Foods to strengthen the immune system

Spinach are great allies. Learn about other options.

Archyde/ EFE

When temperatures drop, it is necessary to raise the organic defenses to face in the best possible conditions the attacks of respiratory diseases. And some foods can naturally help in these protective functions, according to some nutritionists.

“From the point of view of nutrition, nourishing consists of providing calories, lipids, proteins and other nutrients to the body to maintain proper functioning and health“, highlights Estefanía Ramo, nutritionist and food technologist at the European Medical Institute of the Obesity (Imeo).

He explains that in this way, “nutrient” is the component present in food, assimilated by the body and used to obtain energy, repair tissues and regulate metabolic processes.

“If in addition to providing the above benefits, the nutrient is capable of influencing the immune system, then it could be called ‘immunonutrient’”, this nutritionist tells Efe.

Next, Ramo and Rubén Bravo, dietician expert in nutrition and gastronomy at the IMEO, describe that “some foods accessible to the entire population contain numerous nutrients capable of positively influencing the immune system”, explaining how they benefit us and we can incorporate them into our diet habitual.

Salmon, the protection that comes from the sea

“This fish contains omega 3 fatty acids, which help to strengthen the immune system and also vitamins of group B (B2, B3, B6, B9, B12), which perform regulatory functions of the immune response of our body against possible external attacks of viruses and bacteria ”, Ramo and Bravo explain.

They point out that vitamin A has an important role in regulating the immune system, both innate or nonspecific (the organic defenses with which we are born) and acquired or secondary, that is, the immunity that develops when we are exposed to various substances called antigens , which provoke a defensive response from the body.

“This vitamin is involved in the immune reaction to antigens or ‘humoral response’, consisting of the formation of antibodies, substances that fight infections that threaten our body,” they say.

According to these experts, vitamin D is a powerful modulator of the immune system, interacts with most of the cells of said system and also improves innate immunity by intervening in the formation of macrophages, large immune blood cells, which “engulf ”And destroy pathogens or foreign substances.

“Salmon also contains iron, a mineral whose deficit in the body affects the correct function of organic defenses, mainly by depressing certain aspects and cellular functions, such as the secretion of immune proteins called cytokines”, they add.

They point out that iron deficiency has also been related to a greater sensitivity to substances capable of producing oxidative stress (a process that causes cellular damage), as well as to a higher incidence of gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases.

Ramo and Bravo recommend eating salmon “at dinner, grilled, baked, grilled accompanied by vegetables (green leafy, such as spinach) or in the form of a ‘tartar’ with avocado.”

Almonds, sweet allies of immunity

“Almonds are rich in minerals such as copper, which can contribute to the antimicrobial response of macrophages; and selenium, essential for a correct response, both in the innate and acquired immune systems ”, according to Ramo and Bravo.

They indicate that, in addition to iron, this nut contains zinc, a mineral that has a multitude of effects on many types of immune cells, and has a direct effect on the number and function of macrophages.

IMEO experts recommend incorporating them into the diet “as an ingredient in salads or as an alternative to mid-morning meals or a snack, being the best way to consume them raw or lightly toasted”.

Kefir, milk barrier against germs

This fermented milk rich in bacteria and probiotic yeasts, so called because they contain live microorganisms that provide benefits for the body, is rich in vitamins D and A, which promote immune activity through various mechanisms.

A specific probiotic strain of kefir, ‘Lactobacillus Kefiri’, helps the body defend itself against harmful bacteria such as’ salmonella ‘and’ E. Coli ‘. Photo: IMEO

Ramo and Bravo in particular highlight a probiotic strain that is specific to kefir and is called ‘Lactobacillus Kefiri’, which helps the body defend itself against harmful bacteria such as’ salmonella ‘and’ E. Coli ‘.

“This bacterial strain, along with others, helps modulate the immune system and inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria,” they highlight.

Kefir also contains another powerful compound found only in this probiotic drink, an insoluble polysaccharide called ‘kefiran’, which has been shown to have antimicrobial properties to, for example, fight infection due to the ‘candida’ fungus, according to these experts.

“The best way to include kefir in the weekly diet is in breakfast, ‘mid-morning’ meals and snacks, alone or with fruit,” they recommend.

Spinach, “green” force against infection

Spinach are green leafy vegetables, rich in copper, iron and zinc. They are great allies of our immune system, according to Imeo nutritionists, who advise eating them as a garnish at lunch and dinner, accompanying some lean meat or oily fish, raw or as a complement to salads, to make the most of their nutritional potential.

These experts emphasize that the popularly called “Popeye’s vegetable” contains “abundant nutrients, while providing few calories. It can be an alternative to salad lettuce and our recommendation is to include it regularly in a varied and healthy diet».

For this reason you should eat broccoli

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Broccoli is considered a “superfood”, since it has a high nutritional value and low calories, despite the fact that some reject it because of its strong smell, something normal in foods belonging to the cabbage family.

Rubén Bravo, dietitian expert in nutrition and gastronomy, from the European Medical Institute of Obesity, IMEO (, explains that this cruciferous vegetable has a large amount of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and specific phytonutrients, highlighting vitamin A , of group B and C, and is also rich in selenium, calcium, potassium, carotenes, amino acids and fiber.

According to Bravo there is a notorious scientific evidence that allows to affirm that its consumption “helps reduce the probability of suffering colon cancer due to its high content of selenium”, although it could also be a therapeutic alternative when suffering from this cancer, since it has been demonstrated efficacy of some of its compounds in the elimination of cancer cells.

Also including broccoli on a regular basis in our diet “can help us in weight loss plans because of its high fiber and protein content, since it provides a lot of satiety and regulates blood sugar levels.”

“Broccoli also has an important antioxidant action, being an ally against premature aging, and helps prevent cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension and hypercholesterolemia”, Bravo highlights.

This vegetable contains a chemical substance that can help suppress the development of tumors, according to a team of researchers from the Harvard University School of Medicine, in the USA.

Experts at this university have linked a compound called I3C, which is found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other cruciferous vegetables, with the activity of one of the body’s most powerful tumor suppressor genes.

The study says that indole-3-carbinol or I3C is involved in a complex chemical chain reaction that helps rid a tumor suppressor gene of interference so it can do its job.

This work also highlights the “chemical warfare” that takes place within the body as it fights to prevent tumors from developing, even as diseased tissues themselves struggle to grow and spread throughout the body.

The research came from the laboratory of researcher Pier Paolo Pandolfi of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, BIDMC, in Boston, Massachusetts (USA) and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI), who is exploring the anti-cancer properties of crucifers, a family of vegetables, which in addition to broccoli, include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale.

Crucifers contain chemicals called glucosinolates, responsible for the pungent aroma and bitter taste of these vegetables, which, during meal preparation and, when chewing and digesting them, break down into other compounds such as isothiocyanates, thiocyanates and indoles, according to the National Cancer Institute, of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Indole-3-carbinol (an indole) and sulforaphane (an isothiocyanate) are frequently studied for their anticancer effects, and in studies with laboratory animals indoles and isothiocyanates have been found to inhibit cancer formation in various organs, among them: the bladder, breasts, colon, liver, lungs and stomach, according to the NIH.

Studies of these substances in humans have yielded more moderate results, finding some evidence that people who maintain a high consumption of cruciferous plants may have a lower risk of developing cancers of the prostate, colorectal (in women), lung and breast, according to this same source.