If you find you are vulnerable to colds and flu, repeated infections are often a sign that you need to give your immune system a helping hand to fight off the germs that lead to ill health. While getting enough sleep, managing stress and achieving the right balance between rest and exercise can all boost your immune function, it is also important to pay close attention to your diet. What you eat matters because a range of vitamins and minerals play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy immune system. Read on to discover 5 foods you should choose to support your immune system.
1. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, which your body converts into vitamin A. Few foods offer as much vitamin A as sweet potatoes, with a medium sweet potato providing more than 400% of your daily requirement. Getting enough vitamin A from your diet is essential to control the production and growth of white blood cells, which identify and destroy disease-causing microbes. Other foods that are a good source of beta-carotene or vitamin A include spinach, carrots and liver.
2. Red peppers
An even better source of vitamin C than citrus fruits are red peppers. Although taking high doses of vitamin C won’t prevent infections, making sure your diet is rich in vitamin C may help to reduce the duration and severity of the common cold. You may also want to include plenty of berries and green vegetables in your diet to enhance your intake of vitamin C further.
3. Oily fish
There are few dietary sources of vitamin D, but eating oily fish each week, such as sardines, mackerel or salmon, is one good way to top up the vitamin D you make when you expose your skin to the sun. Vitamin D plays an important role in regulating your immune system and a deficiency of vitamin D may increase your risk of certain cancers and autoimmune diseases. If you dislike oily fish, egg yolks and foods fortified with vitamin D, such as milk, breakfast cereals and margarine, are alternative options for vitamin D.
If you usually favor poultry over red meat, try including beef in your diet each week, as beef is richer in zinc than white meat. Zinc forms part of a number of enzymes that control your immune system and a deficiency of zinc is linked to reduced immune function. Shellfish, fortified breakfast cereals, beans, nuts and oatmeal are additional foods that offer useful amounts of zinc.
One of the symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia is increased susceptibility to infections. Although red meat and liver are among the best sources of dietary iron, if you follow a vegetarian diet or you dislike meat, pea, beans and lentils are another good source. However, you need to include foods rich in vitamin C at mealtimes to help you absorb the iron more efficiently from non-meat sources.