A healthy immune system is key to fighting off infectious diseases, and these nutrient-packed foods can help your body protect itself 04/16/2020
Everyone wants to avoid getting sick. Along with social distancing and proper handwashing, a strong immune system plays an important part in protecting ourselves from infectious disease or any illness.
The immune system is an interlinked network of organs, tissues and cells that all cooperate to form the body’s defenses. Researchers are still searching through the fine details of how everything works together, but the backbone of this network is formed by millions of white blood cells called leukocytes. These are made in our bone marrow and spread throughout the body, where they orchestrate immunological defense and attack enemy invaders. Over a lifetime, they will fight off hundreds of potentially fatal threats.
Because of the complexities, scientists still debate the nuances of whether you can truly “boost” your immune system. But research does show that maintaining a healthy lifestyle plays a crucial role in immunity. And a healthy diet is one of the most important parts of that (Gutiérrez et al 2019). Amid a global virus outbreak, some scientists are even calling for health officials to recommend better nutrition to improve public health (Calder et al 2020).
Many of us already implement some of the basics, from eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, to avoiding sugary foods and excessive alcohol. But studies have also found a number of specific foods that may support the immune system.
So, instead of stocking up on toilet paper, consider adding these natural, nutrient-packed superfoods to your pantry and diet.
Omega-3s are fatty acids found in a variety of foods. Doctors have recommended eating them for years because of their anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce the risk of things like heart disease and cancer. But recent evidence has also suggested omega-3s help support the production of certain white blood cells vital to the immune system (Gurzell et al 2013).
Seafoods like mackerel, salmon, herring, sardines, anchovies and caviar are full of omega-3 fatty acids. And while the body converts their fats to a useful form much less efficiently, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts also contain omega-3s, rounding out the delicious options for you to snack on.
For a super boost, try a dish that gives you a wide variety of omega-3s, such as this recipe for charred mackerel with chia seeds and dig into those healthy fats.
Turmeric has been used in Asia for thousands of years as a dye and food coloring, and it’s famously found in most curry powders. The radiant yellow spice comes from the roots of Curcuma longa, a plant in the ginger family that’s among the oldest spices in Southeast Asia. Eastern medicine has used it as a medicinal herb since ancient times (Jagetia and Aggarwal 2007).
These days, you can buy turmeric’s main active ingredient, curcumin, as a dietary supplement. And modern research now backs up the idea that curcumin reduces inflammation (Young et al 2014). The compound also boosts antibodies, the blood proteins our bodies create to launch an attack after they spot harmful bacteria and viruses (Jagetia and Aggarwal 2007).
From a flavor perspective, bringing this bright spice into your diet can pack a big punch. Besides making your own curry, some clever ways to get more turmeric include blending it into a smoothie, making turmeric tea, and using it to top roasted vegetables. Or, if you just don’t like the taste of turmeric, you can always buy a curcumin supplement.
Zinc is a vital mineral for healthy bodies. Your body doesn’t make zinc, so it’s important to meet your daily dietary requirements by incorporating zinc-rich foods.
Decades of research have connected zinc deficiencies with a host of health problems (Fraker et al 2000). And studies show that zinc acts as an important micronutrient in the immune system (Childs et al 2019). Not getting enough zinc can also lead to a low white blood cell count. There’s even some evidence that zinc can help fight off a cold, but scientists are still debating that.
Most people get enough zinc in their daily diet already. But if you’re someone who doesn’t eat red meat or drinks alcohol regularly, you might consider working some zinc-rich foods into your meal planning. Shellfish are a great source of zinc and also conveniently low in calories. Oysters pack particularly high levels of the mineral. Just six medium oysters offer nearly 300 percent of the daily recommended value. Some other foods that have high levels of zinc include wild Alaskan king crab, shrimp and mussels.
Enjoying a charcuterie board featuring pacific blue smoked mussels and grilled oysters, served alongside your favorite cheese and crackers, is a great way to boost the zinc in your diet. Or think outside the shell with a wild shrimp burger.
We all know the body produces vitamin D when we’re out in the sun. But up to half of the world's population may not get enough sunshine -- and vitamin D -- thanks to our modern lifestyles (Nair and Maseeh 2012). And while scientists still argue over the need for many vitamin supplements, researchers generally agree that even those of us in the developed world should get more vitamin D. That’s become harder than ever now that many people are confined indoors.
Vitamin D is important because of its role in our immune health, many studies show (Aranow 2011). Getting enough of it may help reduce the risk of everything from infectious diseases to type 2 diabetes and cancers (Nair 2010). So, keeping your body happy with vitamin D-rich foods is crucial.
Add vitamin D to your diet by eating salmon, herring, sardines and egg yolks. Or, if you’re a wild mushroom lover, consider picking up some morels, chanterelles, shiitake or oyster mushrooms. Like humans, mushrooms use sunlight exposure to create vitamin D (Simon et al 2013). Just be sure the mushrooms were either exposed to UV light or grown outdoors.
Stuck inside? Bring some excitement to family pizza night with a sardine and mushroom pizza for a sunless way to boost your vitamin D.
Cod Liver Oil
Quality cod livers can be hard to find, which makes cod liver oil less of a food and more of a supplement. Fishermen remove the livers at sea and freeze them within hours of harvest.
The oil is not only high in omega-3 fatty acids, but also loaded with vitamins A and D. Just a single tablespoon may provide more than 1.5 times your daily intake of vitamin D plus 4.5 times the daily recommended dose of vitamin A. (So check the label, as vitamin levels vary widely between brands, and avoid taking too much.) It also typically carries over 2,500 milligrams of omega-3s.
We might channel our inner chefs and whip up some cod liver pâté for lunch. But you can still take the easier route and keep a wild Alaskan cod liver oil supplement near your toothbrush or in the medicine cabinet for an easy daily boost of this nutrient-packed food.
- Tips For Wellness And Immune Boosting During A Viral Pandemic
- How to Boost Your Immune System
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- The 10 Best Foods That are High in Zinc
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