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Monday, December 15, 2008

Foods for your immune system
The flu season is upon us once again and your best defense against illness is a strong immune system. The body has a natural defense system with highly specialized cells, organs and a lymphatic system, but this defense system needs good nutrition to operate at optimal levels. A deficiency of even one nutrient can affect the ability of the body to fight infection and any health problems. Following a healthful and balanced diet is a great way to bolster the immune system. Choosing a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods is important to protect against illness and to reduce the risk of chronic disease.

The following are nutrients that are essential to promote a healthy immune system and the foods where they are found:

Proteins: are repeated combinations of amino acids that are necessary to build, repair and maintain all body tissue, including the immune system. Examples of excellent protein sources include poultry, beef, pork, veal, fish, shellfish, game meats, eggs, dried beans, lentils, peas, soybean products, nuts and seeds. Selecting lean animal protein sources is beneficial for keeping total fat intake lower.

Vitamin A and the carotenoids: (a form of vitamin A) help prevent infection by keeping the skin and tissues around the mouth, stomach, intestines and the respiratory, genital and urinary tracts healthy and help to regulate the immune system. Vitamin A is found in animal products such as liver, fish oil, eggs, milk fortified with vitamin A and other foods fortified with vitamin A. Carotenoids come from foods of plant origin. They are found in red, yellow, orange and many dark green leafy vegetables.

Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is a powerful antioxidant. It is a key nutrient to help the body maintain a healthy immune system and plays an important role in fighting infections. Good sources of vitamin C include orange juice; citrus fruits such as oranges, tangerines and grapefruit; many berries; red and green bell peppers and tomato juice.

Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that works as an antioxidant. It may protect from cell damage that can lead to health problems, and it seems to work in conjunction with other antioxidants. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils. However, heating vegetable oils to a high temperature destroys vitamin E. Salad dressing and processed foods containing vegetable oils contain vitamin E. It is also found in many fortified breakfast cereals, wheat germ, whole-grain products, seeds, nuts and peanut butter. Vitamin E is also added as a preservative to some processed foods.

Zinc promotes cell reproduction and the growth of tissue. Insufficient zinc intake can cause a reduced resistance to infections. Good sources of zinc are animal protein such as meat, seafood and liver. Eggs and milk contain smaller amounts of zinc.

Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine helps the immune system function properly. The best sources include chicken, fish, pork, liver and kidney. Other sources include whole grains, nuts and legumes.

Folate may help to lower homocysteine levels in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine may contribute to inflammation that is associated with an increased risk for coronary artery disease. Folate is found in orange juice, lentils, dried beans, spinach, broccoli, peanuts and avocados. Enriched grain products are fortified with folic acid, which is a form of folate.

Selenium boosts immune function. The best sources are seafood, liver and kidney. Other meats also contain selenium. Grain products and seeds also contain selenium in varying amounts.

Iron helps protect against infection because it is part of an enzyme in the immune system. Iron is in a wide variety of foods. The iron in animal products such as meat, poultry and fish is the most absorbable kind of iron.
Copper helps the body make hemoglobin, which is needed to carry oxygen in red blood cells, is a part of many body enzyme systems, helps the body build connective tissue and aids in the production of energy in body cells. It is mostly found in organ meats, particularly liver, seafood, nuts and seeds.

Incorporating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods is a great way to boost the immune system and protect against other health problems. Include all the above foods in your diet to maintain a healthy immune system as well as reaching a healthy weight; take multivitamin/mineral supplements; exercise at least 30 minutes 4 times per week and sleep 8 hours every night.  A good night's sleep detoxifies the body as well as burns excess fat, so this is good news for dieters.

Last but not least, keep the sugars and added fat low - studies have shown that diets high in both sugars and fat reduce the number of killer cells.  Even as little as 2 sugary drinks a day can lower the power of your immune cells by 40 %.

10:36 am est 

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