Defy Winter Colds with Immune Boosting Foods and Nutrients

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Wouldn’t it be great to minimize the colds and flu that seem almost inevitable each year? Germs may be unavoidable, but the state of your immune system ultimately determines whether or not you get sick. Fortunately, you can cultivate robust immunity naturally with key foods and nutrients. Plan ahead this year for a happy, healthy winter season.

Giving whole, unprocessed foods center stage in your diet is a powerful wellness-boosting tactic. Fresh fruits and vegetables steal the spotlight with their bounty of vitamins, minerals, disease preventing phytochemicals, carotenoids and other antioxidants—all of which play important roles where your health is concerned.

Vitamin C bolsters your immune system year round, making it a strong ally in preventing colds and flu. It also fights bacteria and viruses, and stimulates white blood cells to combat stress. According to the journal Advanced Nutrition Research, 1-3 grams of Vitamin C daily are recommended for immune enhancement. Top food sources include red peppers, parsley, guava, kiwifruit, broccoli, and citrus fruits.

Vitamin E has a powerful effect on immune health, enhancing the production of bacteria-destroying antibodies, notes a 2008 study in the Journal of Free Radical Research. Vitamin E can be found in seeds, vegetable oils and grains, but obtaining enough through food alone may be challenging.

Don’t forget zinc, which is involved in many aspects of immunity—and like Vitamin C, has antiviral properties. When zinc levels are low, immune functions become less efficient, but this is easily reversed when you consume enough zinc. Along with your daily nutritional supplement, you can obtain zinc in oysters, turkey, lentils, pumpkin and sesame seeds, garbanzo beans and yogurt.

Selenium stimulates white blood cell and thymus function, and supports immunity. Brazil nuts are an excellent food option, with up to 90 mcg. per nut. Other sources include mushrooms, salmon, halibut and shrimp. Salmon offers the added bonus of omega-3 fatty acids, which increase the activity of bacteria-devouring white blood cells. Omega-3s also help strengthen cell membranes to increase resistance to infection and promote rapid healing. Incorporate selenium-rich garlic as well, which offers antiviral, antiseptic, and blood-cleansing properties, and may also improve T-cell function, according to a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition.

Iron is also important. In fact, The World Health Organization considers iron deficiency the number one nutritional disorder in the world, noting that as many as 80% of the world’s population may be iron deficient. A depressed immune system can result from as little as a 10% decrease in this key nutrient. Iron-rich foods include soy products, lentils, sesame seeds, kidney and garbanzo beans, red meat, and green vegetables.

Healthy, whole foods are wellness essentials, but people on the go can’t always manage complete, nutrient-dense meals. A high-quality, full spectrum daily multi-vitamin/mineral formula can fill in vital gaps, complementing the foods you eat to empower immune functions. Covering your bases will serve you well, allowing you to weather the coming winter with radiant health and vitality.

This is a special article featured in the Fall 2008 issue of Whole Foods/Whole Body Newsletter, with information and savings from their Whole Body and Grocery departments. Find out more about our newsletters and download PDFs of previous issues.

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