The best defense is a good offense, and to stay healthy during the upcoming cold and flu season you need to prepare your body for battle. Boosting your immune system with the proper foods can help ward off illness, say experts.
“As we get older, our immunity starts to decline, but if we get the right nutrients, we can help our immune systems do their jobs to protect us against viruses like the flu,” Samantha Heller, a NYC nutritionist told AARP.
“Now is the time to become a health advocate and shore up your immune system, the body’s natural defense system, to ward off illness and reduce your risk of disease,” Ellen Kamhi, author of The Natural Medicine Chest, tells Newsmax. “The efficient functioning of the immune system is of paramount importance to everyone, adults and children alike, since it controls our ability to fend off illness, whether it be a serious threat or even common sniffles.”
Research has shown that following the Mediterranean Diet is effective in reducing the risk of infection and severe illness from COVID-19, and is likely to boost your immune system against other viruses as well. Here are key foods that nutritionists recommend:
- Blueberries. Susan Levin, the director of nutrition for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, says that we should “eat the colors of the rainbow” to boost the immune system. “The pigments that give fruits and vegetables their bright colors represent a variety of protective compounds,” she says. The anthocyanins in blueberries destroy free radicals, reduce inflammation and boost brain health, says Levin. One cup of blueberries provides 15 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C. Not only is vitamin C a key nutrient that helps the immune system work properly, it is also an antioxidant that protects cells from damage.
- Sweet potatoes. The beta-carotene in sweet potatoes fights cancer and supports the immune system. The potatoes also contain more than three times the recommended amount of vitamin A and are a good source of B6. These nutrients are important for the respiratory system, says Anna Taylor, a clinical dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Nutrition, who says since older adults make fewer immune cells as we age, sweet potatoes are an ideal flu-fighter. Roast them with olive oil and immune-supporting oregano and black pepper to boost their superpower.
- Green tea. A new metanalysis published in July in the journal Molecules found a large amount of evidence that this beverage can boost the immune system, says AARP. The catechins in green tea provide its antioxidant, immune boosting support.
- Red bell peppers. Keri Glassman, founder of Nutritious Life, says she hasn’t had a cold in over a decade thanks to the power of peppers. “Red peppers are one of my favorite foods to incorporate into my diet for immune-boosting benefits,” she says. They are particularly rich in vitamin C which is important for immunity, reducing the length and severity of colds, and collagen, which keeps your skin healthy.
- Salmon. This oily fish is one of the few foods that supplies vitamin D, an extremely important nutrient in regulating the immune system, according to AARP. Studies have shown that people with vitamin D deficiency were almost twice as likely to test positive for COVID-19 as those who had sufficient levels of the vitamin. A six-ounce piece of salmon fillet has 600 IU of vitamin D which comes close to reaching the 800 IU daily intake recommended by nutritionists. As an added bonus, salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are known immune boosters.
- Nuts and seeds. These superfoods are rich in vitamin E which supports the growth of T-cells that are essential to your healthy immune system. They are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Nutritionists recommend eating walnuts in particular, as they have more immune-boosting alpha linolenic acid than other nuts.
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