H1N1, the common cold, seasonal flu, RSV, sinus infections, pneumonia, measles, tuberculosis, SARS, bird flu, Lyme disease, West Nile —
Stop the madness! With all of the health scares out there, we may want to wrap ourselves and our family in bubble wrap and never leave the house. But as much as we imagine disinfecting from head-to-toe anyone who comes within a one-mile radius of our loved ones, it just isn’t possible. We live in the real world, with real people, with real germs. That’s life!
The good news is that there are certain things you can do to help give your immune system a boost. Most of us know that we need to be vigilant about washing our hands. Getting enough sleep, exercising, and reducing stress can also help our immune systems function better. And there are certain foods we can eat to give our bodies an edge.
According to EatingWell.com, there’s no magical food or supplement that’s been clinically proven to boost the immune system. However, eating healthy foods that provide essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients will altogether help your immune system run more smoothly and fight off illness and disease:
- Vitamin C: Your skin and mucous membranes are your body’s first barrier to germs, and vitamin C helps keep the skin healthy. It’s also key in the production of white blood cells and antibodies, which fight infection. Fruits high in vitamin C include oranges, cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberries, and mangos; vegetables like broccoli and peppers are also good sources.
- Vitamin A: This will help keep your immune system going strong. While it can be harmful to consume high doses through supplements, foods that contain beta carotene allow your body to make vitamin A as needed. Orange and yellow foods such as oranges, papayas, peaches, red peppers, sweet potatoes, and carrots are all rich in beta carotene.
- Zinc: Another mineral that should be consumed as long as you don’t go overboard (large doses can actually be toxic), Zinc helps produce and activate white blood cells. Find it in foods like beans, oysters, crab, beef, and mineral-fortified cereals.
- Vitamin E: Another “good in moderation” vitamin, Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps bolster the immune system. It’s found in wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts.
- T Cells & Cytokines: If you like mushrooms, eat up. Researchers found that mushrooms increase the body’s level of T cells and cytokines, which fight infection. Shiitake and maitake varieties are the best, but any kind of mushroom will do.
- Selenium: Good for increasing immunity, Selenium also is found in mushrooms as well as in seafood, chicken, egg yolks, garlic, and whole grains.
- Fermented Foods: To help your digestive system, eat fermented foods that contain good bacteria, such as certain yogurts and sauerkraut.
- Fluids: Drinking enough water is key as well. If you find yourself struggling to drink the recommend six to eight glasses per day, drinking tea or having soup can help increase your fluid intake.
I don’t expect to eat everything on the list above daily or I’ll have to say good bye to my skinny jeans. However, I’m going to keep these foods in mind as I make my grocery list and think about meals for the week. I’ll aim to throw some mushrooms and broccoli in my stir-fried veggies, snack on almonds, and eat “pro-biotic” yogurt at breakfast. Every little bit can help our immune systems—and during this time of year, our bodies will thank us.