Health

Good Food Choices Build a Good Immune System

Although homecoming parades and football games signal the arrival of fall, they also mark the beginning of the dreaded flu and cold season. But have no fear: we’re here to offer a few pointers on how to mount a strong defense against these common illnesses.

While most everyone knows the importance of a flu shot, less well known is the immune-bolstering advantage offered by certain foods.

Choose plant-based foods

An article on livestrong.com stresses the importance of embracing a plant-based diet over an animal-based one. Plant-based foods have phytonutrients, which studies have shown lower the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. Papaya and pineapple have an additional benefit: they contain an enzyme that helps break down and dissolve debris produced by the body as it fights infections.

A second livestrong.com article outlines a plan for boosting your immune system. With more than 200 viruses responsible for colds and other respiratory infections, the best defense against a cold (or the flu) is to have an immune system that is strong and can overcome a viral or bacterial assault.

The best strategy for building up your immune system is to eat a variety of foods. Let’s take a trip through the grocery store to get plenty of ideas for stocking our shelves and fridge.

Sardines

The world seems to be split into those who love sardines and those who would refuse to eat them even when bribed with large sums of money. If you are in the second group, you may want to learn to like them. Sardines are much higher in omega-3 fats, which reduce the risk of heart disease and cell-damaging body inflammation, than other fish. There are 1,259 milligrams of omega-3s in a three-ounce serving of canned sardines, 905 milligrams in rainbow trout, 840 milligrams in salmon and 196 milligrams in canned tuna. Go sardines!

Yellow Bell Pepper

Move over oranges. Make room for yellow bell peppers, a terrific source of immune-boosting vitamin C. According to the article, research shows that vitamin C is especially important to building a healthy immune in older adults and children.

Mushrooms

While all mushrooms are rich in B vitamins and antioxidants, nutritionist Jackie Newgent says that two are especially important. “Maitake and shiitake mushrooms, in particular, contain plant nutrients that seem to have immune-boosting ability.”

Citrus fruits

Eating oranges and other citrus fruit on a regular basis is vital to building a healthy immune system. They are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant, which fights cell-damaging free radicals.

Say ‘no’ to sugar and dairy

Added sugars can weaken your immune system. If you do catch a cold or the flu, eating food high in sugar is likely to slow your recovery because it interferes with your body’s attempt to fight the intruder. Dairy is also a bad choice because it can thicken the mucus that is already present, increasing congestion.

All of us at Meth-Wick hope this information helps you enjoy an active and healthy fall!

It’s the proportion of liquids you drink, not the volume, that’s important

Water was the hands-down winner when nutrition experts collaborated to determine which beverage provides the greatest health benefits. The six U.S. researchers of the Independent Beverage Guidance Panel ranked beverages into six levels based on calories, energy and nutrients, and evidence for positive and negative effects on health.

An overview of the results, published on Harvard’s School of Public Health website, names water’s major contenders for health benefits and highlights important nutritional tidbits, including the fact that not everyone needs to drink eight glasses of water a day.

Level 1: Water

This should be your primary go-to for rehydrating your body to restore fluids lost through burning calories, breathing, sweating, and removal of waste. A number of factors help define each individual’s hydration needs: quantity of food eaten, weather and activity level.

Most people will get 80 percent of their water by drinking it and the remainder by eating it. Water-rich fruits include watermelon, cucumber, grapefruit, cantaloupe, strawberry and peaches. Vegetables include radishes, zucchini, celery, lettuce and cauliflower.

Level 2: Tea and coffee

These two beverages, when consumed plain, are devoid of calories and include many healthy substances, including flavonoids, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.

Additives like cream, sugar and whipped cream turn these into unhealthy choices. Research indicates that daily intake of up to three or four cups of these caffeinated drinks is the sweet spot. According to eatright.org, studies show drinking black tea is associated with a decreased likelihood of heart attack while green tea is related to lower bad cholesterol and higher good cholesterol.

Level 3: Low-fat milk, skim milk and soy beverages

Milk is a good source of calcium and vitamin D, but the Panel stresses choosing low-fat or fat-free milk, which have less saturated fat than whole milk. Even low-fat milk has a lot of calories so it’s wise to drink no more than two glasses a day. Soy milk is a good option if you are lactose intolerant or don’t like milk.

Level 4: Calorie-free sweetened beverages

Diet drinks are sweetened with calorie-free artificial sweeteners. But because there is an ongoing debate over whether or not these sweeteners contribute to weight gain, it is best to limit your intake to an occasional treat.

Level 5: Beverages with calories and limited nutrients

This category includes fruit juice, vegetable juice, sports drinks, vitamin waters and alcoholic beverages. Due to a high caloric index, it’s best to limit fruit juice to a four-ounce serving per day. Since fruit smoothies are high in calories, they should only be an occasional treat. While most vegetable juice is a lower calorie option, it often has a large amount of salt. So read labels!

Sports drinks are only needed by athletes who exercise an hour or more straight and sweat a lot. Vitamin waters are redundant if you take a daily vitamin.

With regard to alcohol consumption, one study of 38,000 men over a 12-year period showed that moderate drinkers of wine, beer and spirits were 30-35 percent less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers. Those who drank daily were at less risk than those who drank once or twice a week.

Level 6: Sweetened beverages with calories

This is the least desirable category, according to the Panel. It includes beverages sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, including soft drinks, fruit drinks, lemonade, fruit smoothies and many energy drinks. They are high in calories and have no nutritional value.

The take-away

The Panel concluded that we can get all of the fluid we need by simply drinking water and getting nutrients from food. But realizing we are human and not likely to follow a “water only” philosophy, they suggest the following guide for a healthy liquid consumption:

  • It is not the total volume (ounces) of liquid consumed daily, but the proportion of each liquid that helps support our optimum health.
  • Half of the fluid consumed each day should be water.
  • One-third of daily liquid intake can be unsweetened coffee or tea.
  • Low-fat milk can account for 20 percent, or two eight-ounce glasses, of liquid daily consumption. If you drink less than that, be sure to get your calcium from food or a supplement.
  • No more than four ounces of 100 percent fruit juice.
  • Limit daily alcohol consumption to two drinks if you’re a man, one drink if you’re a woman.
  • Ideally, no drinks with artificial sweetener or any form of added sugar.

With an Iowa summer upon us, it’s especially important to remember to drink plenty of liquids and be sensible when exercising outdoors. Be aware that thirst often declines in older adults and drink to your health on a daily basis.