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How to Boost Your Immune System

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It’s that time of year again, when our bodies start feeling run down for a variety of reasons – the change in weather, increased levels of stress, and the holidays. When our bodies are run down, our immune system’s fighting power is weakened and we catch colds and the flu more easily. Eating the proper foods can strengthen our immune system, enabling it to increase its number of white blood cells and better fight off bacteria. Try incorporating these vitamins into your diet so you can cut back on sick days this year.

First and foremost is Vitamin C; it is an immune boosting superstar. Vitamin C is found in many fruits and vegetables and can also be found in supplement form. Vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies and increases levels of interferon, an antibody that coats the surfaces of cells, preventing viruses from entering.  It is recommended to consume around 200 milligrams a day, which can be done by eating six servings of fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin E is another immune booster and an antioxidant. Vitamin E stimulates the production of natural killer cells, which work to destroy germs. It also enhances the production of B-cells, which are immune cells that produce antibodies that destroy bacteria. Aim to get 30 to 60 milligrams every day.

Beta Carotene is great for boosting your immune system because it increases the number of infection-fighting cells, natural killer cells and helper T-cells. Your body converts beta-carotene to Vitamin A.

Also found in certain foods are Bioflavenoids, a group of phytonutrients that protect the immune system against pollutants in the environment.  Other vitamins that help to fight off infections are Zinc, a mineral that increases the amount of white blood cells produced by the body, selenium, and Omega-3 fatty acids.

Garlic, a member of the onion family, is wonderful for the immune system as it stimulates the multiplication of infection-fighting white cells. It is easy to consume and adds wonderful flavor to most foods – try cooking with it and adding it to your favorite dishes.

Start eating your immune-boosting vitamins and say goodbye to sick days. Here is a breakdown of which food sources are highest in which vitamins:

  • Vitamin C – red and green hot chili peppers, bell peppers, fresh herbs such as thyme and parsley, dark green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, and fruits such as kiwis, strawberries, oranges and tangerines
  • Vitamin E – nuts, seeds, green vegetables, vegetable oils such as olive, safflower and canola, fish, whole grains, tomatoes and blueberries
  • Beta Carotene (Vitamin A) – carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cantaloupe, winter squash, apricots, asparagus, dark green leafy vegetables
  • Bioflavenoids – bell peppers, sweet peppers, strawberries, citrus fruits, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, tropical fruits such as mangoes and papayas, garlic, spinach and tea
  • Zinc – oysters, wheat germ (sprinkle on cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, rice), veal liver, sesame seeds and sesame butter (also known as tahini, a common ingredient in hummus), roast beef, pumpkin and squash seeds, dark chocolate, lamb and peanuts
  • Selenium – nuts (especially brazil), shellfish, liver, fish, sunflower seeds, bran (oat, rice and wheat), caviar, bacon, pork chops, lobster, crab, shrimp
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, scallops, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, walnuts, almonds, kale, tofu, shrimp, salmon, mussels, sardines, cabbage and strawberries

By Emily Borgeest

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