Eat, people, eat like rabbits! But, now that I have your attention…
As you may know, scientific evidence suggests adopting a vegetarian or vegan diet can improve your overall health. Such diets appear to positively impact heart health, lower blood pressure, and can be helpful in preventing certain types of cancers. But how does having a plant based diet lead to such benefits? And, what risks does actually adopting such a diet present to your overall health?
Your immune system, which consists of a complex network of cells and organs, serves as your body’s natural defender. It protects you from various illness, viruses, infections, and other potentially harmful parasites, bacteria, fungi, and toxins. A strong immune system is an important factor in maintaining overall health and wellness.
But, did you know there is a strong connection between our diet and our immune system? Evidence suggests that fatty, refined, and processed foods all tend to weaken our immune system while unprocessed, fresh, and plant based foods tend to strengthen it. So, your immune system’s ability to function depends greatly on the quality and type of foods you eat to fuel it.
Scientific studies have shown that macrophages, one type of immune cell, slowed down in people with higher cholesterol levels. And, cholesterol is predominantly found in animal based foods. Animal based foods, heavily refined foods, and other processed foods can also deplete vital bodily nutrients, thereby tending to also weaken your immune system. Consequently, replacing an animal-based diet with a plant-based diet can support a healthier and better functioning immune system.
By avoiding cholesterol rich and nutrient depleting foods, you may be able to reduce unwanted stress on your immune system. And, micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, which can be found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and grains, are essential for your immune system. So, switching from a cholesterol rich animal based diet to a nutrient rich plant based diet can help better maintain the strength, health, and overall function of your immune system.
It would seem that an effective way to lower cholesterol and avoid the pitfalls associated with processed and refined foods is to switch to a vegan diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But, can doing so create other health issues?
Eliminating all animal products from your diet can actually increase the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. Micronutrients of special concern for those who adopt a plant-based diet include vitamins B-12 and D, calcium, and the long chain n–3 (omega-3) fatty acids. Also, in some cases, iron and zinc levels could become deficient when adopting a plant-based diet. If you think a vegan or vegetarian diet is right for you, but you’re concerned with possible nutritional deficiencies, the following suggestions may aid in ensuring you’ll get all of the vital nutrients your body needs while still reaping the benefits associated with a plant based diet and improving your immune system at the same time.
1. To ensure you’re getting enough calcium, calcium fortified plant foods should be regularly consumed in addition to consuming the traditional calcium sources for a vegan (green leafy vegetables, tofu, and tahini). Calcium fortified foods may include some ready-to-eat cereals, calcium fortified soy and rice beverages, calcium fortified orange and apple juices, and other calcium fortified beverages.
2. To ensure sufficient vitamin D intake, you should regularly consume vitamin D fortified foods such as soymilk, rice milk, orange juice, and breakfast cereals that are fortified with vitamin D.
3. In order to avoid a B-12 deficiency, you should regularly consume vitamin B-12 fortified foods, such as fortified soy and rice beverages, certain breakfast cereals, meat analogs, and B-12 fortified nutritional yeast. Or, you can take a daily vitamin B-12 supplement.
4. As part of your plant-based diet, you should regularly consume foods naturally rich in the n–3 fatty acid ALA, such as ground flaxseed, walnuts, canola oil, soy products, and hemp seed based beverages. In addition, you should consume foods that are fortified with the long chain n–3 fatty acid DHA, such as some soymilks and cereal bars.
5. Because of the high phytate content of a typical vegan diet, it is also important that you consume foods that are rich in zinc, such as whole grains, legumes, and soy products, to provide a sufficient zinc intake.
Along with the tips above, you may seek additional information about maintaining an overall healthy diet and immune system by consulting your doctor. Don’t have time to schedule an appointment? That’s no problem when you rely on the convenience of MeMD for your care!