Your immune system has the incredible responsibility of defending your body from viruses, bacteria, and parasites, all of which could potentially cause infections and illnesses. It also recognizes unhealthy cells and defends the body when these diseased cells attack. Without a doubt, the immune system is central to your health and well-being more than any other system in the body. Stress, lack of exercise and poor nutrition can weaken the immune system, raising your risk and the severity of infections.
More than changing your lifestyle to eliminate stress and integrate exercise in your daily routine, good nutrition is the key to the immune system’s efficient function. Without good food that will provide proper nutrition it needs to fight off foreign invaders, all other measures in restoring and strengthening the immune system have limited usefulness. Remember that you are what you eat. So shop wisely and remember to include these 10 superfoods in your list.
- Butternut squash
This nutrient dense gourd contains high levels of vitamin A, an essential nutrient that supports and regulates the healthy development of immune cells. Consequently, a deficiency in Vitamin A results in impaired immunity and higher risks for infections.
Vitamin A is also vital for the maintenance of goblet cells, particularly those that line the intestinal tract and help in the absorption of nutrients into the body. A healthy digestive system makes for an efficient absorption of nutrients that the immune system needs to fight off diseases.
Oatmeal, like other cereal grains, is an excellent source of Beta-glucan, a special type of fiber that helps regulate the immune system by triggering a cascade of events that makes it more efficient. In particular, beta-glucans stimulates the activity of macrophages, a type of white blood cell that engulfs and digests harmful pathogens like germs and bacteria. Macrophages also release cytokines, a group of small proteins that allows immune cells to communicate with one another.
Beta-glucans also stimulates lymphocytes, the body’s killer cells, to bind around tumors and viruses and release powerful enzymes that induce the death of pathogens or diseased cells.
- Shitake mushrooms
Just like oatmeal, shitake mushrooms are also an excellent source of beta-glucans, a special kind of fiber that provides immune system support. Shitake mushrooms are not only noted for the variety of its polysaccharide glucans, but for its anti-cancer immunity as well.
A research published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology in 2009 showed that polysaccharide extracts of Shiitake mushrooms are capable of stimulating the function and activation of macrophages. Among its many important activities, macrophages are responsible for identifying and clearing of cancerous cells from the body.
But that’s not all the support it brings to the immune system. Scientific evidence shows that extracts of this mushroom also have antibacterial, antiviral and blood clot inhibiting properties.
Shrimps may be small in size, but they are huge in terms of strengthening the body’s immune response. These crustaceans are an excellent source of the trace mineral selenium, which research shows to help increase the body’s production of cytokines. These proteins allow immune cells to communicate with each other and stimulate immune cells to move towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma.
A 4-ounce serving of shrimp will supply you with 56.13 mcg or 102% of your recommended daily amount for selenium, according to the George Mateljan Foundation’s website The World’s Healthiest Foods.
Zinc deficiency can be crippling to your immune system, putting you at a greater risk for infection. This is because zinc is needed by the body to produce interleukin-2, a type of cytokine that fights off bacteria and viruses.
Red meats like beef are rich in this immune-boosting mineral. Grass-fed beef contains 1 mg of zinc in every ounce. Thus, a 4-ounce serving provides 4.0 mg or 37% of your daily recommended intake of zinc.
- Chicken breasts
Of the many functions of protein in the body, one of its most critical is supporting the immune system. The amino acids that make up proteins are the building blocks of every cell in the body, including immune cells. Amino acids also act as catalysts for most of the activities in living cells and regulate immune response. Some of the proteins involved in the body’s defense against infections and diseases lie in wait until they are needed, while others are produced on site as the need arises, such as when the body churns out antibodies when you’re infected with a virus.
One such excellent source of protein is chicken breasts. A 4-ounce serving of chicken breast contains 35.18 mg of protein for 187 calories, according to the George Mateljan Foundation website, The World’s Healthiest Foods.
Probiotics, the live beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods like yogurt, don’t just help improve your digestive health, but the overall function of your immune system as well. The digestive tract is actually an active immune center where a large number of pathogens and toxins come from. Therefore, a solid foundation on health begins in the gut.
Probiotics can both support and boost the immune system through a number of ways. Probiotics out-populate harmful bacteria and pathogens by stealing their food sources, effectively preventing them to multiply and propagate. Probiotics also help keep pathogens and their toxins from sticking to the digestive tract by adhering to the intestinal epithelial walls. And lastly, probiotics can directly inhibit the growth of pathogens by producing antibacterial substances and acids, such as acetic and propionic acids.
Aside from being a good source of quality protein, salmon is also an excellent source of the essential nutrient vitamin D. It is one of the many hormones vital in the development of white blood cells, our body’s first line of defense against infections. Vitamin D is also crucial in activating the immune system’s killer cells, or T cells, so it can react and fight off serious infections in the body.
A 4-ounce serving of salmon contains 511.43 IU of vitamin D for 157 calories. That is more than the recommended daily value for vitamin D.