The immune system is like an army protecting the body from foreign invaders, and it’s important to keep the soldiers well nourished. The best defense is a balanced diet, with ample amounts of certain key nutrients. Some of the most important:
They’re high in selenium,a powerful antioxidant that has been shown in a number of studies to significantly improve immune response. Other good sources of selenium include halibut, turkey, and sardines. Easy fixes: chop Brazil buts and add steamed quinoa; puree Brazil nuts, garlic, fresh basil, and olive oil for pesto.
They are the richest source of zinc, an antioxidant mineral that’s essential for immune cell function. Many studies have shown that even zinc deficiency depresses immunity. Beef, carb, turkey, and kidney beans are other good sources of zinc. Easy fixes; add oysters to stuffing recipes; combine oysters, crab, and fish in a seafood stew.
Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A, which enhances immune functions, such as white blood cell activity. Vitamin A also has antioxidant properties, and studies have shown that a deficiency increases risk of infectious disease. Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, collards, and kale are also high in vitamin A. Easy fixes: add puree pumpkin to pasta sauce, halve sugar pie pumpkins and roast until tender.
They are rich in vitamin E, essential for overall immune function; in studies, even a small vitamin E deficiency impaired immune response. Other good sources of vitamin E; Almonds, turnip greens, spinach, and beet greens. Easy fixes: puree sunflower seeds with cooked artichokes, swap sunflower butter for peanut butter on sandwiches.
Papayas are rich in vitamin C, long recognized for its immune-enhancing effects. Studies have shown that vitamin C improves many components of the immune system, including natural killer cell activities. Strawberries, grapefruit juice, peaches, peppers, broccoli, and brussels sprouts are other good sources. Easy fixes: add frozen papaya cubes to smoothies; combine chopped papayas and peaches with minced jalapeños, red onion, and lime juice for salsa.
Source: Amazing Wellness. Winter 2012. (48)