How Eating Plant-Based Foods May Boost Immunity


You hear all sorts of health benefits of plant-based diets but new research suggests that, in some situations, the types of foods you eat may have more of an impact than whether you stick to an egg or a meat patty. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate a variety of plant-based foods, not just meat, experienced better immune function than those who stuck with a mostly plant-based diet.

Researchers had 73 adults between the ages of 30 and 65 follow a plant-based diet either vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous. Researchers gave the participants food intake measurements, such as fat, protein, carbohydrate, and fiber intake, and completed questionnaires on what foods the participants ate. Then, researchers measured the participants’ levels of immune system cytokines, which help to clear viruses and bacteria from the body. Researchers found that people who ate a variety of plant-based foods—including more of the sources of fiber—had less cytokine-related reductions in their levels of inflammation.

It’s worth noting that the study only included adults in their mid-30s. For people with compromised immune systems—for example, people with chronic diseases like asthma or heart disease—the study’s findings may not apply to their diet. Also, the study focused on cytokine levels in the participants’ blood; researchers did not track any foods eaten.

Using fiber as an example, Freedhoff says that the fact that people with the best health and immune function also tended to eat a lot of fiber shows that it’s possible to take steps to get the health benefits without restricting your diet too much.

Freedhoff adds that the results of the study align with his nutritional recommendations. He recommends people eat at least 30 grams of fiber each day. While that may seem like a lot, eating some types of fiber will make a significant difference, says Freedhoff. For example, two medium sized apples will provide about 18 grams of fiber. One cup of cooked brown rice or quinoa will provide about 15 grams of fiber. Eating more than 30 grams of fiber per day will help to “deliver a steady stream of nutrients to the body and protect against disease-causing inflammation,” Freedhoff says.

Another study says : vegetarian Foods May Boost Immunity and Lower Depression

Vegans and vegetarians have long been hailed as offering us a new kind of health, one rich in antioxidants and nutrients, along with detoxifying foods and a variety of immune-boosting and weight-loss perks. According to a recent small-scale study published in the journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine , there may be more to the vegetarian diet than meets the eye.

The study tracked 51 healthy people for nine weeks—five of whom were vegan and the other 47 omnivores. The researchers assessed their mood, anxiety, and inflammation with an actigraph, including subjective and objective measurements, as well as blood samples taken before, during, and after the study.

The study revealed that the vegans—defined by their diet excluding meat, fish, and poultry—had significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression. They also had higher circulating levels of immune-stimulating proteins called cytokines. Though the omnivores showed similar levels of inflammation, they did not have the same mental health benefits.

While the results of the study may be a bit controversial, the results are certainly interesting. It’s possible that the vegan diet has anti-inflammatory properties that also support mental health—there’s also the possibility that these anti-inflammatory proteins act as stress hormones, leading to a calming effect.

One thing’s for certain, though: “If you’ve been looking for the silver bullet for your seasonal depression symptoms, this study may be it,” Dr. N.Y.C. psychotherapist and nutritionist Mark Lipson , tells SELF Website. “There’s no one magic bullet that can fix everything.”

For those who want to take full advantage of their new found immune-boosting powers, Lipson suggests taking an antioxidant like vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc—which also contain immune-boosting properties—to boost immunity, and eating dark leafy greens like kale and collards for a boost of immune system-supporting vitamins A, C, E, and K.

As for that occasional dairy free pizza or fried egg sandwich, check in with your doctor or a registered dietitian before making any significant changes to your diet. While the study was small, and still needs to be replicated, the results are intriguing.


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