Food serves more than one purpose. Of course, we eat for nourishment, but we may also use food to celebrate a birthday or unwind after a long day (cake and wine, anyone?). You’ve probably heard some foods described as functional. This term refers to using foods for their positive health effects that supersede basic nutrition. One way that we can all use functional foods is to boost our immune systems. Doing so becomes especially important during colder months when colds and viruses, like the flu, spread more easily. Older adults and people who are stressed are also more likely to become ill. Certain foods contain essential nutrients that help to keep our bodies’ defenses strong. Check out a few we delve into below.
These orange vegetables are packed with vitamin A. A single cup of sweet potato contains about 19,000 IU of vitamin A, which is vital for maintaining the integrity of our skin and body tissues. Skin is the body’s first line of defense against harmful bacteria. You’re not limited to meeting your vitamin A needs with sweet potato. An orange hue is usually a good indicator that a vegetable contains vitamin A. For example, pumpkins, carrots and apricots all contain vitamin A. You can also find this fat-soluble vitamin in foods like broccoli and milk.
Pro-tip: Cook fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A with a little healthy fat. Using a fat like olive oil will help our bodies absorb the nutrients better.
This food is like vitamin A-containing vegetables, but it makes our list for another reason – vitamin C! One medium orange contains about 70 milligrams of Vitamin C. This water-soluble vitamin helps with the formation of antibodies. You can think of antibodies as small proteins that our bodies make in response to infection. They travel through our blood, fighting potentially dangerous germs. Antibodies are the reason diseases don’t overtake our bodies and cause organ failure. If you don’t prefer citrus, consider getting vitamin C from other fruits like cantaloupe, watermelon, berries or kiwi.
What better way to incorporate vitamin E than through almonds? Vitamin E is an antioxidant. It counteracts free radicals which can cause cell damage and illness. When cells are damaged, bacteria and viruses can penetrate our protective barriers more easily. One ounce of almonds, about one handful, contains about 7 milligrams of vitamin E. You can also eat green leafy vegetables, vegetable oils and fortified cereals to obtain vitamin E.
Our immune systems cannot function without protein and all that it provides. Proteins, like lean poultry, are essential for maintaining normal cell function, regulating hormones, building strong bones and healing. We need large amounts of this macronutrient. Generally, 0.8 to 1 gram per kilogram of body weight should suffice, but protein needs vary greatly by person. This is why our team at Cederquist Medical Wellness Center works with patients to develop a personalized nutrition plan. We take into account your medical history, activity level, weight and overall health status, which can all affect your nutrient needs.
We also need lean proteins because of their mineral contents. Zinc in particular is essential to our diets. To name a few reasons, we need zinc for wound healing, immune function, normal growth and development. We can get zinc from a variety of foods in addition to poultry. If you enjoy oysters, you’re in luck. Three ounces provide over 100% of your daily needs. You can also try beef chuck roast, pork chops, yogurt, kidney beans, crab and lobster for a source of zinc.
Look for Other Options
You can fight harmful bacteria and viruses by eating strategically. Choosing balanced meals filled with fruits and vegetables is the best way to keep your immune system strong. For optimal immune health, focus on foods’ nutrient contents and variety. We only cover a few immune-boosting foods here, but there are plenty! Look for other options that are high in the nutrients mentioned above (i.e., vitamins A, C and E, protein and zinc). Packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts Label that lists nutrient contents for easy referencing.
If you’re concerned about vitamin deficiency, supplements are also an excellent option for keeping your immune system strong. At the Cederquist Medical Wellness Center, we offer a comprehensive variety of hypoallergenic, research-based dietary supplements. Our supplements are sourced from the most potent, pure ingredients and help you achieve optimal health. As always, we recommend that you consult with your healthcare provider before starting any supplements.
If you need support with identifying other immune-boosting foods, give us a call. Our team at Cederquist is always happy to lend a helping hand! Contact (239) 249-3647 to schedule your initial medical evaluation.