The Immunutrients: Helping Protect and Defend the Body Universe

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Protect, defend, battle, and repair. They’re the cold and flu-fighting superheroes of the body and while they may not be able to literally leap high buildings in a single bound like Superman powerful nutrients in the foods we consume can give our immune systems a serious boost.

To become a virtual wonder woman yourself, eating colorful and varied diet is the key, but there are a few of the standout immune boosting nutrients in our foods to know so you can use the create the protective force field around you to thwart the cold and flu villains that strike millions and millions of Americans each year.

Vitamin C is one powerful antioxidant! It helps keep your tissues and blood vessels firm, helps aid wound healing, keep your gums healthy, and increases infection-fighting white blood cells and anti-viral agents. While vitamin C probably doesn’t decrease the likelihood of catching a cold, studies have shown that consuming sufficient vitamin C-rich foods may help reduce the duration and in some cases, also severity of colds. The RDA is a mere 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men, though an estimated 16-20% of Americans are deficient in this nutrient. Thankfully, it’s easy to get your fill in a colorful diet. Eat well with: Red and yellow/orange fruits and vegetables, like oranges, red bell peppers, strawberries, grapefruit, plus kiwi and dark green vegetables such as broccoli and kale.

Zinc is a mineral essential to the development and activation of the immune system’s T-cells, which are important in fighting infection. It also helps white cells release antibodies. While zinc status is most certainly associated with a healthy immune system, taking too much can have the opposite effect by actually decreasing immune function and resulting in a copper deficiency and impaired iron function. Zinc supplements generally are not recommended and have not shown scientifically to benefit. Choose foods like: lean meat, poultry, seafood (shrimp and oysters, in particular), dried beans (lentils), nuts, whole grains, yogurt, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

B vitamins: Folate (aka folic acid) and vitamin B-6. These B vitamins are important to the growth and reproduction of cells including white cells of the immune system that help fight illness and aid in the production of antibodies. Eat well with: green leafy vegetables (romaine, spinach, kale), citrus fruits, whole grain yeast breads, wheat germ, and fortified cereals for folate; and whole grains, corn, soybeans, bananas, lean beef, poultry, fish, dried beans, bananas and avocados for B-6.

Lycopene is an important carotenoid, giving the red color to tomatoes and watermelon and associated with a healthy prostate and reducing heart disease risk. While it’s exact role is still not completely understood, researchers are clear that lycopene is an important superhero for the immune system. Choose foods like: Tomato sauce, low sodium tomato juice, watermelon, pink grapefruit, apricots and strawberry guava.

Beta-glucans, a type of fibrous molecule (polysaccharide) in certain foods, enhance the natural immunity of the body. They can activate the immune system to make it work better both to protect the body against foreign assaults before they do damage and fight infections quickly when they occur. Some researchers consider beta-glucans to be one of the most potent immune boosting substances discovered to date. They’ve been shown to help lower bad (LDL) cholesterol, prevent and fight infections, aid in wound healing and act as strong cancer fighters. Eat well with beta-glucan-containing foods like: mushrooms, oats and barley.

Water, Important for overall health promotion and optimal immune function, as well as steady metabolism, joint health, physical performance, and cognitive function. Drink up from: water (flat or bubbly), green and black tea, juice, soups, fruits and vegetables.

 

Phytochemicals (or phytonutrients): “Phyto” means plant, and there are more than a thousand of them, including carotenoids and polyphenols many which are still yet to be identified. They repair cellular damage, protect your cells, fight off bacteria and enhance your immunity. They’re found abundantly in the calorie-free pigments, skin, and flesh of your fruits and veggies. Eat well by including a fruit and/or vegetable at every meal.

The Colors of Immunity: Creating a Plateful of Superpowers

While their names are certainly harder to remember than favorites like the Green Flash, Aquaman or the Wonder Twins, there’s no question that the immunutrients play a critical role in protecting our health, defending from disease and boosting our day-to-day immunity. Eating a vibrantly colored diet literally creating a rainbow on your plate can ensure you get all the nutrients to boost your immune system and rise to your defense when we come in contact with those nasty cold and flu scoundrels lurking around us everyday.

While you can’t defend against every villain who tries to infiltrate your body’s defense system, you can increase the variety of superhero-like nutrients that are ready to defend, protect and repair any damage that may be done. And the ultimate goal in seeking wellness is giving your body what it needs to maintain good health and prevent being hit hard when the cold or flu eventually strikes. A healing lifestyle includes eating the immunutrients in a delicious diet and remembering also that exercise, stress management and plenty of rest are ultimately your greatest superpowers.

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Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD

Wendy Bazilian is a doctor of public health, registered dietitian, American College of Sports Medicine certified Exercise Physiologist and freelance writer in San Diego. She is an expert advisor to the spa industry and co-owns Bazilian’s Health Clinic with her husband and business partner, Dr. Jason Bazilian. Dr. Wendy is co-author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean (Rodale, 2015) and author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet (Rodale). Find her onFacebook and Twitter

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