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Well Wisconsin Radio

Well Wisconsin Radio

Hosted by Senior Program Manager, Morgan Meinen

A podcast discussing topics of health and well-being from experts from all around the State of Wisconsin. New in 2022, you’ll be able to tune into Well Wisconsin Radio whenever you want and wherever you are! Subscribe to Well Wisconsin Radio in the podcast platform of your choice to be notified when each new episode is released. Let’s tackle 2022 together through learning and seeking opportunities to be in the moment.

Transcript

Host:
Hello and welcome to Well Wisconsin Radio, a podcast discussing health and well-being topics with experts from all around the state of Wisconsin my name is Morgan Meinen my guest today is Dr. Beth Olson.

Dr. Olson is an Associate Professor and Extension Specialist in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A native of Wisconsin, she obtained her Bachelor of Science degree in Biochemistry from UW Madison, and her MS and PhD from the University of California, Davis.

Dr. Olson began her career at The Kellogg Company, working in global research & development, followed by a position as a Director in nutrition marketing for Kellogg USDA. With her return to academia, she has spent the past 20 years in community-based nutrition research and programs. Her research and outreach at UW-Madison is focused on helping families make the healthiest choices possible in nutrition and health. She has researched and published on supporting low-income and working breastfeeding mothers, and on nutrition education for families with infants.

Host:
So Beth thank you so much for joining me today on well Wisconsin Radio I’m really excited to talk to you today. So let’s dive into nutrition and immunity. This is a topic I’ve been wanting to bring to the show for a while and it’s been really fun to dive into your research and listen more about.

Guest:
I Appreciate the opportunity.

Host:
I’ve really enjoyed reading more about your work and and getting this information in front of people and what a great topic for right now. I think that the immune system has really come into focus during the last couple of years of this pandemic and it’s just a good thing to keep on our radar and learn more about anyways and so that’s the first question I wanted to bring to you is if we can just. Start by talking about the immune system and if you could just explain what the immune system is for our listeners.

Guest:
I think it’s helpful to think about what it is by thinking about the functions of the immune system that are often discussed which is that our immune system includes. The barriers that we have to something harmful entering our body by something harmful. We usually call that a pathogen. It’s a you know bacteria or a virus and that includes things that people often don’t think about as part of our immune system like our skin you know having our skin not have a. An opening where a bacteria could get in and cause an infection. It’s things that like the lining of our gi tract from our mouth down through things like the tears that our eyes produce which have proteins which can help neutralize some of those bad things or. Saliva in our mouth or the mucus in our lungs so that’s the first function.

The second is those cells when something should get into your body that recognize it that say this is not a good thing. It’s not a harmless thing. It’s not 1 of our own we need to take care of it. Then I think you get the part of the immune system that many people think about which is all those cells in your body and all the ways that they communicate that attack it that destroy it that get rid of it so that you you know can can get well and then um, there has been I think more recognition. Um, with covid nineteen of the last function which is to remember that that thing came after you and form some memory cells which the next time it shows up, you’re better equipped to to tackle it. So I think it’s helpful for people to realize that the immune system is bigger than just those. You know, attacking cells. It’s many kind of cells that form tissues like our skin and organs like our bone bone marrow in our bones which produce cells. So it’s it’s many parts of of our body which function in our immune response.

Host:
That’s so interesting and let’s transition to that nutrition part of the Immune system so continuing to focus on again your your point where we’re bringing to light the Immune system through the pandemic but also more importantly I think is how we can be better in control of it and what we can do. To our own body’s ability to fight infection and ward off Disease. So How can what we eat affect our Immune system and overall help us fight infection.

Guest:
I think when we’re talking about so many different kinds of tissues and cells and secretions and all these things that function our immune system it’s easier than to understand that there isn’t necessarily 1 nutrient or one food that we need. To have a good immune system. We really need good overall nutrition. We need enough energy to respond to make all the cells we need to fight something off, we need protein which is a part of some of the secretions and is necessary to make cells that we need to fight off disease. We need many different vitamins and minerals if you think about our skin and our gi tract and our blood cells I mean that’s just a huge component of our body and our body needs all of those things to be healthy. So. In the same way that we need good overall nutrition to have a healthy respiratory system or a good cardiovascular system and keep our blood healthy for our immune system. We need a vast variety of foods and nutrients and I think it’s important for people to understand that. Um. 1 of the most important times that we need that is when that pathogen that bad thing comes into our body.

So the response has to be pretty quick because so you know things multiply quickly and so you want to be in your best state of nutrition right? At that point. It is important to keep up your nutrition as you’re fighting something off, but if you are in poor nutrition and a pathogen enters your body. You’ve kind of entered the fight down a bit and and you’re going to have to fight back and it’s going to be harder. So having that good overall nutrition. Before you get sick so that you’re in the best spot you can be to fight it off and then to continue that good nutrition is important so taking a certain food or a certain supplement after you’ve become sick. Is a lot less effective than having been healthy going into it all. No.

Host:
That makes sense and diving into those foods and like you mentioned really the focus on having a well-rounded wholesome diet like overall so that if in any case you know you’re dealing with something your body’s trying to fight it off, you’re well equipped to do that. Can we talk about certain foods that you feel like would be worth mentioning in this episode so understanding like you said that the variety is important but I do feel like there are certain foods that can be better than others and maybe some that we don’t even think about So Could you help us understand. Some foods that would be good for her nutrition and immunity.

Guest:
Yes I think ah food some foods that people don’t think about are ones that are high-end fiber and I’m a big proponent of those foods, especially whole foods. What I mean by that are like fruits and vegetables and whole grains and I think. Those foods are high in fiber and the fiber and many different types of fibers and and in fact, other nutrients in those whole foods feed our gut. It makes our gut strong and we mentioned that um and Healthy. We mentioned that. That’s one of the areas that we have to prevent pathogens from entering but there are also a lot of Immune cells in our gut that communicate to our body and those whole foods fruits vegetables whole grains I think in particular as opposed to single nutrients or. Ah, particular food and I think even within those categories just the widest Variety. We don’t know you know that blueberries are better than strawberries are better than oranges What we know is diets that have a lot of fruit and vegetables are important in keeping an Immune system healthy. And so the widest variety within those categories are Helpful.

Host:
Along with that are there any foods that can hurt our Immune system?

Guest:
I’m less certain that there are particular foods that we can say hurt our Immune system per se I think when I so just spoke about a dietary pattern or the you know the kinds of foods that we eat. The issue can be. If We don’t what are we eating if we don’t eat those foods that are good for us so foods that might displace more nutritious foods could be Problematic. So if we’re eating a lot of um, very processed foods that are high in salt high in sugar people often will say. Um, you know I don’t think sugar’s good for our Immune system I don’t think Salt is good for our Immune system I don’t know that they are so harmful directly I think what they’re doing is they’re displacing those whole foods those high fiber foods other food groups. Um, that might be Helpful. Um. To us in in fighting off building in a good Immune system and fighting off Disease. So It’s I think it’s more of a displacement of what we need. Um, we just. To be healthy.

Overall, we really do need a lot of good nutritious foods. We have room for treats certainly but we just don’t have room for them to make up the majority of our diet. We need to use them sparingly and I think the other concern we have is if if one has a lot of extra. Unhealthy calories. It can contribute to accumulating too much body fat becoming. Um, what’s termed overweight or obese and that in itself seems to disturb our Immune system make it not quite as equipped to fight off disease as we would like. And we saw this in some of the reports of people who were being hospitalized with Covid nineteen that there was seen to be a higher prevalence of overweight and obesity particularly obesity in that population and that’s perhaps because they didn’t have the ability to fight off Covid Nineteen you know before we had immunizations quite as well.

Host:
Okay let’s get into some of the nutrients. So you did a great job explaining the foods and the the well roundedness that we need as part of our whole body nutrition but I’d like to talk a little bit about the nutrients that are involved in immunity. And how each of those might have a little bit of a different function that play into our Immune system.

Guest:
Yes, this is um, pretty tricky. There’s a tremendous about amount of science in this area. You know for anyone nutrient there are probably you know hundreds if not thousands of papers looking at exactly what their role is so I think it’s. Probably easier to talk about them in categories. So it’s important as I mentioned to have enough energy so that’s just calories but also protein that you want to make sure you’re getting a wide variety of protein because when we have a. Immune response our body has to make a lot of different kinds of cells which all have protein in them and it also those cells have to make products which have protein and so we need to um you know to make sure we’re eating enough protein most of us eat a lot of protein but we tend to eat more. Protein from animal sources. We might think about whether we could eat more from plant sources. Then we have our vitamins and minerals and those are ones which in particular are involved in how the immune system is regulated. For instance, it’s. So we have um antioxidants those are things like vitamin c and vitamin e and selenium and they help deal with the oxidation or the stress that kind of comes about from our body working so hard to do something.

We also have vitamins. Like vitamin a which are involved in keeping our skin healthy or vitamin c which is involved with a lot of our connective tissues. So those are really important because they help us keep this good barrier to entry of pathogens into our system and then. Many of the vitamins and many of the minerals are involved in the communication. So people often will the way we read the popular press. You know it sounds like we have a strong immune system you have cells and they go and they tackle you know the pathogen and get rid of it. But there are many many cells involved some are involved early some later and they communicate with each other to make sure this is happening in the best order. So we have a very early response and we have a longer response and importantly at some point that response needs to calm down. We have defeated the pathogen don’t keep making all these cells so many of the vitamins and minerals are involved in that kind of communication and each one with a different cell. So as I said there’s many many papers. So it’s complicated to say well vitamin c effect.

AbCD and e cell in all these different ways. But I think it is important to understand that those vitamins and minerals in particular are helping all the cells communicate so that your response is enough but then it stops when it’s over and it’s not too much.

Host:
That’s interesting and I feel like this is a good time as you were talking to to maybe dive into supplements because I was hearing you talk about some of those nutrients and I imagine that there are some people who. You know might have been taking Vitamin C or um, you know Vitamin D is ah a common one especially in the midwest when we’re not getting a lot of sun this time of year. So What about supplements and your immune system can they be a good replacement if you don’t feel like you’re getting your nutrients from your diet.

Guest:
Yes, well I think supplements should be just that they should be a supplement, not necessarily a replacement and so I think it’s important to understand a couple things one is there are nutrients that help our body do certain things like we talked about a few times keep our skin healthy or have our immune system. Um, our immune cells is dividing and communicating and we need enough of that nutrient for that to happen for many many cases. Perhaps all having more than we need doesn’t make it do it even better. So there’s kind of a limit. We need. Enough VitaminC to do this more vitamin c doesn’t mean we do it even better and so if we do have a well-rounded diet and we’re getting enough of the nutrients. The supplements probably aren’t as helpful. However, there are people not getting enough of the nutrients for many reasons. Perhaps they have a extra need. Um, that’s beyond normal like being pregnant. You know you have this increased need and for some nutrients that’s hard. Maybe hard to get with diet or we don’t have access to the best diet or there’s particular foods. We just can’t tolerate or we have a medical condition in those cases. A supplement. Might be helpful because we might it might actually be deficient in the nutroom. We’re not getting enough from our diet. Um I think there’s a couple ways to approach this one is to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement. That’s appropriate for your age and your gender because we do have different needs when you do a multivitamin or. Mineral supplement the amount of any 1 nutrient is at more likely to be at ah, an amount that’s not too high if we start taking signal supplements at high levels. We might get over what we need now at best. Maybe that’s just a waste of your money because you didn’t really need it. But nutrients do interact and it’s possible if you take too much of 1 nutrient. You actually interfere with the adsorption of another so you don’t want to get them kind of out of whack and as I was mentioning with the immune system. There are is a lot of communication among the cells. And vitamins and minerals are involved in that and there are some which tell it you know to calm down and and if you take too much of that nutrient. Maybe it calms down too soon or maybe it keeps that system going when it shouldn’t be going so we want to be careful too not to get too much. Because enough is good but too much may not do anything or it. It may actually have a bad effect that we don’t want to have.

Host:
Sure So that’s kind of where you go into recommending like just take a multivitamin That’s that’s based on your age and that will kind of help you to you know, maybe bridge some of the gaps that you’re not getting from your nutrition alone.

Guest:
Exactly and I always tell people if they’re seeing their primary care provider to make sure that they’re telling them about that. There are some supplements that will interfere for instance with Medications and your primary care provider should know. What you’re taking you may think well this is just you know a multivitamin. No big deal. Everybody takes them I don’t need to tell them but you you want to make sure and then they can help you kind of think about what it is. You’re taking what your diet does look like which are the best use of your money and which won’t cause you any other problems with. As I said something like other medicines you might be taking.

Host:
Sure that was a follow up question I had as well is how can someone determine if they have a healthy Immune system.

Guest:
Ah, that’s a good question and I I don’t know if you can you know there are so many things that are involved with our immune system and you know if you even start with genetics. Someone may just have an immune system from their genes that behaves a certain way as compared to someone else I think what’s. Probably most useful is to say if I look across all the things am I doing in my life that affect my immune system have I optimized all those ones that I can and if so then I’ve done everything under my control to make sure that I have the healthiest immune system that I can have whatever that might. So if one thinks about it as you know, maybe a bar that goes up and down I have this level of immunity and someone else’s has a higher or a lower what you want to do is do everything to to get to your max immune capacity your your best performance without doing things that would for instance, make it. Malfunction like taking too much of a nutrient. Um I think then you can at least know you’ve done everything but I don’t think there’s ah a great marker of the immune system I think if you are sick or you have an illness doctors can work with you on blood tests that’ll tell you something about what’s happening. But for us, you know, just out here every day we just need to know that we’re optimizing everything that we can.

Host:
And Beyond nutrition and the things that we’ve talked about are there other factors than our diet that influence the health of our Immune system.

Guest:
There are in fact, um, you know I like to break it into categories of things we can control and things we can’t recognizing that some of those overlap and in fact, diet is something we can control but it isn’t um, you know the the majority of of. What affects our immune system you know and in addition to our genes. There’s our environment. You know some of that we can control and some we can’t you know we can for instance reduce our exposure or maybe that of our children if we were a smoker to cigarette smoke which is going to be. Be poor for our immune system. But there’s other things like sleep stress physical activity alcohol use. So this is where I’m talking about some things overlap you know we can. We can’t always control all the stress in our lives. There are stressors that come to us that. That are beyond our control. Perhaps though we can talk to somebody or or look at other ways to address that stress that would be positive for our immune system be that? Um, you know, meditation or prayer for some people or um. Having relaxing activities so there are ways to manage some things that are that aren’t always under our control. But the way we manage is under our control. So I think those are a big things that play in. Um I think what’s interesting is if one thinks about almost any health condition. And the recommendations to be healthier. It’s really many of the same things reducing stress getting enough sleep good diet and exercise. Don’t abuse alcohol or drugs or Medications. Um. Um, don’t smoke. So it’s many of the same things and I think that just goes to show you how all those things affect the cells in our body and all of our systems.

Host:
So it’s overall wellness at the at the highest level right? Just you know, continuing to work on yourself and we just did an episode on you know, goals and New Year’s resolution. So kind of taking all of those things and trying to make yourself.

Guest:
Exactly.

Host:
You know the the best version of yourself can also help with your immune system.

Guest:
Exactly in one you it uses you probably covered in resolutions. You know one step at a time I mean that’s a lot of things if one were to look at that and think yeah I’m stressed and I’m not sleeping enough and I’m busy so I didn’t work out. You know it can be overwhelming so you just. Need to step back and say okay I’ll just take maybe 1 thing this week one step and then move forward.

Host:
Absolutely and I want to acknowledge because a lot of times we talk about diet and we talk about eating a lot of whole foods and we talk about whole grains and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and I want to address something that I think many deal with especially now with prices increasing is. You know how can you help somebody who you know really wants to improve their diet and need healthier but is on a limited food budget or maybe in an area where it’s not easy for them to have access to you know, good fruits and vegetables. What advice do you have for them.

Guest:
Yes, well I do work with cooperative extension. So 1 thing I would say is take a look for extension in your county. They have some excellent classes which provide information on exactly this. How do I be healthy given I have this limited budget. I think there are a few things that one can do and I know they are hard and they take time and that is one of our barriers is just you know addressing the time I think making lists before one goes to the grocery store so that you’re not impulse buying something that is costing you more. If one has access to see ahead of time any deals or sales that are available at the store and perhaps to structure some of your menu around those as opposed to something else that maybe you were you had a hankering for but it’s not a good deal this week if you have the ability to store. Freezer and pantry. There are um, excellent sources of nutrition in the canned food aisle canned beans. Um, we tell people watch for sodium um canned fruits watch for extra added sugar in those though, get ones without frozen fruits and vegetables. Um, fresh is not um, always what you need you need the fruits and vegetables whether they are canned or frozen or dried or fresh. They’re all good for you read labels. So if you’re picking you know you need to have a quick morning breakfast and you’re picking a ready to eat cereal. Look at the label on the side does it have fiber in it meaning and look at the ingredients does it have a whole grain so watching the side panels. So that things that might be equivalently priced among those you can make the better choice. Um, and I know it’s tough when you’re you know, standing in the grocery store and especially now when things are higher priced and. I’ve experienced this. You know I’ve planned a nice meal I go to the grocery store and that item is completely gone from the shelf and on the spur of the moment I’m trying to think what what could I substitute. So if you can have some flexibility. So um. And and I know this can also be tough when you have children who have particular likes and dislikes and and might be a little pickier but you know if you have a chili that you make with your family. Can you use a different bean because the one bean you usually eat is gone. So if you can have some flexibility in what you eat I think it can help. As we were talking earlier. There’s no one nutrient There’s no one food that is going to make or break your immune system. So if this week you you know you don’t have apples. It’s okay, you know this week maybe you have frozen berries. Maybe this week you have pears there aren’t oranges. Maybe this week you have

Mandarin oranges and you just drain off the juice. You know I think if we can be that flexible particularly now when there are some items in short supply and prices aren’t so good. It will help a lot.

Host:
Really great advice. Another follow up I have here on food is I think there’s been a lot of interest and more popular as of late in fermented foods. Do you have any information to share with us about fermented foods. Um I’ve heard that they’re better for your gut and obviously we know the gut plays into the Immune system. So What’s your take on fermented foods.

Guest:
Yes I think um, there are there’s evidence that fermented foods may be helpful to the immune system and I think by and large that probably is because they operate through the gut now. It isn’t just keeping your gut healthy. It’s the microbes in your gut which. Those microbes when they ferment certain foods or are allowed to grow because the environment is good. They also produce products which we can absorb and are are helpful to us. So I think they they do have a role They’re not a magic bullet. Um, and and 1 thing I say is. Make sure when you’re using them. You’re thinking about every part of them. So for instance, some fermented foods can be pretty high in sodium and some people are sensitive to that with their blood pressure so you just want to take a look at at all the ingredients. But I think they can have a great role. And again, that’s one where if you’re a little more flexible. Um and are willing to try new things. They might be something that maybe that’s available right now and it wasn’t instead of something else that you usually eat and you want to give it a try and it does contribute to the variety in your in your diet. So again I think they’re helpful. I don’t think they’re the magic bullet I think if in the rest of your diet You’re not doing good things adding them a fermented food isn’t going to take care of it. All.

Host:
Makes sense. Do you have a favorite go to Immune boosting food.

Guest:
I do I can’t say I necessarily have picked it because it was immune boosting it just was kind of a food that came about over time to meet my various nutrient needs as I got older particularly which is actually my. My morning food I really have gone towards using yogurt in particular I’ve grown quite attached to Greek yogurt which is a fermented food. Um I I eat it with whatever fruit I have and I have used frozen I have used fresh. Um. I’ve actually used it to try a couple of fruits that in the past I hadn’t used. Um you know except maybe I was having breakfast out and they had it and I thought I should really you know, try that and then so I get that the fruits and vegetables I get the yogurt which also has protein and then I’ve gone to topping it. Um. Cereals and I do a couple of things. Um I top it with granola which only a little because it um doesn’t have a lot of fiber. It does have a bit more fat and then I also add a high fiber cereal with that which gives me fiber so it’s just kind of evolved over time for various needs that I’ve had. Um, and and I like it and and so that it has some you know helpfulness for my immune system is is kind of an added bonus.

Host:
Yeah that’s a good recommendation I enjoy Greek yogurt as well and I like what you said there where it’s you know you’re finding that balanced feeling of food that you enjoy but also thinking how can I take this and build off of it. Kind of like you were mentioning earlier. You know with kids or chili. You know how can you work things in I know even with like spaghetti sauce. It’s how can you be adding in you know some garlic and onion and maybe even carrot that you know they’re not going to taste but you’re going to work in a lot of you know, really great.

Guest:
Yeah.

Host:
Other nutritious foods in there.

Guest:
Exactly and for kids it’s so important to have exposure early on um the more kids are exposed to a wide variety of foods. Not just any particular but a variety the more likely they are to keep any kind of variety as they get older which again. This widest variety is helpful for for our health.

Host:
Lastly I have so you already mentioned those extension classes that people could look up um to you know, get some help get some education about cooking and eating nutritiously. But do you have any other recommendations where people can go to learn more about nutrition and the Immune system.

Guest:
You know this is a great question and I hadn’t really thought about it. But um, but you know before we were talking I thought well where where did I go um you know and of course I read papers but those are hard. There isn’t. Is much a go to source like there are you know there are some diseases that just you know there’s a professional organization and they just have wonderful consumer information. But the immune system is you know since it’s so vast it comes from a lot of places so ah, a couple of recommendations I would give for people who can get online. And and are interested in reading a bit more the national institutes of health has an office of dietary supplements. They do really nice consumer friendly as well as health professional, friendly reviews of particular nutrients and that gives you ah a lot of good information about where the where they’re found. What the evidence is what they might be helpful for so I think that’s a ah, nice information for people for people who want something more in depth after that I would say it’s kind of diffused and what I would do is look for credible sources of information so veering away from sites which are. Um, dot coms or are selling something because there’s an agenda there to sell you a product and looking more towards health professional sites like the academy of nutrition and dietetics. They’re a large nutrition organization I would look for university sites here in Wisconsin we do have uw hospital and clinics. Have the department of nutritional sciences where I’m located and those sites have good information other major health systems in the us often have information out like Mayo clinic or other major universities like Tufts have a lot of consumer. Friendly nutrition available. I would look for those places look at it and say who who’s reviewing this information. Do they have credentials are they trying to sell me something. Um, how often is this reviewed am I looking at something that hasn’t been looked at since 2010 is it new and does it appear balanced. I think the other thing is to avoid the headlines that sometimes come out. There’s a new study and this nutrient and it does this. That’s coming on top of a whole body of work and we want to make sure we’re kind of looking at the new along with what does the whole body of literature say.

Host:
Really great advice. Well thank you again so much for joining me today and for helping us to understand our nutrition in the immune system a little bit better I really appreciate it.

Guest:
You’re very welcome I enjoyed it.

Host:
Thanks so much for listening in today I hope you enjoyed the show for those of you listening in as part of the well Wisconsin program the code for this episode is nutrition for a transcript to take our survey or to find previous episodes go to http://webmdhealthservices.com/wellwisconsinradio you can also subscribe on the podcast platform of your choice so you never miss an episode until next time take care.

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