You're immune system needs to be strong enough to fight off germs and viruses lurking, well, everywhere. Eating nutrient-rich foods is a great way to keep your family healthy. But with tight schedules, many of us eat on the run and sacrifice good nutrition, which can undermine the health boost that a normally nutritious diet offers.
Colds and flu can sneak up on you and your loved ones. More than 200 viruses can cause cold symptoms. That is a lot of bugs to fend off.
Luckily, eating healthy may be just the immune-system booster you need to ward off illness. A healthy immune system is your best defense against pathogens, such as viruses, bacteria and carcinogens that can make you ill.
Immune cells are found throughout you body, in your tonsils, lymph nodes, spleen, thymus gland, and bone marrow. By focusing on nutrient-rich foods instead of high-calorie foods like cookies and ice cream, you and your family can ward off illness.
Here are 6 foods that boost Immunity.
1. Fish--For a stronger immune system, nutritionists suggest consuming at least two servings a week of fatty seafood, such as sardines, salmon, herring, and mackerel.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish and in other foods such as walnuts, flaxseeds and canola oil are known to boost the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body. They increase the activity of white blood cells called macrophages, which engulf troublesome bacteria. Monounsaturated fats in foods such as olive oil and wheat germ also protect our bodies from microorganisms, bacteria and viruses.
2. Protein--Zinc, a mineral abundant in meats like calf's liver, beef and lamb, works with the protein found in meat to help strengthen the immune system. In fact, certain types of immune cells, including white blood cells, cannot function without zinc.
In the winter months, most markets offer a wonderful array of fresh choices, from winter squashes, greens and root vegetables to cranberries. You can also reach for canned and frozen fruits and vegetables any time of the year. Processed just after the harvest, canned and frozen produce may actually have more nutrients than produce that has spent days in transit.
3. Citrus & Veggies--Go ahead and indulge in leafy greens, bell peppers, and citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, all rich in vitamin C. This vitamin inactivates histamine, the substance responsible for your runny nose and congestion, and helps reduce the inflammation that accompanies colds and viruses.
According to a study at the University of California at Berkeley of 160 healthy adults, those who took 500 milligrams of vitamin C a day for two months had a 24% drop in C-reactive protein, a compound associated with inflammation and chronic disease.
Brightly colored greens and other vegetables also contain large doses of immune-enhancing antioxidants that help fight wintertime illnesses. So load up on strawberries, cantaloupe, blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, and sweet potatoes--all a boost for you immune system.
To make vegetables more appealing, add them to soups, stews and sauces. And down a glass of low-sodium tomato or vegetable juice now and then--they are both great sources of vitamin C.
4. Nuts--Instead of chips or cheese doodles for an afternoon snack, reach for a handful of nuts or seeds. Studies show vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, fights respiratory infections, including colds. It boosts the responses of antibodies and certain immune system cells when we're under stress.
Try on quarter cup of sunflower seeds which has almost all the vitamin E you need daily, one quarter cup of almond provides 50% of your needs, Brazil nuts pack a whopping dose of selenium, a mineral that works with vitamin E to boost wintertime defenses.
5. Spices--Both garlic and onions contain compounds that rev up the activity of immune-system cells called natural killer cells and T-helper cells. While onions and garlic fend off colds, they're also helping defend you from cancer and heart disease.
If a cold does catch you and you get stuffy, a bite of garlic will also help clear your nose.
6. Yogurt--In a year-long study at the University of California, adults who ate three-fourths cup of yogurt a day had 25% fewer colds than those who didn't. Researchers found that yogurt cranked up the production of a substance called gamma interferon, which helps squelch virus reproduction, a death knell for your cold.
Dehydration can also lower your defenses. Drink at least 8 8-ounce glasses of water and other fluids every day. And if you're already sick, double that.
Now you know what to eat, but what foods should you avoid?
Skip sugar and Fat--Animal studies have shown that diets high in both sugar and fat reduce the numbers of natural killer cells. Even as little as two sugary sodas a day can lower the power of your cold-busting immune cells by 40%.
For a healthy immune system, health experts also encourage reaching a healthy weight, taking a multivitamin that provides essential minerals, like zinc and selenium, exercising 30 to 60 minutes most days, and sleeping at least eight hours every night.
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