Ιt’s a fact, we live in the age of nutrition. In recent years we’ve started to realize how important nutrition is in having a healthy life. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 60% of an individuals health and quality of life come down to their lifestyle behaviors.
Poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, overuse of alcohol, poor diet, lack of sleep and physical activity, as well as chronic stress, are key contributors in the development and progression of preventable chronic diseases.
These diseases include obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease, dementia, cancer and immune system dysfunctionality, with the last playing an important role in a balanced and healthy life.
There is a definite relationship between the food we eat and immunity. That’s why we’ll cover tips on creating the best nutritional plan for you. Step by step, giving you the opportunity to make better nutritional choices, for a better quality of life.
So, let thy food be your medicine. Let’s start following the next steps!
Step 1 - Control
Maybe we are not what we eat but we can definitely eat based on what we are.
That’s why you must follow these three basic health indicators.
- Insulin Levels:
When our bodies are given excess amounts of refined carbohydrate, stripped of its natural fiber, then our cells cannot process the excess glucose as energy, and stores it as fat. Insulin is the fat storage hormone, which is released in response to glucose when it becomes elevated.
Insulin can become chronically elevated, because of the overconsumption of ultra-processed, refined starches and sugars. Which results in insulin resistance that is the cause of multiple health problems, such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, inflammatory conditions, dementia and some cancers.
According to studies, normal blood insulin levels are below 5mcU/ml. If your level is above 5mcU/ml, then you should lower it by making the right diet. In this case you should be limiting carbohydrate intake, in particular, processed foods, sugars and refined white starches, and be increasing healthy fat intake, from olive and omega 3 oils.
- Waist size:
A good indicator of the amount of the fat you’re carrying could be the size of your waist. It can also determine your intra-abdominal fat mass – this is the dangerous type of fat that surrounds your internal organs.
- Men with around 94 cm waist are considered overweight and if higher, obese.
- Women with around 80 cm waist are considered overweight and if higher, obese.
In overall populations, the prevalence of overweight people was 64.9% for men and 47.7% for women. While the prevalence of obesity was 18.6% for men and 18.1% for women.
- Cholesterol Ratio:
As we know, high levels of cholesterol in the blood can cause a lot of health problems. In order to achieve the reduction of your cholesterol levels naturally, you need to understand the level and the type of cholesterol you have. Here are the different types:
- Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL): LDL is a combination of protein and fat. These fats need to attach to proteins so they can easily move through your blood.
- Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL): are particles produced by your liver and are released into your bloodstream so that it can carry triglycerides (another fat type) to your tissues.
Both LDL and VLDL are referred to as the "bad" kinds of cholesterol.
- High Density Cholesterol (HDL): Stands for high-density lipoproteins, and like LDL, it is a combination of fat—or lipid and protein. HDL cholesterol is known as the "good" cholesterol because it helps remove other forms of cholesterol (LDL) from your bloodstream. It’s found in all of your cells and has several useful functions, including helping to build your body's cells.
In order to have a healthy body we need to eliminate LDL, increase HDL cholesterol levels and also eliminate triglycerides. A good range for your total cholesterol will typically be less than 200mg/dL, with 200–239 mg/dL being the borderline.
After the three basic health indicators you could additionally check your fasting blood sugar level (ideal level below 79 mg/dl) and your iron level (ideal check your ferritin levels and make sure they are between 40 and 60 ng/ml).
Step 2 – Do's and Don'ts… in our diet
After the control step it’s now the time to see what we can eat, what foods we should put in our diet and what foods we should avoid for a healthy and beautiful life.
Omega -3 fatty acids: The nutritional information regarding the effects of omega 3 specifically, on the immune system is controversial. However, evidence from animal and human studies has revealed their ability to reduce the production of the main inflammatory mediators TNF-a, IL-1b and IL-6, and increase the phagocytic activity of neutrophils and monocytes, in a dose dependent manner. Omega 3 is considered a healthy fat and because the body cannot produce them on its own, they need to be taken from external sources, thus, through your nutrition plan.
Foods rich in omega 3:
- Grass-fed meat
- Fatty fish (salmon, halibut)
- Chia seeds
- Raw cacao butter
- Coconut oil
Proteins: are the primary building blocks of your muscles, bones, enzymes and many hormones. It’s also well known that immune response can be modified by both the quantity and the quality of the dietary protein. The protein source (animal or vegetal) is relevant in gut health regarding the type of metabolites produced after amino acid catabolism.
You likely need about one and a half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass.
Food rich in proteins:
- Red meat pork, poultry
- Seeds and nuts
Micronutrients: The intake of micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, has been related to beneficial effects on the immune system. Several studies have revealed the immunomodulatory effects of some vitamins such as E, C, A, B6, B12, folic acid and minerals such as iron, copper, selenium and zinc. Additionally, their role in the protection against free radicals leads to a reduction in the susceptibility to infections. Importantly, anecdotal data show that consumption of vitamin and mineral supplementations can reduce the morbidity and mortality.
Food rich in micronutrients:
- Nuts and Seeds
- Leafy vegetables
- Red meat, poultry
- Egg yolks
- Plant oils
Probiotics: Probiotics are live microorganisms that mainly live in our gut, that when administered in adequate amounts, confer health benefits to the host. A large part of our immune system falls in our gut.
Food rich in probiotics:
- Garlic, onion
- Barley, oats
- Sauerkraut and kimchi
Prebiotics: A prebiotic is a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms. The fiber is used as a prebiotic for your beneficial bacteria, where most of it is converted to short chain fats that can be used as fuel for your cells in place of sugar.
Saturated Fats: Saturated fat raises your LDL more than anything else you could eat and as we mentioned above, is responsible for insulin resistance.
Food rich in saturated fats:
- Some meats
- Ultra processed food such as packaged snacks, industrialized sweets, sodas and sweetened drinks. Meatballs and nuggets, preserved meat products, instant noodles and soups, frozen or shelf-stable ready meals, mass produced breads, and other foods made mostly from sugar, oils and fats.
Trans Fats: can actually raise your LDL while also lowering your HDL—which makes them doubly dangerous. They also interfere with your insulin receptors and put you at risk of chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Trans fat is mostly found in foods that are made with hydrogenated oils and fats.
Food rich in trans fats:
- french fries
- some types of crackers
Carbs: Most people are burning carbs as their primary fuel. The problem with this is that carbs do not burn as cleanly as fat and produce 30 to 40 percent more free radicals than fat. These free radicals damage important cellular structures, such as your mitochondrial DNA and cell membranes. The quantity of carbs we should eat daily depends on our insulin level. If we have a high insulin level we should attenuate or completely eliminate carbohydrates.
Food rich in carbs:
- Bread and grain
- Gluten-free baked good
- Sweetened yogurt
- Beans and legumes
Step 3 – Organization
We now know the basic stuff of the nutrition categories, the food that we must have in our diet and the others that we must limit or eliminate. Another important point to mention is the quantity and the frequency of the meals. Eating patterns such as skipping meals or eating too fast are associated with an increased risk of obesity. When and how much is also part of a nutritional plan and helps it become balanced and efficient.
Different approaches exist. For example, eating small quantities of food every 3 or 4 hours means at least 5 meals per day! Another way is to fast intermittently. Having all of your meals inside a range of 6 or 8 hours while avoiding eating anything before and after these hours. Every approach gives different benefits and challenges. Find the one that best fits your needs and your schedule!
It is not enough to eat just healthily; you must do it the right way. So, find your way!
Step 4 – Combination
Nutrition is the big step for change but it’s not the only one. That’s why you need the combination of physical activity and other healthy habits to reach your point.
Physical activity: cardiovascular exercise and strength training is optimal. Even simply walking is recommended for cardiovascular health, preserving strength and balance, and for preventing cognitive decline.
Stress reduction: having human connections, taking time to be out in nature, relaxing in a hot bath or meditating has numerous mental and physical benefits.
Sleep: aiming for 8 h a night, to ensure enough time for repair mechanisms to act, to aid decrease the stress response and inflammation, as well as helping in bettering your immune system.
And don’t forget to drink water! That is a common mistake in the fast paced society we are living in. It is important though to stay hydrated as the 70% of your cells and the 50%-65% of your body weight is water.
Step 5 – Listen to yourself
To follow a nutrition plan and change your daily routine you need first to love yourself and listen to your body. Your path to a healthier life is unique. Understanding yourself and identifying the best way for you to eat will help you to make healthier choices and build a strong body.
The truth is that there is no set plan. So, make a start and off you go!
Abe, M., & Abe, H. (2019). Lifestyle medicine – An evidence based approach to nutrition, sleep, physical activity, and stress management on health and chronic illness. Personalized Medicine Universe
Noemi Redondo, Esther Nova, Sonia Gomez-Martı´nez, Ligia E Dı´az-Prieto, and Ascensio´n Marcos, -Diet, Nutrition and the Immune System -,Institute of Food Science,Technology and Nutrition (ICTAN)-CSIC, Madrid, Spain
Pedersen, B. K., Bruunsgaard, H., Jensen, M., Toft, A. D., Hansen, H., & Ostrowski, K. (1999). Exercise and the immune system - influence of nutrition and ageing. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport
Tolonen, H., Koponen, P., Mindell, J. S., Mannisto, S., Giampaoli, S., … Dias, C. M. (2014). Under-estimation of obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol by self-reported data: comparison of self-reported information and objective measures from health examination surveys