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Boost your immune system with nutrition

By Elizabeth Hall, MS, RDN, LDN Food City Registered Dietitian • Sep 12, 2018 at 4:15 AM

Flu season is upon us! Good nutrition and frequent exercise are essential to a strong and healthy immune system. You can protect yourself against infection and boost your immunity by including these nutrients in your eating plan.

Protein plays a role in the body’s defense mechanism and also helps the body heal. We should eat a variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.

Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system by keeping your skin and tissues healthy. We have protective tissues in our mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system. This is our first line of defense against harmful organisms. Vitamin A is found in orange and red vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots and red bell peppers, but also in leafy greens like kale and spinach.

Vitamins C and E are antioxidants that help to neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are groups of atoms that can form in the body and start a chain reaction leading to chronic disease. Antioxidants help to get rid of those free radicals so they don’t cause harm in the body. These vitamins also protect against infection by making antibodies which help us identify infection sooner so our bodies can fight it off easier. When we think of Vitamin C we think of oranges and citrus fruits, right? But also strawberries and tomatoes contain high levels of Vitamin C. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, so it can be found in foods that contain fat such as sunflower seeds, almonds and other nuts, and vegetable oils.

Zinc helps the immune system work properly and may help wounds heal. When you think of zinc, think of protein. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, beans and nuts, but also milk and whole grains.

All of these nutrients and practices should be included in a balanced, healthy lifestyle. In other words, eat these beneficial nutrients on a daily basis and exercise often to avoid getting sick rather than mega-dosing on vitamins and minerals only when you feel a stuffy nose coming on.

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