What nutrients support your immune system cells?
Food plays an important role in supporting the healthy functioning of your immune system and we would like to explore this topic in a little more detail. This will enable you to make better informed decisions about the value of the food you are buying, preparing and eating - including snacks!
First though, it is very important to step back and remind ourselves that our ability to function in the world around us and remain fit and well is very much determined by the state of our immune system. It continually fights foreign invaders and also steps into action to destroy cancerous cells. Poor nutritional quality of our snacks and meals will result in slow healing from injury and infections, increased risk of infections and increased susceptibility to immune system dysfunction. As we age our immune system may weaken but can be slowed or even reversed with an improvement in our nutrition.
So here are some more pointers for you: (the following commentary has been drawn, in part, from resources within the www.whfoods.com website).
Research over the past ten years has shown that nutrition plays a major role in supporting the production and action of both the cells and the soluble factors of the immune system. Protein, antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and certain vitamins, and minerals are all key to a healthy immune system.
Here is a list of all the foods that can help boost your immune system - see below for a more detailed explanation of why they can help and for issues that may be relevant to your current state of health.
red bell peppers
Protein and your immune system
Much research has shown that protein malnutrition can have a variety of untoward effects on the immune system. Studies have shown that deficiency of high-quality protein can result in depletion of immune cells, inability of the body to make antibodies, and other immune-related problems. In addition, animal studies have shown that the immune system can be significantly compromised with even a 25% reduction in adequate protein intake.
Protein is composed of the 20 amino acids your body needs for growth and repair, and some of these amino acids appear to be particularly important for immune functioning. For example, the amino acids called glutamine and arginine are being considered as nutrition therapy in pre-surgery patients because of their ability to stimulate the immune system. Interestingly, it is not just deficiency of these amino acids that can compromise the immune system, an imbalance in the ratios among amino acids can also affect the immune response.
Therefore, a diet that supports a healthy immune system should contain foods providing high-quality, complete protein, such as that found in eggs, fish, and shellfish. Many vegetables and grains are also excellent sources of the immune-stimulating amino acids.
There are some recipes on the website mentioned above for meals with complete protein, such as baked seafood with asparagus, or poached fish with chinese cabbage.
Antioxidants and phytonutrients that promote healthy immune function
Reactive oxygen species, free radicals and other damaging molecules are generated at sites of infection and inflammation. Your body needs these molecules at the site of infection to help kill unhealthy cells; however, when your antioxidant systems are not functioning, or when not enough antioxidants are present in your diet, these molecules are not disarmed after they have done their jobs and can become damaging to healthy tissue as well. Many fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants and phytonutrients that help maintain healthy tissue around the sites of infection and support healing, especially coloured foods like strawberries, cherries, carrots, and tomatoes. Please click here if you would like to explore this important topic in more depth.
The essential vitamins for healthy immune function
Your body uses a variety of responses to maintain its defense against harmful organisms in the environment. Therefore nearly all vitamins are necessary to maintain and promote some aspect of your immune function. Some vitamins have received more attention in research since they are particularly important to a healthy immune system.
for decreasing the length of time and severity of symptoms associated with upper respiratory viral infections.
to support healing at sites of inflammation.
Excellent sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, kale, bok choy, turnip greens, beet green, mustard greens, collard greens, swiss chard, and asparagus.
Many of the B-vitamins are also very important in supporting a healthy immune system by promoting healthy cell functions and antibody response, for example, vitamin B5, folic acid, vitamin B6, vitamins B1(thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin) and vitamin B12.
Almost all whole grains, vegetables and fruits can serve as excellent sources of at least some of these vitamins, but some vegetables are particularly beneficial since they are excellent sources of many of these immune-supporting vitamins. In particular:
romaine lettuce is a rich source of vitamins B1, B2, C and folate.
turnip greens and spinach are excellent sources of folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.
cauliflower is an excellent source of vitamin C, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B5.
crimini mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin B2, niacin, and vitamin B5.
red bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin B6.
sardines, salmon, tuna, cod, lamb, scallops, shrimp, and beef are all excellent sources of vitamin B12
Deficiency in this vitamin has been shown to impair antibody function.
Turnip greens, swiss chard, mustard greens, leafy greens, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, asparagus, and bok choy are excellent sources of vitamin A
an important antioxidant and supports a healthy inflammatory response.
an important component of all cell membranes and promotes healthy cellular functioning overall (cells from vitamin E deficient animals have shown depressed responses, and tumors have been shown to grow faster).
Turnip greens, swiss chard, and mustard greens are excellent sources of vitamin E
supports a healthy blood-clotting ability in your body, and this is necessary for seclusion of areas of infections and injury in the healing process.
Concentrated sources of vitamin K include cauliflower, as well as most green vegetables such as spinach and asparagus.
Minerals that support your immune system
Zinc is a potent immunostimulant and has received much attention for its ability to support immune function. Children with severe zinc deficiencies show signs of growth delay and susceptibility to infections. However, an excess of zinc has also shown negative effects on immune function so, maintaining adequate but not excessive levels of zinc is important. This is one reason food is such an excellent source of obtaining nutrition versus supplementation; food contains a balanced variety of the micronutrients whereas supplementation with individual nutrients can lead to too much of some and not enough of others.
Very good sources of zinc include spinach, asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and crimini mushrooms.
Good sources include sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, garbanzo beans, lentils, cashews, and quinoa.
Clinical research studies have shown that iron deficiency results in impaired response to antibodies, and defective cell functioning.
Excellent sources of iron - spinach, swiss chard, cumin, and turmeric.
Very good sources of iron - beet greens, collard greens, bok choy, asparagus, mustard greens, turnip greens, leeks, and romaine lettuce.
Deficiency is associated with an increase in infections and may impair development of immune cells. Excellent sources of copper include sesame seeds, cashews, soybeans, mushrooms, turnip greens, beet greens, spinach, asparagus, swiss chard, mustard greens, kale, and summer squash
Selenium and manganese
Important for supporting healing from inflammation.
Selenium can be obtained from fish and shellfish, as well as tofu and whole grains.
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