Eating Your Way to a Stronger Immune System

Did you know that each day you are exposed to millions of bacterial microbes in and on your body? Each day your body uses its immune system to combat these tiny invaders to keep you healthy.

Yet healthy immunity can be precarious. A deficiency in even one single nutrient can cause the immune system to lose its balance and begin a downward spiral. And then there are those pesky free radicals. Free radicals are harmful oxygen molecules that travel through the body, damaging otherwise healthy cells. Enter the antioxidant.

Acting as a barrier between the free radical and the healthy cell, antioxidants neutralize any possible damage and leave the precious healthy cells intact. Another reason to keep your immunity functioning at its peak.

"The most powerful protection you can give your immune system is to eat a well-balanced diet containing a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds and nuts, and seafood," says Michelle S. Santos, Ph.D. of Tufts University. Research studies confirm that those who consume a variety of nutrients, including anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene and vitamins C and E, produced a greater number of natural killer cells (immune cells that destroy bacteria and harmful cells) and got sick half as often as those who consumed less of these important nutrients.
The importance of Vitamin C is two-fold: it is a powerful anti-oxidant and also helps the body make interferon, a powerful protein that helps destroy viruses in the body.

Wondering what you can eat each day to maximize your body's immunity? Carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, kale and spinach provide an excellent source of the antioxidant beta-carotene. Getting the RDA (60 milligrams) of Vitamin C a day is easy, however, some experts recommend a minimum of 200 milligrams to boost immunity. You'll find 113 mg of Vitamin C in half a cantaloupe, 48 mg in a half cup of Brussels sprouts, and don't forget about citrus fruits, broccoli, rutabagas and radishes as other sources.

Lastly, there is also evidence that Vitamin E may boost immunity, but you'll have to go to a supplement to get enough; an amount too large to get from foods alone.

Source: Yeager, Selene and the Editors of Prevention. New Foods for Healing. New York, 1998. This article also published by Health Resource in the CFIDS & FM Health Resource Email Bulletin in October, 1999.

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