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Posted: Monday, December 21, 2015

Foods to Give Your Immune System a Boost

It’s been a long wait, but everyone’s favorite time of year has arrived – cold and flu season. Just about everywhere you look, there’s a good chance you’ll see some signs of the season, including but not limited to sniffles, tissues, coughing and sneezes. All jokes aside, this can be a tough time of year for illnesses, with many people already battling some form of malady. Despite the fact that we go through this every year, it’s no reason to slack on taking steps to keep ourselves healthy. Even though there are no guarantees it will keep you from getting sick, research suggests that a healthy diet that incorporates specific foods actually can work in your favor this winter.

Getting plenty of rest and washing your hands regularly are two things to always focus on when you’re trying to cut down on your risk for catching a bug, but Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says there are foods that can give your immune system a boost, as well. “There are some foods that you may not have considered as being particularly ‘good for you’ that really can strengthen your immune system,” she said. “This can work any time of year, but obviously is especially important during cold and flu season,” she added.

“Oats, for instance, contain beta-glucan, which is a type of fiber with antimicrobial capabilities. It may possibly help fight off the flu virus, and can potentially help antibiotics work better,” she explained. “Garlic contains the active ingredient allicin, which fights bacteria and infections. One British study found that people who consumed garlic extract each day were two-thirds less likely to catch a cold. Another study found that people who eat more than six garlic cloves a week have up to a 50 percent reduced rate of colorectal and stomach cancer. Yogurt also can be helpful, as it contains live and active cultures, or healthy bacteria that can help keep the digestive tract free of germs that cause disease,” she said. “One study found that people consuming a daily dose of yogurt took 33 percent fewer sick days than people taking a placebo,” she added.

Those immune-boosting benefits extend to some drinks, as well. “I recommend taking a look at teas,” Tillman said. “Green and black teas contain L-theanine and antioxidants, which help stimulate the immune system. One Harvard study found that people who drank five cups of black tea per day had 10 times more virus-fighting interferon in their bloodstream than others who drank a placebo hot drink,” she said. “As for meals, if you’re looking for an immune-booster, try sticking with soup or the traditional meat-and-potatoes dinner, particularly if it incorporates sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes contain vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which can help keep both the skin and respiratory system healthy. The skin is the body’s first line of defense against bacteria and viruses,” she explained. “Chicken soup made with real chicken broth contains B-vitamins, calcium, zinc and magnesium. Load it up with garlic, onions, herbs and vegetables for even more immune-boosting power. Beef contains zinc, a nutrient many Americans simply don’t get enough of that is key to the development of white blood cells. Their job is to recognize and destroy bacteria and viruses. If you don’t eat red meat, you can get zinc from oysters, fortified cereals, poultry, pork, nuts, beans, seeds and dairy products,” she added.

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