Strengthening Immune Function: Choose Immune-Boosting Foods
When trying to build immunity, consider these three categories: vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. All are critical to proper functioning of your immune system. To get the right mix, consume a healthy plant-based diet.
One key step: Concentrate on color. Make sure your meals contain a colorful array of vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes. A plate filled with dark leafy greens, a baked sweet potato, steamed yellow squash, and brown rice is not only visually pleasing but also provides a balance of immunity-boosting nutrients.
Here are a few recipes to get you started.
Beta carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, is naturally found in yellow and dark green vegetables. Beta carotene's power comes partly from its ability to neutralize free radicals, molecules that tend to form in the body and attack the cells. Beta carotene increases the percentage of cells in the body acting as defenders of immunity.1,2 Beta carotene can also counteract some age-related immune loss.1
The best way to get beta carotene is not in pills, but in carrots, spinach, kale, and other fruits and vegetables in which nature supplies it.
Vitamin C protects against oxidative damage and enhances the function of immune cells. Vitamin C is readily available in berries, citrus fruits, melons, peas, peppers and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin E also enhances immune activity and aids in the production of antibodies. Avocados, whole grains, and greens are good sources of this vitamin.
The minerals iron, zinc, and selenium are also important to immune function. But please note: Consuming too much zinc and iron, which can happen if you overdo it with supplements, can also cause health problems.
Phytochemicals may be as important as any single nutrient in supplemental form. In Greek, Phyto means plant. Therefore, it is logical that phytochemicals are naturally occurring, biologically active substances found only in plants.
These substances give fruits, vegetables, legumes, and grains their rich colors, flavors, and aromas. But phytochemicals also detoxify the body by neutralizing free radicals (unstable molecules that can damage cells), inhibiting enzymes that activate carcinogens, and inducing enzymes that remove cancer-causing agents.3
Examples of phytochemicals include flavonoids, isoflavones, and lycopene. To get the phytochemicals you need, simply consume a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, and other plant-based foods.
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