What is the link between antioxidants and immune function?
Free radicals are molecules that are produced by our body’s cells during everyday activities such as breathing, digesting, growing and repairing. Some types of free radicals can be very damaging to our cells, especially when they rob our cells of oxygen in order for them to function. This type of damage to the cells caused by free radicals is known as “oxidative damage” or “oxidative stress”.
Although free radicals are a normal by-product of cellular activity and it’s impossible to avoid oxidative stress altogether, oxidative stress can be exacerbated by environmental factors such as air pollution, smoking, radiation exposure, alcohol consumption and high sugar/ high fat diets. When oxidative damage goes unchecked, it leads to increased inflammation in the body, higher risk of disease and accelerated ageing.
Luckily for us, the body has natural mechanisms for counteracting free radicals in order to limit oxidative damage. Anti-oxidants are chemical compounds found in plant foods which neutralize the negative effects of free radicals and therefore combat oxidative damage in our cells. Many well-known nutrients such as Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Vitamin E are some of the strongest anti-oxidants in nature. Eating a diet rich in anti-oxidants and avoiding oxidative stress caused by environmental factors helps to keep oxidative damage in-check and keep the immune system healthy.
Just like all cells in the body, the cells of the immune system rely on antioxidants to keep them healthy and to protect them from free radical damage. Immune cells tend to contain high amounts of antioxidant vitamins due to their unique structure and therefore a lack of these nutrients could have a negative impact on the functioning of the immune system. It is clear that eating a diet high in antioxidants can have a profound impact on our immune system and our ability to fight diseases.
General nutrition tips for immunity and antioxidant intake:
Eat your fruits and vegetables
Aim for at least 7 servings per day of fruits and veg. One serving is about 1 tennis ball sized fruit or 1 cup of raw vegetables. An easy rule of thumb is to make sure that half of your plate at each meal is filled with fruit and/or vegetables (the more colourful your plate, the better) and to snack on fruit or vegetable sticks at least once per day.
For breakfast: Try having a smoothie filled with fruits, protein, some healthy fats and add a handful or two of greens to get some of those veg in for the day. If you’re having oats, cereal or porridge, try adding some berries, banana or goji berries in. This will also add a natural sweetness and allow you to avoid adding sugar or syrup. If you’re a fan of toast in the morning, try adding some tomato, cucumber, rocket or sprouts as part of your toast toppings.
For lunch: Try having a big salad along with a good source of protein and whole-grain starch. If you don’t have time to make a salad, just slice up a tomato or cucumber or grab a carrot to eat on the side. Keep bags of shredded cabbage, baby spinach, rocket, sprouts, etc. in your fridge. You can then just add a handful of any of these into your lunch meal or as a topping on a sandwich or crackers.
For snacks: Make sure to keep plenty of fresh fruit around for snacking on during the day. Not only will this add plenty of antioxidants to your diet, but it will also help to keep sugar cravings at bay by adding some natural sugar to your day. Try cutting up some carrots, cucumber, peppers, celery, sugar snaps, cherry tomatoes and baby corn to snack on. These are great dipped into a healthy dip such as hummus, smashed avo or peanut butter.
For dinner: Make sure to add plenty of vegetables to whatever you are cooking. Making a curry? Add in pumpkin, cauliflower, spinach and onions. Making a pasta? Pop in some mushrooms, peppers, onions, tomatoes or spinach. Making a bolognaise? Fill it with celery, onion, carrot, green pepper, tomatoes and mushrooms. Keeping your veg interesting, flavourful and varied will help to ensure that the whole family enjoys their veg more. Instead of having a green salad every night, vary your salad bases between lettuce, cabbage, baby spinach or a simple chopped Israeli-style salad. Instead of having plain steamed vegetables, try varying with roasted veg, stir fried veg, veg bakes, etc. and varying the flavours of these with different herbs, spices and sauces.
Sip on antioxidant rich beverages
When people think of antioxidants in the diet, they rarely take into account the role of beverages in contributing to antioxidant intake but beverages can make a significant impact on dietary antioxidant intake. Rooibos tea is a South African staple and has a high antioxidant content.
One way to quantify the antioxidants in food is something called the ORAC value. An ORAC value expresses the ability of a food to fight free radicals in the body. The ORAC value of Rooibos tea is 6, Green tea is 11 and red espresso® Rooibos has an ORAC value of 59. red espresso® offers a range of Rooibos products from the classic red cappuccino®, to red espresso® ground Rooibos tea and Rooibos pods compatible with Nespresso machines.
Red Espresso (Pty) Ltd. is not affiliated with, endorsed or sponsored by Nespresso.
The red espresso® Rooibos has been found to have 10 times the antioxidant content of normal Rooibos due to its unique production methods and style of preparation which allows for more antioxidants to enter the brew. Sipping on antioxidant-rich beverages is also a nutritious and tasty way to stay hydrated during winter-time, especially if you are not a big fan of plain water.
Add herbs and spices to your diet
Did you know that herbs and spices are rich sources of antioxidants?
Adding herbs and spices to your food is an easy and tasty way to up the antioxidant content of your diet and to protect the fats in your food from being damaged by oxidation. Some of the richest antioxidant spices and herbs include turmeric, onion, garlic, parsley, mustard, chili, black pepper, basil, oregano, ginger, coriander and cinnamon. Try adding turmeric to your cooked grains for a beautiful yellow colour or sip on a red espresso® turmeric latte. Use onion and garlic as a base for curries and stews. Add cinnamon into your smoothies and oats at breakfast. Flavour your pastas, curries and stews with oregano, pepper, basil and coriander. Add some ground pepper or mustard to your next sandwich or bagel.
Consider a Vitamin D supplement: Vitamin D plays an extremely important role in immune function. Vitamin D intake is largely from sunshine and since so many people are staying indoors at the moment and we are moving into Winter, a lot of people will not get enough Vitamin D from sunshine alone. A new study suggests that supplementing 800IU-2000IU of Vitamin D per day may help to enhance resistance to COVID-19 and improve outcomes in those who contract it. It is specifically recommended that those who are elderly, at high-risk of COVID-19 infection, or who have low Vitamin D levels, take Vitamin D supplements during this time.
Disclaimer: The information on this blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.
Written by Jessica Kotlowitz, Registered Dietitian as a paid partnership with red espresso®
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We teamed up with fellow health practitioners Jessica Kotlowitz a.k.a The Green Dietician and Joanne Reid from Yoga Yard to bring you this article. Jessica offers us her professional advice as a registered dietician and shares some of her favourite recipes that are quick and easy to make at home with simple ingredients. Joanne is a qualified Power and Vinyasa yoga instructor and shares with us her 30 minute Immunity Boosting yoga routine that complements a nutritional lifestyle and can easily be done at home. The routine is suitable for all levels of yoga from Beginners to Advanced. Enjoy!