Wellness Wednesday: Immunity-Boosting through Nutrition
Last week in New York State, the number of positively diagnosed cases of the flu rose by 22 % in less than seven days. Many of these identified cases also reported that they had received the flu shot prior to becoming ill. As a dietitian, I am often asked if there is any way to avoid getting sick, usually in the middle of a conversation related to vitamins.
While the best practice to avoid illness is to use good hygiene at all times, including hand washing, and to avoid contact with anyone who has obvious signs of illness, food does play a role. Fact: over 70% of your immune system is located in your gut. It is host to tons of bacteria that help you digest your food and also play a role in regulating immunity. It is for this reason that food plays such an active role in immune function- your gut is your first line of defense. I typically suggest a two-part approach to eating for immune function- with both short and long-term goals.
Long-term goal: The long game here is to preserve gut health. This is where your preventative measures come in. A healthy gut is like a well-oiled machine, keeping everything moving happily down the pipes before toxic, germy nasty things have a chance to set up camp and cause a problem. How can this be done? It can be done with fiber, soluble and insoluble fiber. These two types of fiber help keep the gut functioning healthfully and make sure everything keeps moving right along. They also help the good bacteria living in your guts stay strong and healthy, so it can fight off any invaders. Good sources of fiber include fruits and veggies: like apples; berries; celery and carrots.
Short-term goal: If your fiber intake hasn’t been the best, you can still take action to maximize immune function by consuming foods high in the following nutrients:
Protein is part of the body's defense mechanism. 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 and protects from infections by keeping skin and tissues in the digestive tract as well as the respiratory system healthy. Vitamin A can be found in foods such as sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, and eggs.
Vitamin C protects the body from infection by activating antibody formation and boosting immunity. Include more of this healthy vitamin in your diet by eating more citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, or red bell pepper, papaya, strawberries, tomato juice or foods fortified with vitamin C, such as some cereals.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals and may improve immune function. Good sources of vitamin E include sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils (such as sunflower or safflower oil), hazelnuts and peanut butter
Zinc is thought to play a role in not only immune function but also in wound healing. Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds and nuts.
So eat clean… and wash your hands.