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How do you boost your immune system through the foods you eat?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — Want to fight infectious diseases this winter? So make sure to boost your immune system by eating nutritious foods.

“What we eat is very important in terms of how our immune system responds to pathogens and how well it is able to fight them off,” said Dr. Simen Medani, chief scientist and supervisor of the nutritional immunology team at the USDA Jan Mayer Center for Human Nutrition. Research on aging at Tufts University.

Maidani indicated that micronutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin B complex, zinc and selenium can help “pump” the body’s defenses against colds, flu and even “Covid-19”, but you won’t boost your immunity by “eating” a lot of a single food or ingredient”.

Christopher Gardner, a nutrition scientist at Stanford University School of Medicine, advises you not to focus on “superfoods,” explaining that it takes a wide variety of foods to provide the micronutrients the body needs to maintain a healthy diet. build a strong cellular immune response. .

“You cannot rely on a single food or nutrient, and it is desirable that there is an exchange of harmonious interactions between the various micronutrients,” Gardner said.

So plan your daily meals around a large, varied and colorful array of fresh, red, green, yellow, orange and blue fruits and vegetables, along with some high-quality whole grains, lean proteins and a few healthy oils.

Plants and grains also form the basis of the more highly regarded “Mediterranean” and “DASH” diets. DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Reducing High Blood Pressure”.

Both the Mediterranean and DASH diets avoid processed foods and focus on fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Several studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risks of high cholesterol, dementia, memory loss, depression and breast cancer. Sunny Mediterranean meals have also been linked to stronger bones, a healthier heart and longer life, as well as aiding weight loss.

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According to Medani, the momentum to boost immunity with nutrients is related to several factors, such as age, general health and a person’s stress level.

When it comes to eating healthy, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress, and exercise regularly to keep those natural defenses up.

Without this foundation, your body will work harder to counter the invaders, and you could lose the battle.

“The best defense against the significant threat of the coronavirus is continued good health,” said Dr. David Katz, founder and president of the Real Health Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting evidence-based lifestyle medicine.

“If you run into the virus in a week, two weeks or three, you’ll be able to face it better than you did because of your current diet,” Katz added.

She advised Maidani to significantly increase the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat every day if you want to increase the impact of food on your immune system.

Her team examined the immune responses of animals given two to three servings of fruits and vegetables per day, comparing them to animals given five to six or eight to nine servings per day.

Medani explains, “We saw the best effect in the group that took eight to nine servings,” noting that “it’s not just a small increase in consumption, but rather a large one, and people should strive to reach this level.” reach.”

An earlier study published in 2017 found a significant reduction in the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer and early death by eating 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day.

Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Another reason to decorate your plate with different fruits and vegetables is the need to control the body’s inflammatory response to bacteria and viruses.

“It takes a certain amount of inflammatory response to clear pathogens and help the body’s immune system function,” Medani said.

“If your body makes a lot of inflammatory components, it can damage surrounding tissues and cause autoimmune and chronic diseases,” she said.

Chronic inflammation has been linked in studies to diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and many others.

In cases of COVID-19, severe inflammatory responses from the virus, called “cytokine storms,” ​​have been linked to more severe cases and death.

“With regard to COVID-19, the recommendation to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables is very important, given the presence of all anti-inflammatory substances such as flavonoids that can reduce the cytokine storm,” said Medani.

Studies have shown that eating a lot of unhealthy “ultra-processed” foods such as ice cream, cookies and ready-to-eat consumer foods can shorten life, and their consumption was associated with only a 10% increased risk of death with 14% of all causes.

Studies have also shown that fermented foods or drinks like Korean kimchi, sauerkraut, or kombucha tea can also help fight some types of infections by improving the microbiome in the digestive system.

Are dietary supplements necessary?

Like any mammal, the human body is designed to absorb more nutrients from fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and proteins than from processed foods or supplements.

But some people with limited healthy food choices, those with certain medical conditions, or anyone over the age of 65 may need to add specific micronutrients to their diet.

The role of zinc

Most people in the United States get enough zinc from the foods they eat. But a field team study of elderly people with low blood zinc levels found that these people were twice as likely to get pneumonia, have pneumonia and take antibiotics for longer than people who have enough zinc in their blood. .

Taking zinc tablets in the early stages of a cold or flu, that is, in the first 24 hours, can boost the immune system and shorten the duration of the illness by about a day, according to a review of 13 studies.

The recommended daily dose of zinc is 8 milligrams for women and 11 milligrams for men, for up to five days.

Some Benefits of Vitamin C

Hundreds of studies have demonstrated the benefits of vitamin C on the immune system, and clinical trials are currently seeking to verify the effect of vitamin C transfusions on the severity of COVID-19.

Most people believe that vitamin C strengthens the immune system and prevents colds. However, reviews of studies to date have found a moderately beneficial effect compared to a placebo, leaving some experts confused as to whether to praise it.

Double properties of vitamin E

Vitamin E can play a dual role in boosting the body’s immune response and as an antioxidant in the body.

“Vitamin E may have an anti-inflammatory effect, but it also boosts cellular immunity in some populations,” Medani said.

Vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, seeds and wheat germ are among the best sources of vitamin E.

sunshine vitamin

Maidani explained that, like vitamin C, the evidence for vitamin D’s immune-boosting properties is mixed.

“We can’t say that giving higher levels of vitamin D will improve the immune response and fight respiratory infections,” she said, adding that some studies have shown some benefits, but others have not.

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