Stay Well This Winter with Natural Immune Boosters

Use these natural immune boosters to keep seasonal illness—and chronic disease—at bay.

| November/December 2012

  • Getting enough sleep, eight hours a night for most adults, is vital for our immune function, as well as mental functioning and stress and weight management.
    Photo By Corbis
  • Encourage kids to eat healthy by letting them choose ingredients at the store or taking them to the farmer's market.
    Photo By Corbis
  • Eating a wide range of healthy foods including 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables daily will go a long way.
    Photo By iStockphoto
  • By eating a wide array of antioxidant-rich foods, boosting our resistance with powerhouse herbs, and getting adequate sleep and relaxation, we can remain healthy, even through cold and flu season.
    Photo By Loupe
  • Moderate exercise can help maintain a healthy immune system during winter.
    Photo By Corbis

For most of us, the standard week is hectic. From back-to-back meetings and household chores to social obligations and shuttling kids to activities (not to mention making time to exercise, eat well and spend time with our significant others and friends), many of us seem to have never-ending to-do lists. With these busy schedules, a bout of the common cold or flu can totally throw us off track. But ironically, the best way to preserve our health and maintain our on-the-go lifestyles is to give ourselves the time we need to slow down, treat our bodies right, and get the nutrition and rest we need. By eating a wide array of antioxidant-rich foods, boosting our resistance with powerhouse herbs, and getting adequate sleep and relaxation, we can remain healthy, even through cold and flu season.

Immune-Boosting Recipes

• Ziti with Chicken and Broccoli in a Creamy Sauce recipe
• Blueberry Banana Smoothie recipe

Natural Immune Boosters: Eat to Beat Illness

Eating well is one of the main ingredients in preventing illness. “The first step toward maintaining a healthy immune system is maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” says Marisa Moore, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Although eating a wide range of healthy foods including 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables daily (as a general rule, produce with darker colors offers the most antioxidant value) will go a long way toward maintaining your health, certain foods and minerals pack a bigger punch than others.

“Vitamin A is crucial for the immune system,” says Joan Salge Blake, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Vitamin A acts as a barrier against harmful bacteria, increases white blood cell counts and is a potent antioxidant, helping the body defend against the harmful free radicals that can damage cells and weaken the immune system, Blake says. But health experts recommend against superdosing with vitamin A supplements: Too much vitamin A can be toxic and lead to hypervitaminosis A, an overabundance of the vitamin that causes headaches, vomiting, drowsiness, dizziness, liver damage and decreased appetite. To safely boost your vitamin A intake, eat foods rich in beta-carotene such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, cantaloupe, and other fruits and vegetables with a deep orange or red color. Beta-carotene can be stored in the body until it’s needed and poses no risk of hypervitaminosis. “When your body needs the nutrient, it will convert the beta-carotene into vitamin A,” Blake says.



Other vitamins and minerals required for a fully functioning immune system include zinc, vitamin C and selenium. A powerful antioxidant, zinc helps the body produce white blood cells and encourages healing. Good sources include whole grains, red kidney beans, green peas, and meat such as dark-meat chicken and lean beef. Vitamin C helps the body produce white blood cells and defend against harmful pathogens and microorganisms. In addition to citrus fruits, broccoli and red peppers are two excellent sources of vitamin C. Selenium also offers antioxidant activity; Brazil nuts and lean meats such as turkey and chicken are the best sources. “One ounce of Brazil nuts has 777 percent of the daily value of selenium,” Moore says.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria vital to helping the body manage illness. Probiotics regulate potentially harmful bacteria in the colon and small and large intestine, which is where nutrients enter the bloodstream. Although people often use probiotic supplements, it’s preferable to find a food source of probiotics such as high-quality yogurt, kefir, kimchi or miso. “Acidity in the stomach can destroy probiotics, but food helps buffer the probiotics through the stomach and into the intestines,” Moore says.



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