Know Your Food

The Importance of Understanding Your Food’s History in Human Health

Contributed by reader Jenni Hilton

Given the growing prevalence of antibiotic-resistant diseases, it is of particular importance that we bolster our immune systems as much as possible through diet. The ideal dietary components for immune-boosting, as everyone with even the most basic of nutritional educations is aware, are fruit and vegetables. The Harvard School of Public Health insist that people must “eat plenty every day” [1] in order to remain healthy. However, the situation is not quite as simple as heading into the store and buying a bagful of plants.

Microbial Immunity

The advance of modern medicine has done a lot for us. It has defeated smallpox, polio, tuberculosis. It saves millions of lives every year from infections which may otherwise prove fatal. It continually advances against cancer, and has made it possible for those with HIV to, as STD Panels put it, “to remain in good health and to have a comparable life span to everyone else” [2]. However, such medical wonders – while to be much lauded – have in many ways made us complacent. In the long run, it may prove that people with weakened immune systems like those suffering from HIV may have the edge over us, used as they are to treating their bodies with a degree of respect which many of us lack. The problem is that many diseases are becoming resistant to antibiotics. A report released by the Public Health Authority of Ontario makes the concerning point that “Over time, with overuse and misuse, coupled with the natural mutation abilities of bacteria, antibiotics have become less effective against bacteria” [3]. The situation is unlikely to improve – many scientists are worried that bacterial evolution will shortly reach a point where bacterial infections can override antibiotics and resume their terrible hold over the human race. Unable to rely on antibiotics, therefore, those who wish to have the best chance of beating these ‘superbugs’ would be advised to follow the guidelines given to HIV sufferers – and eat fresh, non-processed, preferably home-grown foods in order to bolster their immune systems.

Healthy Skepticism

To boost the immune system, Harvard University explicitly advises people to “Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fat.” [4] This seems a relatively easy guideline to follow – after all, supermarket shelves are stuffed with enticing natural produce. However, Harvard also warns those in search of an enriched immune system to “be skeptical”. Largely they refer with this advice to vitamin companies selling products like Bell’s “Supreme Immune Booster 90 Capsules” [5] which, while they may do some good, are in no way the catch-all solution they are purported to be. However, the warning also encapsulates the ‘fresh’ produce industry – the products of which are often not quite as ‘fresh’ and ‘healthy’ as they are purported to be.

Nutrition Destruction

That fruit and vegetables are great for the immune system is undeniable. The human body has evolved to utilize the nutrients within plant products, and welcomes natural produce with delight. Such fruit and vegetable foodstuffs enhance the body completely naturally, working with extant bodily processes to strengthen the body’s defenses from within, without reliance upon aid from alien chemicals. However, this being said, industrial fruit and vegetable production leaves much to be desired. Pesticides and growth aids, artificial preservatives and chemical agents designed to make the produce bigger, brighter, more richly colored to appeal to shoppers, all have a detrimental effect. The CDPR warn that “if not used correctly [pesticides] can…harm people or the environment” [6]. Ingestion of these pesticides – even in the trace amounts found in most commercially grown plant foods – necessitates an immune response which may negate the positive immunity effects of the foods themselves. Furthermore, preserving techniques often destroy much of the nutritional value inherent in such things. Vitamin C – described by the Linus Pauling Institute as a massively influential micronutrient which, among other things, “stimulate[s] both the production and function of leukocytes (white blood cells)” [7] – is destroyed incredibly easily through heat. Many preservative techniques involve heat, meaning that any fruit or vegetable product which has taken more than a few days to get to the store (thus necessitating preservative techniques) may well be more deficient than it should be in Vitamin C.

Grow Your Own

Many dubious processes are involved when money is the main motivator. Commercial fruit and vegetable producers are, of necessity, in it for the profit. Unfortunately, those products which sell best are those which look best on the shelves – and bright colors and shiny skins do not necessarily equate to optimal nutritional value. The only way to truly know what has gone into the production of your food, thus optimizing the nutritional value of your plate, is to grow it yourself. Vegetable self-sufficiency is not as difficult as it is often made out to be. All you need is a small patch of land – even a window-box is sufficient to grow plants like tomatoes and chilies – and the right seeds. Vendors like West Coast Seeds sell “certified organic, open pollinated…seeds for organic vegetable growing” [8] , ideal for such purposes. A certain amount of cultivation is required – but the sun and the earth do the majority of the work. Before long, you can be eating your own, home-grown produce, and boosting your immune system safe in the knowledge that nothing is detracting from the pure, unadulterated nutritional value of the plant.

[1] Harvard School of Public Health, “Vegetables and Fruits”

[2] STD Panels, “Coping With HIV Diagnosis”

[3] Healthcare Ontario, “Antibiotic Resistance: Emerging risks and the partnership solution”

[4] Harvard Health Publications, “How to boost your immune system”, Harvard Medical School

[5] Canadian Vitamins, “Bell Supreme Immune Booster 90 Vitamins”

[6] CDPR, “What are the Potential Health Effects of Pesticides”

[7] Linus Pauling Institute, “Nutrition and Immunity” Oregon State University

[8] West Coast Seeds


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