Monday, November 23, 2009


Boost nutrition to boost immunity

The cold and flu season has officially arrived with a vengeance. There are no known cures for colds and flu, so prevention is the key to staying healthy.

The most effective way to prevent the seasonal or H1N1 flu is to be vaccinated. For some of us, however, getting the vaccination may not be an option, whether by choice or availability.
Luckily, there are strategies for people to take to protect themselves and their families.

Exercise, nutrition and good old-fashioned handwashing are preventative measures we can take in protecting ourselves from illness. Exercise can protect and enhance the immune response. Studies have shown that a regular exercise program can strengthen the immune system, including the antibody response. Twenty to thirty minutes of walking per day is an ideal goal for maintaining a healthy immune system.

A varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can go a long way to prevent illness and disease. It is these foods that provide our bodies antioxidants in the form of vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants remove harmful free radicals (aka oxidants) from our bloodstreams. Free radicals are toxic byproducts our bodies make when turning food into energy. They are also byproducts of cigarette smoke, pollution, sunlight exposure and other environmental factors. Free radicals are capable of damaging DNA and suppressing the body’s immune response.

Marginal nutrient deficiencies in the diet can also weaken the immune system. Marginal deficiency is a state of gradual vitamin loss, but often does not cause obvious symptoms. This marginal deficiency can affect your body’s ability to resist disease and infection.

A variety of vitamins and minerals have been identified to play a role in boosting the immune system. The following list identifies the nutrient and foods you can eat to naturally boost your nutrition. Nutrients are better absorbed through diet versus a supplement:

• Protein: Lean meats, poultry, fish, nut butters, eggs, low fat cheese, nuts.
• Vitamin A: Egg yolks, liver, low fat dairy, butter and fortified margarine.
• Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, strawberries, green peppers, tomatoes, cantaloupes, currants, gooseberries, liver, green leafy vegetables, baked potato.
• Vitamin E: Salad oils, shortening, margarine, whole grain products, nuts, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, brussel sprouts, kale, swiss chard), wheat germ.
• Selenium: Shellfish, seafood, chicken, egg yolks, lean meats, whole grain breads and cereals, wheat germ, garlic, low fat dairy and brazil nuts.
Copper: Shellfish, nuts, dried beans (legumes), cocoa powder, eggs, prunes, and potatoes.
• Zinc: Shellfish, seafood, poultry, lean beef, eggs, low fat milk, peanuts, oatmeal, whole corn, whole grains, wheat germ.
• Vitamin B6: Lean beef, poultry, liver, fish, whole grain cereals, legumes, peanuts, potatoes, yeast, bananas, corn, cabbage, yams, prunes, watermelon, avocados, eggs.
• Vitamin B12: Lean beef, poultry, eggs, low fat cheese, low fat milk, shellfish, seafood, fermented foods (tempeh, miso), fortified soymilk.
• Vitamin D: Cod liver oil, sunshine, eggs, liver, salmon, sardines, caviar, tuna, herring, fortified milk, fortified margarine.

Wendy Kane is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the Backus Hospital Diabetes Management Center. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. Email Ms. Kane and all the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog below.

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