There is a lot of misinformation out there in the health and wellness world when it comes to foods to eat for the immune system. Well intentioned I’m sure, but typically without science to back it up or they are blindly following advice of health conscious friends who may not have their facts straight.
I am someone who is very serious about immune health- as someone who went through cancer there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about things like: What am I doing to care for my immune system today? Have I done anything lately that might compromise my immune system? What am I in need of?
I have plenty of articles that talk about how to help strengthen the immune system, but what about common health foods out there that actually don’t serve the immune system at all? Or worse, can it weaken the immune system?
That is what we are going to cover today.
What Is the Immune System?
The Immune System is the set of tissues, organs, cells, subcellular products (cellular signals, cytokines, chemokines, etc.) that keep us from disease, the function of the immune system is inherent in its name (immune) to defend ourselves of any agent that may cause us damage, whether external or internal.
“Health Foods” That Can Harm The Immune System
Pure fruit juice
Notice I am not saying vegetable juice (which I’m a huge fan of), or vegetable juice with one or two fruits in them… I am saying completely 100% all fruit juice. The problem with this is there is no fiber with all the natural sugar. Sure, it is natural sugar so it’s not as bad as your typical white table sugar but without the presence of fiber this can be tough on your body as it can spike insulin levels. It is easier to develop insulin resistance than we think and once we do, it can wreak havoc on our immune systems.
Why? Because there are studies that show insulin resistant people often have weakened immune responses. On top of that, they are more likely to develop infections. Chronic infections impact the immune system as well.
100% Potato Chips
Have you seen these on the shelves? Potato chips claiming they only use pure potato- no other additives! Sounds like a healthy snack right? Potatoes are great for the gut, keep us full, and can have antioxidants in them. However, when they are processed down to chips… they are devoid of any nutrients. It’s just not the same as your home cooked potato!
But here is what really isn’t good when it comes to these “healthy” potato chips- they are often full of vegetable oil and too much salt! Why is too much salt an issue? Well, recent studies have shown us that overconsumption of salt can weaken our immune system. Vegetable oil is another scare, as they are high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. An overload of Omega 6 fatty acids is also going to impact your immune system in a negative way.
Aw yes, often found in health bowls and looked at as a healthy option for protein, tofu is often not the shiny beacon of health that we think it is. The first reason is, like potato chips, tofu can be high in inflammatory Omega 6s. If you are going to eat it, make sure it is balanced with Omega 3s and that you get organic!
Organic is important and I put tofu on this list because most tofu out there is sprayed with so many pesticides it can really weaken the immune system.
Also keep in mind that tofu is made from soy and that is one of the top allergens in the world. People will autoimmune issues will not due their immune systems a favor if they have soy issues, which many do!
Raw Milk Cheese
We have a tendency to label anything “raw” in the wellness world as something that is whole and nutritious and good for our bodies. But that is simply not the case. Especially with raw milk cheese.
Truthfully- I don’t believe that dairy in general is a food we should be consuming but very much so I don’t think those with compromised immune systems should eat cheese- even raw milk cheese.
Raw dairy often contains disrupting hormones like estrogen and progesterone- an increase in either of these can harm the immune system. It is especially important for people who have autoimmune conditions to resist eating dairy. Naturally caring for your hormones is important, tied to the immune system, and starts with what you eat!
Grass Fed Red Meat
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the argument that red meat is good for the body- that it’s incredible for iron and blood! I tell you what… no! Grass fed as well, to me it is just a marketing term. It’s most certainly not good for us and definitely know that it’s not going to help your immune system. (Read why I choose a plant based diet.)
A big problem with red meat is that it is highly acidic to the body. Alkalizing foods help the immune system, acidic foods do not. Our body likes to operate from a specific pH level and acid foods, like red meat (even grass fed) will kick you out of that. By the way, it is so easy to get your iron from other plant sources. Your protein too! Don’t be deceived.
Wholesome Breakfast Cereal
Wholesome, healthy, hearty… it seems like cereal companies are using any marketing term they can these days to come off as good for you. Just look at the commercials, it’s always a healthy and happy looking family eating their cereal and claiming it is the best way to start off the day.
Trust me, it’s not the best way to start the day. 😉 The problem with these cereals is they are often loaded with wheat- and gluten (in wheat) can trigger autoimmune responses in individuals with autoimmune conditions. Many people have allergies tied to gluten and don’t even know it. If you have an allergy and consume gluten, you guessed it, your immune system is not going to like it.
Something else to note is that these breakfast cereals are also high in sugar and sugar can paralyze your immune system for hours after eating it. Imagine going on a flight and the last meal you had was cereal with all these hidden sugars- you would be drastically compromising your immune system!
Honey, Molasses, Maple Syrup (In excess)
On its own, these are not bad for us. There are many antioxidants and wonderful vitamins and minerals in these natural sweeteners-- and they are whole foods which is amazing. However- too much of these natural sweeteners and it can be problematic as they can start to act like normal sugar. As we know, too much sugar is not good for the immune system!
I don’t want to say don’t eat these ever, because they really are so great, but in excess it can be problematic. I would also say you should time it that you aren’t overindulging during times when you are about to be around a lot of people. Blood sugar should be balanced before you are social during these times. Again, don’t want to demonize these, but I do think it’s important to limit the amount you consume.
I also do not want to demonize fruit but please note that dried fruit is not the same as whole fruits in their natural state.
Processed anything needs to be limited. Processed food does not help the immune system. Ever. So if a dried fruit company is advertising their product as healthy, know that it is a better option than say, a snickers bar, but it is not a healthy option over all. It is still a treat.
Keep in mind many of these dried fruits are also loaded with excess sugar. It makes them taste better and it’s never divulged in the marketing, you can only see it if you dive into the ingredients.
As we said with fruit juices, dried fruit can spike your insulin and those who develop insulin resistance do show weakened immune responses.
Did any of these surprise you? What are your thoughts?
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