The diet to increase the immune system: menus and recipes

We are born “equipped”, designed to resist and adapt to the environment around us and its challenges. Thanks to immune systemthat army of cells appointed to defend us from the attack of external “invaders”, such as viruses, bacteria and toxic substances, but also to protect us from everything that can compromise the balance of the organism from the inside, such as cancer cells or aged, the result of oxidation processes and one of the causes of inflammation.

Never like this year, we have realized its importance and the need to keep it always perfectly functional: and it is precisely here that our habits at the table play a decisive role.

Food messengers of well-being

“The immune system is influenced primarily, but not limited to, by what we eat. When we eat, we are not only introducing calories, ready-to-use energy sources, but real ones chemical messengers that communicate with our cells. These are active molecules, present in food, which act as switches on specific receptors, turning certain genes on or off “, explains Dr. Massimo Spattini, a doctor who also specializes in nutrition science and sports medicine from Parma, who has just published a book on the subject The antivirus diet. How to boost the immune system (LSWR editions, € 19.90).

Italians do it better: the Mediterranean diet wins

When it comes to healthy food and cooking, we Italians have one more weapon; culture and traditions should push us to follow a diet that seems to have been specifically designed to stimulate the immune system. Nothing to do with the cliché “pasta, bread and pizza”: «Let’s talk about what should be considered the true Mediterranean diet based on legumes, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, fish and extra virgin olive oil; reduced consumption of meat, especially red meat, and moderate intake of eggs and dairy products.

A diet that has shown, through years of studies, its superiority as a precious one ally of our defenses and also as a prevention against diseases of the modern era (diabetes, heart attack, stroke, but also psychological disorders and age-related brain diseases). So much so that it was proclaimed World Heritage Site», Emphasizes the nutrition expert. All foods that you find in the diet proposed here, studied by the doctor Jessica Garsone, nutrition biologist in Ravenna. Well-balanced and complete dishes that combine the taste with the fundamental nutrients, chosen to give our body that surplus of well-being that helps it to maintain functional balance.

Wholemeal, colored and digestible

So bet on low glycemic impact and slow release carbohydrates, that is, those provided by whole grains and legumes, main ingredients of the menus suggested by our experts. Oats, for example, are rich in beta-glucans, particular dietary fibers that stimulate the immune response thanks to their action on anti-inflammatory cells.

“Furthermore, these nutrients keep the mitochondria (our energy stations) efficient and contribute to the hormonal balance of insulin and cortisol, deleterious if in excess”, emphasizes Dr. Spattini. In addition to vitamins and mineral salts, the colorful team of polyphenolswhich we can consider the “red cross” of nature thanks to their protective action.

In fact, the diet we propose is rich in them: “Contained in fruit and vegetables, they are the first defense weapon against pro-inflammatory cytokines, very aggressive protein molecules during attacks by difficult viruses such as the current Coronavirus », continues Dr. Spattini. «It also includes oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, the most important bioactive principles of extra virgin olive oil. They are responsible for its properties cardioprotective, neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antitumor“.

Valuable nutrients for our second brain

Always thanks to fruit and vegetables, you will get your fill of fiber, precious nourishment for the gut microbiota, that second brain of ours which, with its neurotransmitters, not only counteracts the anti-health up and down of blood sugars but also has effects on mental well-being. And you know how much stress and negative thoughts can negatively affect our body’s ability to react.

«Among the many products of the garden, let’s take as an example the broccoli, particularly rich in sulforaphane; this molecule is able to increase the endogenous production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant normally produced by the body that counteracts the aging of the immune system », underlines our expert in food science.

Green light to good fats and eggs too

On your table then the high biological value proteinsthat is, those of fish, white meats, legumes and dried fruit in shell.

«Another healthy source of protein are eggs which, among other things, contain cholesterol now rehabilitated even for those suffering from cardiovascular diseases; you can consume 1 or 2 a day, preferably with the semi-raw yolk, rich in carotenoids such as astaxanthin, antioxidant and protective of the immune system », continues Dr. Spattini.

Always favor good fats, in particular the “gang” of Omega 3, 6 and 9: studies confirm their effectiveness in countering inflammatory processes. You can find them in extra virgin olive oil, blue fish, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and oil seeds.

Cheese in moderation and plenty of spices

“Also fresh dairy products such as ricotta or aged products, such as Parmigiano Reggiano, have a positive effect », Dr. Spattini intervenes. «It is due to lactoferrin, a glycoprotein with antimicrobial (counteracts bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses), antibiotic and antitumor activity. However, they must be consumed in moderate quantities ».

Even the typical spices of our tradition, such as basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley, thyme and sagelend a hand: they are rich in powerful antioxidants, including rosmarinic acid, capable of inhibiting cytotoxic and genotoxic substances (harmful to cells and DNA).

And then there is the chilli pepper which, rich in capsaicin and vitamin C, has an antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory action; according to recent studies powerful enough to reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular problems.

Supplements you don’t expect

«To support the immune action, you can combine those with the diet based on garlic which, in antiviral function, seem able to reduce the effects of colds; or beetroot juice: rich in nitrates that favor the production of nitric oxide, it seems to act in the defense against COVID-19, because it inhibits particular receptors that are the gateway to the virus “, suggests our expert.

Then there are the natural preparations of olive leaves, which phytochemicals they have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, antiviral and antibacterial properties, thus strengthening the immune system.

THE MENU THAT SHARPENES THE DEFENSES

Here is the weekly menu that’s good for your immune system. A 1500-1600 calorie per day diet.
On Sunday you choose what to eat: without giving in to extravagance, on holidays, you are free to consume your “comfort food” dish in moderation.

Plus a snack valid for the whole week: two portions of fresh fruit, one mid-morning and the other mid-afternoon.

One serving of fruit is about 150g; one of vegetables 200 g; 80 g for green leafy vegetables (e.g. salad). Drink at least 1.5 liters of water per day.

MONDAY

Breakfast

Tea + 170 g of whole white Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of honey and 30 g of whole oat flakes; 1 portion of fresh fruit; 2 walnuts

Lunch

Single dish: 70 g of wholemeal couscous seasoned with maple vegetables, 70 g of chickpeas (weighed dry), 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

Dinner

A portion of vegetables with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil; 150 g of chicken breast bites turned in 30 g of wholemeal flour and cooked with lemon and rosemary in a non-stick pan; 70 g of toasted wholemeal bread

TUESDAY

Breakfast

1 juice of fresh oranges; 80 g of toasted wholemeal bread with 80 g of sliced ​​turkey breast; 10 almonds

Lunch

A portion of vegetables to taste dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil; 70 g of brown rice seasoned with 150 g of shrimp and seasonal vegetables; 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

Dinner

A portion of vegetables to taste dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil; omelette with 2 eggs, seasonal vegetables, thyme and pepper + 70 g of rye bread

WEDNESDAY

Breakfast

1 juice of fresh oranges; 4 whole rusks; 50 g of cottage cheese; 20 g of sugar-free jam; 10 g of oilseed mix (flax, sunflower, pumpkin, chia)

Lunch

Single dish: 100 g of lentil flour pasta dressed with seasonal vegetables; 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and 20 g of Parmigiano Reggiano

Dinner

A portion of vegetables to taste dressed with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil; 200 g baked sea bream with 300 g of baked potatoes in their skins; 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

THURSDAY

Breakfast

Pan-fried apple pie tea

Lunch

A portion of vegetables to taste with 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil; 70 g of wholemeal pasta topped with cream of peppers, ricotta and walnuts

Dinner

A portion of vegetables to taste with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil; strips of turkey cherry tomatoes on pea cream; 50 g of toasted wholemeal bread

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