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5 food nutrients to supercharge your immune system
Certain foods can be helpful in strengthening the immune system and preventing colds and flu. Here’s a look at five types of nutrients that your immune system needs to carry and what foods you can find them in.
An important nutrient, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants help fight free radicals, a type of unstable molecule known to damage the immune system.1 There is some evidence that vitamin C can be particularly helpful in boosting the immune system in people under great stress. To increase your vitamin C intake, add these foods to your diet:
citrus fruits and juices (such as orange and grapefruit)
red and green pepper
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. Research suggests that maintaining abundant levels of vitamin E is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system, especially among the elderly. To get your vitamin E filling, look at these foods:
Zinc is an essential mineral involved in the production of certain immune cells. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) warns that even mildly low levels of zinc can impair your immune function 2 Here are some of the most important food sources of zinc:
Another type of antioxidant, carotenoids are a class of pigments found naturally in a number of plants. When consumed, carotenoids are converted to vitamin A (a nutrient that helps regulate the immune system) .3 Carotenoids are better absorbed when cooked or eaten with fat.
Look at these foods to boost your carotenoids:
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acid known to suppress inflammation and keep the immune system in check.4 Although it is not known whether omega-3s can help fight infections (such as colds), research suggests , that omega-3s can protect against autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and rheumatoid arthritis. Try these omega-3-rich foods:
oily fish (including mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines, herring and trout)
Take supplements to boost your immune system
Although supplements containing high doses of antioxidants and other nutrients found throughout foods are often touted as natural immune enhancers, some studies suggest that taking supplements may have limited benefits for the immune system. In addition, these nutrients are better obtained from foods than supplements. If you are still considering taking them, it is a good idea to first consult your health care provider to weigh the pros and cons.
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