OK In Health - Nutrition

Fight infection and boost the immune system with a healthy diet - October 2020

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fresh vegetables

Two recent studies support the increasing fruit and vegetable consumption to boost the immune system. In one study, older adults aged 65 to 85 who increased fruit and vegetable consumption to at least five servings a day showed a significantly greater response to a pneumonia vaccine compared to those in a control group.

Participants were free to choose any fruits or vegetables but encouraged to eat a wide variety. This study is the first to show an immunity-enhancing effect from allowing study participants to choose fruits and vegetables. Why immunity was boosted is not clear, but one possible explanation is that they could be augmenting the function of infection-fighters called T cells. 

Another study involving older adults found both a supplement group (those who consumed a low-dose multivitamin) and diet group (those who ate at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily, fish twice a week and nuts at least weekly, and whole grain bread only) reported significantly fewer visits to the doctor or hospital and fewer weeks affected by illness when compared to a group who received a placebo. The number of infections was the same among the groups, but the diet group reported significantly fewer weeks of infections than the other two groups.

A recent 2013 paper reported that overall, only 26% of Canadians met the minimum daily servings of fruits and vegetables for their respective age–sex group recommended by the Canada Food Guide. The current Canada Food Guide recommends 7 to 8 servings for women and 8 to 10 servings for men between the ages of 19 and 50, and 7 servings for both men and women 51 years and older. How can you increase your fruit and vegetable consumption?

  • Plan ahead (pre-slice vegetables and fruits to take to school or work)
  • Eat seasonal produce  (eating fruits and vegetables at their freshest)
  • Add vegetables to your favourite meal (add into salads and with entrees)
  • Go vegetarian at least once a week
  • Make it fun (make a family occasion such as "Monday Night Crudite")
  • Get your children involved (make it a project you can share with them)
  • Journal your intake and monitor it, and try to add just 1 more serving a day for a few months

Another helpful resource is The Mix it up! campaign, a social marketing initiative aimed at helping Canadians of all ages eat more fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle to better their health.  The campaign focuses on simple and practical ways to add a variety of fruits and veggies to every meal and snack. They have a free App that provides useful storage tips, recipes, colour tracking, and a search function based on the 4 digit PLU number.

Source: Health & Nutrition Letter, Tufts University

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