These days, immune health is at the forefront of everyone's minds. While there are many components to immune health nutrition plays a key role. In fact, a recent review in the European Journal of Nutrition & Food Safety found that a variety of vitamins and minerals play an important role in supporting immune health.
Furthermore, the study also suggested that deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals can lead to a weakened immune system and greater susceptibility to infection. Thankfully, these nutrients are abundant in everyday foods.
You can effectively support your immune system by eating a balanced diet that includes protein, iron and antioxidants and other key vitamins and minerals.
Ever since the days of scurvy outbreaks, it's become common knowledge that vitamin C is a key nutrient for the immune system. According to a review in Nutrients, it contributes to the rapid increase in B cells and T cells, two white blood cells that play a role in secreting antibodies and killing off infections.
Although taking high doses of vitamin C is believed to prevent illness, research suggests otherwise. A review in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that taking at least 200 milligrams of vitamin C per day only reduced the risk of contracting a cold in extremely active people, like marathon runners and skiers. For the average person, large doses of vitamin C don't reduce the risk of catching a cold. That said, taking in at least 200 milligrams of vitamin C per day may lessen the duration of cold symptoms by 8 percent (or about one day) in most people.
Luckily, vitamin C is abundant in fruits and vegetables. Eating a well-balanced diet with all the colors of the rainbow will help you get the recommended 65-90 milligrams per day. And while vitamin C deficiencies are rare, they may occur if consumption drops to less than 10 milligrams per day, according to the National Institutes of Health.
According to a study in Molecular Medicine, zinc is pivotal in the development of neutrophils and natural killer cells, both of which aid in healing wounds and fighting infections. Although zinc won't prevent you from catching a cold, review of the literature published in Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews suggested that taking zinc at the onset of a cold might decrease its duration.
Good sources of zinc include beef, oysters, crab, cashews, chickpeas, Greek yogurt, pumpkin seeds and lentils. Since zinc isn't as prevalent in a lot of foods, deficiencies can occur, especially among vegetarians and vegans. With a zinc deficiency, the body produces fewer infection-fighting cells, which increases your chance of getting sick. That's why it's important to get the recommended 8-11 milligrams per day to keep the immune system functioning properly, noted Nutrients.
Although not an essential nutrient, probiotics — or the "good bacteria" in your gut — have been shown to affect overall immune health. Probiotics influence the microorganisms that live in the digestive tract, where 70 percent of the immune system is housed, and can help strengthen intestinal immunity. Probiotics initiate responses by macrophages, a type of cell that engulfs harmful substances and rids them from the body. Microbial agents may suppress inflammation in the lungs and replication of viruses.
There's no set number of probiotics that anyone should have in any given day. That said, eating plenty of fermented foods is an easy way to incorporate them into your daily diet. Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh are all good sources of probiotics.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that's one of the most important antioxidants in biological membranes of all cells. Vitamin E protects against oxidative damage of the immune cells and strengthens their physiological function.
According to a review in Nutrients, when supplemented, vitamin E has been shown to increase the percentage of T cells, the white blood cells that seek out and destroy harmful invaders. The recommended daily dose of vitamin E is 15 milligrams. You can get this important vitamin through almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, broccoli, tomatoes and avocados.
How to Strengthen Your Immune System
While focusing on certain nutrients can help you support your immune system health, the best way to promote overall immunity is to eat a well-balanced and varied diet. Try to incorporate plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and lean proteins into your everyday diet.
And don't forget to exercise regularly and get the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep per night, both of which contribute to overall health and immune system support. Aside from the benefits, focusing on your health and well-being can simply help you find balance during hectic and uncertain times — which is priceless.
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Low-Carb and Keto Diets: Which One Is Right for You?
The ketogenic diet, better known as the keto diet, is a popular style of eating that restricts carbohydrates — but it's by no means your average low-carb diet. While low-carb and keto diets overlap in a few key ways, from their potential health benefits to the foods they discourage, they vary significantly. We spoke with Pamela Nisevich Bede, a registered dietitian for ZonePerfect and medical manager for Abbott's scientific and medical affairs team, about low-carb and keto diets. Here are the insights she shared, as well as some tips to consider if you're looking to try either of these diets. What Is a Low-Carb Diet? Carbohydrates, proteins and fats are known as macronutrients — they provide calories for the body and are needed in larger amounts than micronutrients, which are primarily vitamins and minerals. Many eating plans, including keto and low-carb, involve emphasizing or restricting certain macronutrients. "Technically, any eating style recommending less than 45% of calories from carbs can be considered low carb," Nisevich Bede began, "but many research studies home in on approximately 10% to 25% of calories coming from carbs." A low-carb eating plan replaces the calories you'd normally get from carbs with protein-rich foods and certain fats. While the exact distribution of calories varies from plan to plan and person to person, an example of a low-carb macronutrient breakdown might include 10% to 25% of calories from carbs, 40% to 50% from protein, and 30% to 40% from fats. The emphasis on protein provides you with energy and supports appetite control and muscle health. "Some of the protein in the diet may be used to make glucose for energy," she explained. "If you're on a lower-calorie plan, watch out for signs of fatigue or muscle soreness." How Is the Keto Diet Different From Other Low-Carb Diets? While Nisevich Bede noted that people tend to use the terms interchangeably, the keto diet is very different than traditional low-carb diets in terms of its macronutrient breakdown. It requires you to get 5% to 10% of your calories from carbs, 15% to 30% from protein, and at least 70% to 80% from fat — that's nearly twice as much fat and half as many carbs as what typical low-carb diets recommend. "A ketogenic diet highly restricts carbohydrate intake, and it's purposely high in fat," she explained, "while a low-carb diet focuses on moderate protein and moderate fat." The keto diet outlined here is for the general consumer and is not therapeutic, she continued, with the ultimate goal being to promote ketosis — a natural metabolic process in which the body burns fat for fuel. Ketosis begins once the body's glycogen stores are depleted. How to Decide Which Eating Style Is Right for You
Carbohydrates: The Role They Play and Why You Need Them
Good nutrition helps nourish your body, and just like many things in life, it’s all about balance. Early on, we’re told to eat a wide variety of foods from all food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein – and this advice comes with good reason. To function and thrive, you need various foods to get all the essential nutrients the body needs, like carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. In recent decades—and with the rise of diets like ketogenic, paleo, and Atkins—there’s been growing confusion about one nutrient’s role and importance in particular: carbohydrates. Yet, this macronutrient remains an important part of an overall balanced diet and is necessary for good health. Understanding the role of carbohydrates – and the foods they’re found in – can help you follow a nutritious, balanced diet. The Role of Carbohydrates: From Energy to Gut Health Carbohydrates, also known as carbs, are vital at every stage of life. They’re the body’s primary source of energy and the brain’s preferred energy source. Carbs are broken down by the body into glucose – a type of sugar. Glucose is used as fuel by your body’s cells, tissues, and organs. When your body doesn’t get adequate carbohydrates, it looks for another energy source, breaking down the protein in your muscles and body fat to use as energy. Glucose is significant for the brain, which can’t easily use other fuel sources like fat or protein for energy. While carbohydrates are most known for providing energy, some carbs can also help promote digestive health. The microbiome is an enormous collection of microbial organisms that live on and in your body, most of them within the gastrointestinal tract or the gut. Many of the microbes within the gut are healthy bacteria that help support immune and digestive health. Certain carbohydrates – like fiber – act as food for the good bacteria in the gut and promote their growth. Eating foods high in fiber, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, can also help with regular bowel movements, minimize constipation-related issues and may help lower cholesterol and blood sugar.