These past few weeks have been great for gym goers and the active community as many of the restrictions that were in place for the COVID-19 crisis have been lifted.
In the case that you should unknowingly come in contact with unwanted bacteria or a virus, you want your immune system to be as efficient as it can as a first line of defense. Working out is great for the immune system and serves as a protective factor against viruses and unwanted bacteria, but to maximize your defenses, you will need to fine tune your diet — especially if you are at higher risk!
The Tech University of Munich summarized one of their studies best in stating: “Viruses specifically attach themselves to sugar structures of the host cells or present characteristic sugar structures on their surface themselves.”
If the answer wasn’t obvious enough, we need to minimize our sugar intake for many different reasons besides the fear of gaining fat. An article from the University of Copenhagen states that “80% of bacteria and viruses, including microorganisms from pneumonia and the flu, seek out the sugars on the surface of our cells.” Sugar is a nesting ground for diseases and viruses and also is one of the main drivers of obesity in our culture, which is another risk factor for becoming susceptible to chronic sickness.
So, what do you eat to protect yourself? I learned early on when I worked as a health coach in the corporate wellness field doing health screenings that most risk factors come about from people not eating enough fruits and veggies. My recommendation is four to six servings of fruits and veggies per day.
I could watch my clients lose weight, decrease blood pressure, decrease cholesterol and decrease blood sugar A1C numbers in a few months time by simply making that change to their diet coupled with decreasing sugar and increasing exercise. Sounds like a lot, huh? To be honest, you can get these servings in about three meals if done correctly. A couple of fruits in the mornings, a salad containing up to two servings at lunch and some cooked veggies at dinner may be a good start.
Choosing fats and carbohydrates that are high in soluble fiber — things like fruits, veggies, beans and nuts — is also great for the immune system as it changes the influence immune cells have on your body from pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory. As most of us know, too much inflammation can be a breeding ground for viruses, diseases and infections. Some foods that are predominately carbohydrates that include high amounts of soluble fiber include black beans, lima beans, sweet potatoes, oats and most fruits and vegetables.
Recent studies are showing that ingesting fatty acids coming from unsaturated fats, often found in plant-based sources, stimulates the production of T cells. If you haven’t heard of T cells, it stands for “T lymphocytes,” which are white blood cells responsible for directly eliminating cells that have been infected with bacteria, viruses or parasites. To put it simply, it’s your body’s homeland security system! Fats that are less saturated include fish oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, olive and canola oils, and should make up around 10% of your diet.
Staying active is a huge piece of being healthy, but looking at the frequency of how often you workout versus how often you eat, it’s obvious that nutrition is a persistent discipline that must be practiced. As we venture back out into the world to continue working, socializing and congregating at the fitness center, there is no better time to practice eating right for your immune system than now.
Nate Wilson is a certified personal trainer through NASM and is the owner of Elite Fitness LLC. He is certified for Fitness Nutrition and is a Behavior Change Specialist. Contact Nate at 640-0668 or Natewilson0223@gmail.com.