A diet that will keep infections at bay

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Fruits and vegetables are some of the best foods that boost the body's immunity to fight infections. / Internet photo

According to nutritionists, the body is always in a constant struggle to fight against pathogenic micro-organisms and foreign substances that tend to attack it known as antigens.

Erick Musengimana, a nutritionist working with Rwanda Diabetic Association, says there are foods particularly important when one has infections because they are capable of improving the function of the immune system. Such foods, he says, contain antibiotic substances that help the immune system combat infections.

“Generally, there are no specific foods that can completely prevent infections; however, certain foods help fight infections,” he says.

Musengimana notes that there are foods that promote the purification of the body. They increase the elimination of waste products through the kidney, liver and skin.

“Citrus fruits such as lemon are essential in cases of infections as they supply antioxidants vitamins such as vitamin C and beta carotene. They also provide vitamin A which is capable of promoting a healthy immune system as well as strengthening resistance to viruses,” he says.

In case of fever, Musengimana says intake of citrus fruits, watermelon, fruit juices and water play an important role in the healing process.

He explains that this is because they are easily digested, abundant in fluids to replace the water lost through high temperature and prevent dehydration.

Joseph Uwiragiye, the head of nutrition department at University Teaching Hospital, Kigali (CHUK) echoes Musengimana’s views.

He says juices provide the water, vitamins, mineral salts and antioxidant phytochemicals necessary in case of fever. They also promote the elimination of waste from the blood stream, whose production increases in case of fever.

Boosting immunity

Uwiragiye notes that it’s advisable to consume foods that help in boosting the immune system since such foods are capable of giving the body the capacity to fight infections.

“There are foods such as uncooked or not well-cooked meat, pork and some vegetables, which when consumed can result in food-borne diseases because they contain pathogens,” he says.

Uwiragiye, however says to avoid all this, one should stay away from such foods and maintain good hygiene while cooking and eating.

He says there are different cells that make up the immune system, noting that vegetable and fruits, as well as foods rich in proteins, help in boosting immunity and preventing infections.

“When one is exposed to pathogenic organisms, they are likely to get infections. Therefore, consuming foods which are free from pathogens is essential,” he says.

Uwiragiye also points out that all types of berries contain antioxidants that aid in fighting against different types of diseases.

For instance, study findings by the U.S Department of Agriculture indicated that berries are a powerful dose of disease-fighting antioxidants. Blueberries top the list of antioxidant-rich fruits, followed by cranberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries.

Further, the study also indicated that the colour of berries comes from the pigment anthocyanin, an antioxidant that helps neutralise “free radicals” (cell-damaging molecules) that can help lead to chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease. Berries, particularly cranberries, may also help ward off urinary tract infections.

“Dairy products such as butter, yoghurt, cheese and milk are source of calcium and also contain proteins, vitamins as well as minerals that aid in fighting different diseases,” says Rene Tabaro, a nutritionist at King Faisal Hospital, Kigali.

He says foods rich in vitamin C and minerals are able to fight infections. Such foods, he says, include lemon, garlic, mandarin and oranges.

“This is because they contain antimicrobial elements that help in fighting infections, and also boost immunity. Such foods also help in fighting against respiratory diseases such as flu and cold,” he says.

Tabaro explains that colds and flu are caused by related viral infections, therefore, the diet should be able to prevent infection and promote cure.

“The body’s own defences must combat viral infections, and this is why one should consume a diet that is able to strengthen the immune system,” he says.

Increase in fruits, vegetables, garlic, zinc and vitamin C intake is essential for that, while reducing or eliminating salt, sugars and milk is recommended.

In cases of candidiasis, Tabaro says one should consume a diet that contributes to boosting the immune system as well. Also, the balance of the intestinal bacteria flora, which favours the cure of candadiasis, is important.

Yogurt, garlic and iron are examples of foods to consume in case of a candidiasis infection.

“For instance, garlic inhibits the proliferation of many micro-organisms, among them the fungus that causes candidiasis. This is due to its sulfured essence, which diffuses easily throughout the body’s tissues. It also balances the intestinal flora and stimulates natural immunity,” he says.

Tabaro notes that one should stay away from alcohol as they tend to depress many body functions, including the immune function. Regular consumption of alcohol diminishes the body’s ability to resist diseases.

White sugar, coffee, total fat and shellfish should be avoided.