Why good nutrition and a strong immune system are important for Diabetics
It is often said that a balanced diet and one’s health go hand in hand. In this article we look at the link between good nutrition and a strong immune system, specifically whether nutrition has a role in helping Diabetics ward off viral infections.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is the body’s defence against disease and infection. It recognises bacteria and viruses and takes action to protect us. There are two types of immunity, innate and adaptive.
Innate immunity is the body’s first line of defence against disease-causing agents. These are barriers, such as your skin or stomach acid, which keep out pathogens.
Adaptive Immunity is a system which recognises pathogens, creates antibodies and then attacks and destroys them. It then remembers these alien substances, so that the next time the same pathogen enters the body, it can be dealt with more efficiently.
How does nutrition affect the immune system?
Good nutrition is an important factor in supporting your immune system when it might need to fight back (WHO, 2020). Getting enough nutrients from a balanced diet is essential for the health and function of all the cells in your body, including immune cells. The immune system is supported by classic essential nutrients and can be depressed by a poor diet. A poor diet can impair the production and function of immune cells and antibodies (Percival, 2011).
Additionally, it’s important to note that while dietary factors are an important part of proper immune function, they are not the only factor. Other lifestyle factors such as getting enough sleep, maintaining low stress levels and exercise also help ward off infection and disease (The Nutrition Source, 2020).
What nutrients does the immune system need?
Because everyone is different, the recommended daily guidelines for each person vary, sometimes significantly. For example, people living in tropical climates will have a higher need for hydrating foods, such as watermelon and cucumber. People living in cold climates, near the earth’s poles, would have a need for food higher in good fats and carbohydrates as their bodies tend to burn a lot more energy in regulating temperature.
Every country observes a set of recommended daily guidelines for adults and children, which inform the nutritional tables on food packaging. Examples of beneficial nutrients include vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc, selenium, iron, and protein.
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Which foods support the immune system?
A healthy balanced diet with fruit, vegetables, whole grains and protein is important. Processed foods, and those high in refined sugars should be avoided, especially by Diabetics.
Healthy foods include citrus for vitamin c, and vegetables such as broccoli, red bell peppers, garlic, ginger and spinach. White meat such as chicken and shellfish also contain essential nutrients for strengthening the immune system (Healthline, 2020). It is important to note that while these foods are healthy, you must still control your serving sizes as excessive eating is never good even if it’s healthy foods.
What does this mean for Diabetics?
Eating healthily helps everyone, including Diabetics, strengthen the immune system, maintain healthy body weight and blood pressure and prevent or slow down the development of Diabetes complications. A healthy balanced diet has the same benefits for everyone, Diabetic or not. This means that you can adopt a diet that boosts the immune system for the entire family, it does not have to be a Diabetes specific diet (BetterHealth, 2020).
BetterHealth. 2020. Diabetes And Healthy Eating. [online] Available at: <https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/ConditionsAndTreatments/diabetes-and-healthy-eating> [Accessed 24 June 2020].
Healthline. 2020. What To Eat And Drink To Boost Your Immune System. [online] Available at: <https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/foods-that-boost-the-immune-system> [Accessed 24 June 2020].
Percival, S., 2011. Nutrition and Immunity. Nutrition Today, 46(1), pp.12-17.
The Nutrition Source. 2020. Nutrition And Immunity. [online] Available at: <https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nutrition-and-immunity/> [Accessed 24 June 2020].
World Health Organization (2020) WHO launches new global influenza strategy [Online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/11-03-2019-who-launches-new-global-influenza-strategy [Accessed 24 June 2020]
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