato; yellow cassava; orange, yellow and purple maize; and other red and yellow coloured cereals and root and tuber vegetables.
Whole grain cereals, bananas, peanuts and almonds provide good amounts of Vitamin B. Most fruits contain Vitamin C, citrus fruits- orange, lemon, lime, grape fruits; peppers, pineapple, apple and guava.
Antioxidants protect the body from oxidative stresses; and are found in fruits and vegetables, herbs, spices, condiments and fermented foods (yoghurt, fermented soy products like tempeh, fermented cereal products).
Vitamin E (tocopherol) is an antioxidant and obtained from green leafy vegetables, nuts like groundnut and almond, seeds.
Vegetable oils like olive oil, corn oil, soya bean oil, groundnut oil and sunflower oils.
Antioxidants are present in avocado pear, sour sop, African locust bean, soya beans, garlic, onions, celery and fennel, and chickpeas, almonds, peanuts, walnut, olives, oats, banana, radish, unpolished rice, turkey berry (Kwahu nsusua); condiments and seasonings like cloves , hwentia, fom wisa, anise seed, soro wisa, ginger, turmeric, prekese, cardamom, cumin, African nutmeg (wedeaba); herbs like parsley, mint. basil (akokomesa), West African basil (nunum), moringa, bayleaf, rosemary, fennel, oregano, marjoram, thyme, mint and sage.
Meat, vegetables, salads, stews soups, sauces, roasts and grills could be seasoned with a careful mix of these condiments and herbs to promote their intake and derive maximum benefit sustaining a strong immune system.
• Some immunity boosting foods
Dark red food commodities and green leafy vegetables are potent immune system boosters. Sobolo, a herbal infusion prepared from leaves of Roselle; dried sorghum leaves, normally used to cook waakye; beetroots, grapes and other red coloured fruits, and red fleshed cocoyam; lettuce, cabbage, Brussel sprout, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, spinach, kontomire, gboma, bokorbokor, alfalfa, aleefu, moringa, and others.
Zinc and selenium boost the immune system and ready it to combat diseases.
Food sources for zinc include milk and milk products, meats, seafood like fish, shrimps etc; legumes like cowpea, Bambara beans, yam beans.
Winged bean, French beans and stringed beans etc; seeds, and nuts like groundnut, almond, cashew nut.
Selenium is found in meats, fish, eggs, wholegrain cereals, nuts.
Therefore, a careful selection of foods from all the food groups that are locally available, cooked carefully with reasonable amounts of herbs and condiments ensures a bolstered immune system.
Employing culinary herbs and condiments in amounts consumed in stews, curries, soups and sauces is recommended for supporting a balanced immune system.
The immune system is not built/ boosted in a “touch-and-go” manner nor in single dose concoction remedy, but through carefully choosing food sources to allow food to be the best medicine to boost the immune system.
Balanced diets can be obtained from our locally available staples and a careful selection and blend will enable the body to boost itself in readiness to combat any form of infection and stress.
The writer is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Applied Sciences and Technology, Kumasi Technical University/Deputy Director, Institute of Research Innovation and Development.