Eat Smart for Immune Support
Are you sick of worrying about how to avoid the flu? Then boost your own immune system by eating right and quit adding to your stress. Germs are constantly assaulting our bodies, but that does not mean you have to get sick. Since your immune system is your first line of defense, it’s vital that you keep it strong. Here’s how:
Good for the Gut
The intestinal tract is actually a major part of the immune system. Foods that keep the gut functioning properly include probiotics, which are “good” bacteria that help maintain a healthy balance of microbes throughout our digestive tract. Some good choices for adding these to your diet include yogurt – with live and active cultures, kefir, naturally fermented miso, and sauerkraut. Miso soup as a starter before sushi is great. Sauerkraut as a complement to pork loin is also good. Lactic acid bacteria, while available in pill form, must be refrigerated.
Vitamins are essential for good health. A general multivitamin with minerals is a good way to ensure you’re helping to boost your immune system, so there is no need to overdo vitamin and mineral supplements — with one exception. Vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin,” plays a greater role in our immune health than was previously recognized and experts now agree that most Americans are not getting enough. Adults should strive to take one 1,000 IU Vitamin D supplement per day, especially in winter. Vitamin C, another immune player, is easy to include in a typical diet and also helps with iron absorption. During the flu season, be sure to eat oranges, clementines, and lots of tomato soup! And remember: supplements are simply that – meant only to supplement the diet. They do not make up for a lack of good nutrition.
Iron and Protein
Immune function also relies on adequate iron stores in the body. Ironically, this is one mineral that is often deficient, particularly in young children, the elderly, and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation therapy. For anyone with iron-deficiency anemia, it is important to see a doctor regularly. Low iron is not good when it comes to warding off infection, so power up on high-iron foods like legumes, leafy greens, and lean sources of red meat. These also happen to supply protein, which is integral to proper immune function, as every disease-fighting molecule is made up of proteins. Although the typical American diet actually consists of too much protein, those who avoid meat and dislike vegetables tend to lack both protein and iron, and are therefore at risk for the flu.
Real Foods, Real Fats
The right fats are also key to good immune health. What are they? Those found in nuts, seeds, vegetables and fish. All of these foods are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for overall health. Use canola and olive oil in cooking. Snack on nuts and seeds. Add ground flax to your morning oatmeal. Eat sushi (remember the miso soup first) occasionally. These are easy, enjoyable ways to get the right balance of good fats. On the other hand, some things should simply be left out of every diet. These include trans fats (found in foods containing partially and fully hydrogenated oils) and refined sugar. When we eat them, particularly in combination, we are basically committing immune system suicide. Limit the amount of refined sugar in your diet and remove the trans fats entirely. What our bodies need for flu-fighting is just what you might expect to hear — fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and some lean meats and dairy. When you eat real foods, you don’t have to worry about the rest. And one less worry removes bad-for-your-immune-system stress too.
Moms & Dads Know Best
If there’s a bottom line message when it comes to boosting your immune system this flu season, it may be that our parents’ advice still holds true: Eat right, exercise daily (walking is great), get enough sleep and quit worrying. Oh – and don’t forget to wash your hands!