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5 Food Nutrients to Supercharge Your Immune System
Certain foods may be helpful for boosting the immune system and preventing colds and the flu. Here’s a look at five types of nutrients that your immune system needs to perform and which foods to find them in.
An essential 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’s some evidence that vitamin C may be particularly helpful in boosting the immune systems of people under major 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 peppers
Like vitamin C, vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant. Research suggests maintaining ample levels of vitamin E is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system, especially among older people. To get your fill of vitamin E, look to these foods:
wheat germ oil
Zinc is an essential mineral involved in the production of certain immune cells. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) caution that even mildly low levels of zinc may impair your immune function.2 Here are some top 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 into vitamin A (a nutrient that helps regulate the immune system).3 Carotenoids are better absorbed when cooked or eaten with fat.
Look to 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’s not known whether omega-3s can help fight off infections (such as the common cold), research suggests that omega-3s can protect against autoimmune disorders like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Try these omega-3-rich foods:
oily fish (including mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines, herring, and trout)
Taking Supplements to Boost Your Immune System
Although supplements containing high doses of antioxidants and other nutrients found in whole foods are often touted as natural immune-boosters, some research indicates that taking dietary supplements may have limited benefits for the immune system. Additionally, these nutrients are better obtained from foods than supplements. If you’re still considering taking them, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare provider first to weigh the pros and cons.
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