Sometimes in the winter it feels like coughing, scratchy throats and runny noses are just a part of daily life. I don’t give financial advice, but my goal is to share how the foods you eat can boost your immune system and get you through the season without having to cash out your 401(k) to buy more Kleenex and cough drops.
Let’s start with the most well-known superstar, vitamin C, which is a great booster of immune function. Since we don’t make or store vitamin C in our body, it’s important that we get it through food. All citrus fruit is loaded with vitamin C. But surprisingly, red bell peppers are the ounce-per-ounce champion. Other great sources include strawberries, rosehip, blackcurrants, Brussels sprouts, guava, papaya, spinach, kale and other leafy greens. It’s easy to get enough daily vitamin C from foods, as a medium-size orange will provide about 70 milligrams of vitamin C. Shooting for 90-150 mg per day is adequate for most. If you struggle to get it from your diet, work on that first.
However, if you take a vitamin C supplement, be sure it’s not loaded with sugar. It’s also notable that vitamin C does not build up in the body, so you can’t overdo it. If you take too much, you may experience intestinal discomfort such as cramping, diarrhea, bloating or gas. When this happens, back off the dose.
Another important tool for fighting off infection is vitamin E. It’s usually overlooked when it comes to immune boosting, but it can be easily obtained from your diet. Find this powerful antioxidant in high concentrations in spinach, almonds, peanuts and sunflower seeds. Unlike vitamin C, vitamin E builds up in your body, so taking a supplement is usually not needed or recommended.
Vitamin A is also a powerhouse for boosting immune function. Look for vivid orange vegetables to get this nutrient. Foods loaded with carotenoids, which are converted to vitamin A, include carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, squash and sweet potatoes.
Selenium is an important mineral in maintaining a healthy immune system. The amount in food depends on the soil in which it grew. Brazil nuts are one of the highest sources of selenium. Be careful because it’s easy to overeat these and get too much. A few servings a couple times per week are plenty. Tuna, sardines, halibut, shrimp, salmon and oysters are also great sources.
Last, but not least, is zinc. Zinc is not stored in your body, so getting it from food is important. Oysters contain more zinc than any other food, but it’s also found in red meat and poultry. Don’t eat meat? You can find it in beans, nuts, whole grains and dairy. Keep in mind it’s easier for the body to absorb zinc from meat than from plants.
The best way to get these vitamins and minerals is through food because your body absorbs more that way than from a supplement. Eating a variety of foods is fun and key to keeping your immune system strong.
Fran Sutherlin, RD, MS is a local registered dietitian, digestive health coach, speaker and owner of Sustainable Nutrition. She can be reached at 444-2122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.