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You Are What You Eat: Food and Your Immune System

You Are What You Eat: Food and Your Immune System

In most cases, the results of our dietary choices are blatantly obvious to others. Health-conscious people usually exhibit a trim, cut physique with little in the way of flab or noticeable body fat. In contrast, those who habitually feast on generous amounts of high-calorie, high-fat delicacies often struggle with bulging waistlines. While there are exceptions to this rule (the lightning-quick metabolism of many younger adults often masks their horrendous diets), the foods you put in your body have a generally large say in your cosmetic appearance. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find that your dietary habits also impact what goes on inside your body – especially when it comes to your immune system.

Foods to Eat

Let’s start with the good guys. Foods that provide a boost to your body’s natural defenses possess some nutrients that might ring a bell. Vitamins C, E and A, along with antioxidants, zinc and omega 3 fatty acids have earned sterling reputations as potent disease-fighters. In addition to their nutritious properties, these nutrients are found in numerous fruits, veggies and certain types of meat. Try adding some of the proceeding foods to your next grocery list.

Strawberries – If you’re looking to up your intake of vitamin C, then pick up a case or two of strawberries. Just one 1/4th cup of sliced strawberries will net you 41% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C.

Almonds – Though they are often overshadowed by peanuts, the nutritional benefits of almonds earn them a regular place in your diet. There are few foods higher in vitamin E than almonds; one half cup of whole almonds nourishes the body with over 60% daily value (DV) of this renowned antioxidant. As an added bonus, the same serving will also provide you with 16 % DV of zinc and over 30% DV of fiber.

Tuna – One of the most popular types of fish also doubles as a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 acids can be further subdivided into eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids (mercifully abbreviated as EPA’s and DHA’s, respectfully). A three ounce serving of white canned tuna features .20 grams worth of EPAs, and .54 grams of DHA. Should you opt for light canned tuna instead, the same serving size will infuse your body with .04 g of EPA and .19 g of DHA. While these figures might not seem like much, consider that the recommended total intake for EPA and DHA acids ranges from .25 to .8 grams.

This doesn’t mean you can eat an unlimted amount of tuna;  pregnant women should limit canned light tuna consumption to 12 ounces per week, and to eat no more than 6 ounces of canned albacore tuna on a weekly basis (the same guidlines apply to young children and nursing mothers).

Kale – It’s a shame that kale, a leafy type of cabbage, doesn’t get more attention. This leafy dark green vegetable is a nutrient powerhouse, packing 67% DV of vitamin C and a staggering 342% DV of vitamin K in a single half-cup. If you need to add some vitamin A to your diet, look no further than kale; ½ cup offers 103% DV of this nutrient.

Foods/Ingredients to Avoid

Margarine/Butter – Butter and margarine have long been popular kitchen items, as millions use them to add taste and flavor to toast, oatmeal and other breakfast staples. All of those tasty breakfast meals come at a price, however. Butter is often loaded with saturated fat, which some studies have found negatively impacts the immune system, causing tissue inflammation inside the body.

Margarine, in addition to having a fair amount of saturated fat, often contains trans-fats. Trans fats are a man-made concoction that spike levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol while simultaneously depleting the body of good (HDL) cholesterol. Like its more well-known cousin, trans fats can lead to tissue inflammation, effectively distracting the immune system from its routine tasks and putting the body at greater risk of illness.

High-Fat Read Meat – High-fat red meat include items like bacon, sausage and processed meats. Consumption of high-fat cuts of  meat should be strictly limited, as should pieces of chicken and turkey with skin. It does warrant mentioning, though, that an appropriate amount of chicken and turkey without skin can be good for your body.

Soda – Okay, while soda’s technically a beverage, its massive popularity (US soda sales totaled $75.7 billion in 2011) makes it worth including on this list. Drinking just two cans of soda may render your immune system 40 percent less effective.

Refined Carbohydrates – Refined carbohydrates refer to foods consisting heavily of grains and sugars. These foods are “refined” during manufacturing, a process that strips them of most nutritional content. Not surprisingly, this tactic has helped to boost the profit margins of food producers, allowing them to increase the shelf life and improve the taste of numerous products. What’s good for food companies, unfortunately, isn’t always good for the health of consumers. Refined carbs, in addition to putting you at greater risk of obesity and diabetes, can also hinder your body’s defense systems.

It’s not hard to find popular foods that contain refined carbohydrates. In fact, refined carbs are in so many foods that we gave them their own list. Below is a partial list of items that are commonly made using refined carbohydrates.

  • White Bread
  • Doughnuts
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • White rice
  • Pastas made with white flour
  • Fruit Juices
  • Pretzels
  • Many brands of cereal
  • Jams and Jellies
  • Pie crusts
  • Pizzas
  • Rolls and Buns
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