By Carolyn Burris, MS, Nutrition Counselor of Forum Health Knoxville
Your immune system combats viruses, infections and disease. It is also responsible for destroying cells within your body when they become cancerous. Numerous factors affect your immune system, including lifestyle habits, environment, diet, age, stress and genetics.
Studies have established that one of the most important factors in supporting and strengthening a healthy immune system is good nutrition. Healthy eating can help keep your immune system poised to function properly. Poor nutrition results in more infections, slow healing from injury and infections, and increased susceptibility to symptoms and complications. Strengthen your immune system with these foods.
Some foods have been coined “superfoods” because of their high nutrient content, antioxidant content, protein levels, essential fatty acids, and fiber. These foods have potent immune system-strengthening perks and may also reduce the effects of medical conditions. Incorporate a variety of superfoods into your diet such as blueberries, avocados, spinach, and kale.
Many of the richest sources of antioxidants are found in fruits and vegetables. The antioxidants vitamin A and vitamin C help give fruits and vegetables their color and provide potent virus and harmful bacteria combating benefits. According to Dr. George L. Blackburn, associate director of the division of nutrition at Harvard Medical School, you need at least 5 – 9 fruit and/or vegetable servings daily, and these foods should fill at least two-thirds of your plate. The varieties that are high in vitamin A, C and other immune-fighting nutrients include leafy greens, mushrooms, bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, tomatoes, berries, asparagus, papaya, winter squash, oranges, and mangoes.
Protein is also an essential nutrient for a healthy immune system. Research studies show that deficiency of high-quality protein can result in depletion of immune cells, inability of the body to make antibodies, and other immune-related issues. High quality protein, such as eggs, seafood, wild game and organic, free-range poultry and meats provide significant amounts of protein and nutrients like iron, B vitamins, and zinc. Low zinc intake has also been associated with increased risk for infections, such as pneumonia, in people with compromised immune systems.
Fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, cod and halibut provide additional benefits of omega-3 fatty acids which helps reduce inflammation triggered by infection, injury, and disease. Other omega-3 rich food sources include flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale. Also, consider eating dried beans and peas for their immune-boosting protein and fiber rich content.
4. Whole grains
Whole grains also provide a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber that contribute to immune system function. Examples of whole grains include organic forms of oats, spelt, brown rice, wild rice, and popcorn. Whole grains also provide vitamin E which is an antioxidant recommended by the ADA for the immune system.
Commit to healthy eating and take care of your body. Maintaining your immune system’s ability to fight is like maintaining a car – it needs the proper fuel!
Here is a recipe packed with immune fighting nutrition!
Healthy Glazed Honey Mustard Salmon with Lentils and Kale
Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
- 1 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 8 oz kale, chopped (about 8 packed cups)
- 4 6-oz wild-caught salmon fillets
- 1 tbsp raw honey
- 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- Ground black pepper and sea salt, to taste
- Olive oil
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- In a large saucepan over high heat, bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add lentils and kale. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove lid and simmer 5 to 10 minutes more or until lentils and kale are tender. Season with salt and pepper, to taste
- Meanwhile, place salmon fillets in a baking pan and brush with olive oil. Season salmon with garlic powder, salt and pepper, to taste. Bake for 12 minutes.
- In a small bowl, stir together honey and mustard. When salmon is ready, remove fillets from oven and coat thoroughly with honey-mustard glaze. Return to oven and bake 10 to 15 minutes more or until cooked through.
- Divide lentil mixture among 4 plates. Top each with a salmon fillet and serve immediately.