8 Foods That Boost Your Immune System
Last Updated: Jan 05, 2017
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We’re not quite in the clear of cold and flu season yet, so it’s still important to take every measure to keep our bodies healthy. Washing our hands and getting 6-8 hours of sleep each night helps keep our immune systems strong and cuts down on the risk of getting sick, but there are also changes we can make in our diet to help protect ourselves during cold and flu season. While there’s no one food that can ward off the flu virus or common cold, our advice is to aim to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that incorporates some of the 8 immunity boosting foods on the next slides.
Fruit-on-the-bottom, plain, or blended, yogurt is a great source of good bacteria called probiotics. These healthy bacteria have been all the rage and we’ve all gotten the memo of it’s importance when it comes to digestion. But, what does it have to do with not catching a bug? About 70% of our body’s immune system response is found in our GI tract and because our gut is on the front lines when it comes to contact with external bacteria, it’s important to keep our gut healthy to keep us healthy overall.
Folklore tells us garlic keeps vampires away but what about scaring off the common cold? One small clinical trial found that in a study of 146 subjects, individuals who received a garlic supplement daily for 12 weeks reported fewer days of illness. Although the results of the study were subjective, it may not hurt to add an extra bulb or two to tonight’s dinner dish.
As you can imagine, our skin is one of the most important lines of defense, protecting our insides from the outside world. It’s crucial to keep our skin healthy and vitamin A (found in carrots) plays an important role in this. Aside from supporting the physical barrier, vitamin A acts as an immune enhancer internally as well and a deficiency of this vitamin can weaken our immune system, increasing risk of infection. So how much do we need? For adults, a range of 700 – 900 micrograms is recommended. Other sources of vitamin A include: kale, broccoli, squash, cantaloupe, apricots, fish and sweet potatoes.
Hot tea is a common cold time staple because it’s soothing on the throat, but there may be more benefit to this than originally thought. Black tea contains a small amino acid called L-theanine, which may help to support the immune system. A small study from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found an increase in interferon, which helps to fight infection in subjects who drank five cups of black tea each day. Another benefit? Hydration is crucial when you’re feeling down so tea, juice, and water are all great fluid options.
Cashews are so much more than just a delicious snack; they’re also a good source of zinc and when zinc levels are down, your immune system is down. Your body needs zinc to develop and activate T-lypmphocytes, which help the immune system respond to infection and act as a first line of defense in attacking infected cells. Other good sources of zinc include: beef, chicken, fortified cereals, crab, and beans.
There may be some truth to the old adage, an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Apples contain quercetin, a compound found in plant foods, which has been shown to help reduce illness rates in athletes who are undergoing heavy training. Other quercetin-containing foods include: onions, red wine, tea, grapes, strawberries, and kale.
Although fresh strawberries are typically a spring or summertime food, frozen strawberries can be enjoyed in colder climates during the cold and flu season as well. We often think of oranges but strawberries are equally a good source of vitamin C, which plays an important role in supporting the immune system, to help the body fight infection. Cantaloupe, grapefruit, kiwi, tomatoes, green and red peppers also contain vitamin C.
Similar to zinc, an iron deficiency can lead to low immune function which increases the risk of infection and getting sick. On the same note, too much iron can actually hinder the immune system, so overdoing what do you any favors either. So how much do you need? The Recommended Daily Allowance for adult men is 8mg and women, 18mg. For women over the age of 50 years, intake should be reduced to 8mg. Other sources of iron include: red meat, turkey, tofu, fortified cereals and lentils.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Have you managed to avoid getting sick this year? Did you eat any of these immunity-boosting foods? What tips do you have that you can share with the community to help them remain healthy during cold and flu season? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Related: 12 Not-So-Common Tips to Fend Off Cold and Flu
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