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Health & Disease Prevention, Nutrition

Benefits of a Strong Immune System

A strong immune system helps to keep a person healthy

The immune system consists of organs, cells, tissues, and proteins. Together, these carry out bodily processes that fight off pathogens, which are the viruses, bacteria, and foreign bodies that cause infection or disease.

When the immune system comes into contact with a pathogen, it triggers an immune response. The immune system releases antibodies, which attach to antigens on the pathogens and kill them.

Feeding your body certain foods may help keep your immune system strong.

If you’re looking for ways to prevent colds, the flu, and other infections, your first step should be a visit to your local grocery store.

Choose immune-boosting nutrients

These nutrients play a role in boosting the immune system:

· Beta carotene– Beta carotene is found in plant foods, such as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, mangoes, broccoli and tomatoes.

· Vitamin C- Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli.

· Vitamin D– Vitamin D is found in fatty fish and eggs. Milk and 100% juices fortified with vitamin D also are good sources.

· Zinc– Zinc tends to be better absorbed from foods such as beef and seafood, but it’s also found in plant-based sources, including wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu.

· Probiotics– Probiotics are good bacteria that promote health. You’ll find them in cultured dairy products, such as yogurt, and in fermented foods, such as kefir and kimchi.

· Protein– Protein comes from animal and plant sources, including milk, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.

Keep the immune system strong all year long

While having a healthy immune system is a plus during the season of colds and flu, consider these tips for keeping your immune system strong throughout the year:

· Focus on a balanced eating plan. Don’t skip meals so your body stays well-fueled. Aim for five to seven servings of vegetables and fruits daily to provide those immune-boosting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. A serving of fruit is one medium piece of fresh fruit, one cup of berries or melon, or one-half cup of canned fruit packed in its own juice. A serving of vegetables is one-half cup cooked or one cup raw. Getting these nutrients from foods versus vitamin or mineral supplements is always best. And don’t forget fluids.

· Remember to drink adequate fluids throughout the day. Plain water is best.

· Crack down on spreading germs. Good hygiene and hand-washing help prevent the spread of germs. Remember to wash produce before eating or using in recipes. Clean glasses, forks, spoons and other utensils to reduce the spread and growth of bacteria.

· Increase sleep, reduce stress. Getting adequate sleep and managing stress can be just as important as healthy eating to ward off the flu. Research demonstrates that lack of sleep and increased stress contribute to illness and overall poor health, so:

o Adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep each day, while children need eight to 14 hours, depending on their age.

o Healthy ways to cope with stress include meditating, listening to music or writing.

o Physical activity is another strategy to manage stress and may reduce the risk of some chronic diseases that can weaken your immune system.

· Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes a day five times a week and mix-up your cardio and strength training.

· Don’t smoke: Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your body. If you do smoke, there is support available to help you quit.

· Manage stress. Everyone faces stress in life. But when that stress becomes chronic, it can weaken your immune system. You can find ways to manage your stress and feel better mentally and physically.

Choosing immune-boosting nutrients and keeping your immune system strong may not completely prevent colds, the flu or other infections. But your illness may not last as long, and you may not feel so bad. Get started today with these helpful recommendations to build a strong immune system and help your body be at its best.