You are what you eat. And, if you eat healthy, you can boost your immune system and increase its efficiency in fending off infections and diseases from cancer to the common cold.
Our bodies crave minerals and nutrients that it sometimes cannot find in the foods we eat due to mineral depletion in farm soil and food processing techniques that destroy some of the nutritional value. While processed food today is relatively inexpensive and safe to eat, it does not always provide all of the nutrition that we need. When the human body does not obtain all of the nutrition it needs, the immune system becomes stresses and we become more susceptible to illnesses.
The following are the types of foods that we should eat more often to give our bodies the nutrients we need to fend off illnesses. These eight major nutrients, while not considered a cure-all, help our immune system function better:
- Vitamin B-6, found in dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains. B-6 helps immune cells mature. Adults with depleted vitamin B-6 reserves have fewer antibodies, one of the many substances that the immune system produces to fight disease.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, found in mackerel, herring, salmon, sablefish and to some degree in all fish. Omega-3 also may ease symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and helps reduce cholesterol problems.
- Vitamin E, found in vegetable oils, wheat germ, wholegrain bread and pasta. People with high blood levels of Vitamin E are less likely to develop cancer over a 10-year period than those with lower blood levels. Vitamin E is believed to protect against cancer by blocking the action of free radicals — highly reactive, toxic compounds that can predispose tissues to cancerous growths.
- Vitamin A, found in milk, cheese and eggs, can help ward off infection of the eyes, respiratory and gastrointestinal tract. Research also has shown that people who consume large amounts of beta-carotene, a vitamin A-like compound found in broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, spinach, butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, apricots and other dark green, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables, have lower incidences of lung, colon, stomach and cervical cancer
- Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, strawberries, cantaloupe, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables, assists the body in recovering from infections and may ward off cancer.
- Zinc, found in oysters, fish, red meat, milk, eggs and whole grains. It has been found to aid in the healing of wounds and is crucial to proper immune cell function.
- Selenium, found in fish, meat, breads and cereals. It is essential in tiny amounts to produce the antibodies and enzymes needed for the immune system to work.
- Iron, found in red meat, fish, poultry, beans and whole grains, helps form enzymes that fight infections.
Research indicates that supplemental doses of these essential nutrients may also increase immune responsiveness. While studies may show that certain nutrients seem to help keep the immune system in top form, no experiment yet proves that supplements will reduce the incidence of cancer and infectious diseases.