How to Boost Your Immune System


Please note, I wrote this article under contract for P&G.  It originally appeared at P&G Everyday.

January and February have reeked havoc on those in the northeast.  After weeks and weeks of frigid temperatures with every form of participation imaginable (and a serious Flu epidemic going around the schools), it’s imperative that we try to focus on fortifying our immune systems to help and maintain good health.

Remember, it takes more than an apple a day to keep the doctor away.

Simply tweaking your diet to focus on foods full of essential vitamins and nutrients is a great start.  Here are some other helpful hints:

Invest in the food you eat
The more involved we are in creating what we eat (from shopping for ingredients to growing vegetables), the more mindful we are to make sure our meals contain foods full of antioxidants — vitamins, minerals and nutrients — that boost our immune system. Integrating these foods into your diet doesn’t have to be difficult and doesn’t require any gourmet cooking either.

Add color to your plate
Incorporate fresh fruits, vegetables and grains in your meals. You’ll immediately notice the difference in your mood and sustained energy levels. Veggies and fruits high in Vitamin E and C are good choices.

To reap the biggest benefits of these antioxidants, eat your veggies raw or lightly steamed — no fancy preparations are necessary. Try simple, light ways of preparing vitamin-rich foods and you may find yourself with a family of veggie fanatics at the next dinner. With just a little sauté of olive oil on the stove, Brussels sprouts are ready to eat — and they’re good! Stick kale leaves in the oven with some oil and sea salt and enjoy crispy kale chips in place of potato chips (no grease, but lots of nutrition). Of course, the usual staples of broccoli and carrots are always good back-ups. And, like Popeye said, the health benefits of spinach are impossible to ignore: The vitamins and calcium in spinach, combined with its overall nutritional value, make this vegetable the gold standard for healthy food choices. Just a simple side of steamed spinach packs a powerful punch!

A Strong Start
To jump start a healthy breakfast, integrate vitamin-rich fruits and grains. Always have fresh strawberries, berries and oranges on hand for a zesty shock to the taste buds in the morning. Try a slice of fresh grapefruit. Add a spoonful of berries or fresh granola on top of Greek yogurt. Swap out sugared cereals for whole grain. Make simple, healthy shakes with some milk, ice cubes, fresh frozen fruit and honey.

The Power of Zinc
Veggies and fruits aren’t the only foods important for an immune system boost: Foods high in Zinc have resounding effects too. Keeping a healthy amount of Zinc in our diet is important to maintain the development of white blood cells — the cells that recognize and destroy harmful bacteria and viruses. Getting your dose can come from lean beef, poultry or pork. (Not into meat? Try fortified cereals, yogurt and milk; they’ll also do the zinc trick.)

And, don’t forget what our grandmothers have known for centuries: Chicken soup is good for our immune system. It has anti-inflammatory properties, which could explain why it soothes sore throats and eases the misery of colds and flu. Throw some celery and cooked carrots into the broth and get ready for some serious healing!

Don’t Forget Snack Time
Forget the bag of chips and close the cookie jar. Stock up on simple treats more nourishing and immunity-boosting like sliced oranges and apples (with natural peanut butter), nuts (raw almonds, raw pistachios — both high in protein and fiber), raw carrots, Greek yogurts, raisins, prunes, and even grapes (try them frozen)!

Here’s the bottom line: One of our best defenses against illness comes in the food we put on our plates. Making sure we’re eating nutritious foods full of vitamins and minerals will ensure that our bodies and immunity run smoothly.

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