Superfoods for Super Immunity

157696894What keeps you strong and vibrant? Some say it’s an optimistic outlook, true, but I say good health has a lot to do with a healthy immune system.

What is it, exactly? Your immune system is a group of specialized cells which can fight off foreign invaders that sneak in through your upper respiratory tract, mouth, skin and gastrointestinal system. Your immune system kicks into high gear following an injury, or when you are dealing with an illness like cancer or rheumatoid arthritis.

In order to protect you, your immune system needs to be able to function properly around the clock. Nutrition is one of the most important factors to keep your immune system strong and healthy, which in turn, will keep you in peak condition, too!

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When you look into your fridge or pantry, there are a few foods that you should have on hand, proven to aid in the healthy maintenance of your immune system.

Yogurt for Your Immune Health

Yogurt is not just a great source of calcium and protein. Yogurt is made with many different types of “friendly” bacteria. These bacteria are of the same species that populate your intestinal tract and protect you from a dangerous overgrowth of bacteria and yeast. They also help maintain the proper pH levels within your gut. Several six-ounce servings of yogurt per day can provide millions of these friendly bacteria (like acidophilus) which protect against pathogenic overgrowth and keep your gut in good shape. Most types of yogurt will indicate if they contain these valuable live active bacterial cultures, so be on the lookout!

Oatmeal Not Just for Fiber

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Oatmeal, the traditional hot breakfast standby, is an excellent source of fiber and complex carbohydrates, but it also contains a very important chemical known as beta glucan. This chemical is found in the soluble fiber of the oat grain itself. The beta glucan interacts with the friendly bacteria inside your gastrointestinal system and is converted into compounds which have powerful antioxidant and antibiotic activity. Immune-boosting! I recommend eating just over half a cup of cooked oatmeal each day. Opt for the unsweetened, non-instant variety (still so quick to prepare by stove-top or microwave), which is less processed and not loaded with sweeteners or flavorings.

Garlic: Old-School Remedy

Most people have heard of this remedy for colds and flu—consuming raw garlic. And although it doesn’t sound very appetizing, it really does work! Garlic has been shown to improve the activity of certain white blood cells in the immune response against viruses and bacteria. The chemical in garlic, which gives it the rather pungent odor, is referred to as allicin. It’s been shown to lower blood pressure, decrease inflammation and shut down the growth of certain cancer cell lines. I recommend consuming two to four garlic cloves every week.

Salmon to Get Your Omega-3s

Fatty fish like salmon contains generous amounts of healthy fat from the omega-3 family. These fats are important because they can help your immune system control the amounts of inflammation occurring at any given time. Excessive inflammation is responsible for damage to arteries, joints, skin and organs like the kidneys, liver and your brain. The omega-3 fats in salmon help to quell the inflammatory response and keep it in check. Consuming three to four servings of salmon per week will provide you with adequate amounts of the omega-3 fats.

Green Tea  

The Chinese have known about the medicinal benefits of green tea since ancient times, using it to treat everything from headaches to depression. Green tea contains powerful chemicals called catechins that have antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. The most frequently studied of the green tea chemicals are theanine and epigallocatechin gallate. They influence the immune system by decreasing free radicals, lowering inflammation and boosting the secretion of interferon, a chemical which activates the immune response. I recommend drinking at least three to four cups of green tea each and every day.

Sources:
MacMillan, A. and Schryver, T., “9 Power Foods That Boost Immunity,” Prevention website; http://www.prevention.com/food/healthy-eating-tips/power-foods-boost-immunity, last accessed, April 22, 2014.