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Can certain foods boost your immune system?

Can certain foods boost your immune system?

Health
Mother and daughter cooking

It’s no secret that eating well is important to your overall health, but can specific foods boost your immune system?
That’s a common question now that flu season is underway and COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
Researchers are still learning about the connection between specific foods and immune response, but it’s clear that a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet that incorporates a broad range of vitamins and minerals, is important to a strong immune system.
“What you eat can make a tremendous difference to your health,” says Jamie Kandora, clinical nutrition manager at Tidelands Health. “By eating well, you’re giving the body the tools it needs to do its job.”

A complex system

The immune system fights infection and disease. To keep it operating at optimum capacity, it needs proper nutrition, or “fuel,” for its many different parts to do their job properly. Without the right balance of fuel, the body simply won’t have what it needs to fend off sickness and disease and support recovery.
“The key is to provide your body with right amount and types of fuel,” Kandora explains. “We want to supply the body with what it needs without overeating.”

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It’s important to remember, she says, that foods or supplements can’t prevent COVID-19, influenza or other viruses from entering the body. To protect yourself from the flu, make sure to get a flu shot, and to protect yourself from COVID-19, be sure to follow established prevention recommendations such social distancing, practicing good hand hygiene and wearing a mask around others.

Balanced diet is key

However, a healthy diet that includes a broad range of vitamins and minerals can help strengthen your immune system so that it’s in top form to fight off pathogens and support your recovery. Vitamins and minerals that can support a healthy immune system include vitamins C, D and E, zinc and beta-carotene. Here are some great ways to incorporate those vitamins and minerals in your diet:

  • For vitamin C, eat fruits and vegetables such as oranges, mangoes, sweet potatoes, strawberries, lemons, cantaloupes, broccoli and brussels sprouts.
  • Get vitamin E by eating nuts, spinach, avocado and broccoli, and cook with vegetable oils instead of animal fats.
  • Eat vitamin D-enriched foods like salmon, cheese, fortified cereals and fortified milk. Some people don’t get enough vitamin D, which sunshine provides, and therefore vitamin D supplements may be beneficial. Be sure to speak with a qualified care provider, such as your family medicine physician, before introducing new supplements into your diet.
  • To boost your zinc intake, be sure your diet includes foods such as beef, poultry, seafood, nuts, beans, pumpkin seeds, lentils and whole grains.
  • For an infusion of beta-carotene, incorporate green leafy vegetables, carrots and sweet potatoes into the mix of foods you consume.
  • Eat adequate amounts of protein. Proteins play an important role in bolstering immune system cells. Healthy proteins include eggs, lean meats, seafood, nuts and seeds.

“Generally, the best way to provide your body with the right nutrients is by eating whole foods rather than supplements,” Kandora says. “Whole foods offer additional benefits, such as fiber, that may be lacking in supplements.”

In addition to eating a proper diet, you can also help keep your immune system strong and operating at its best by:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting adequate sleep
  • Minimizing stress
  • Avoiding tobacco and excess alcohol consumption

It’s never too late to start focusing on your immune system.
“Being good to your body and providing it with the right nutrition should be something you aim to do all year long,” Kandora says. “Having a robust immune system just doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something you need to maintain as part of a healthy lifestyle so it can do the job it was created to do.”

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