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  • Writer's pictureTina Shiver

How To Build Your Immune System During The Holidays

assorted healthy foods and title Understanding and Improving your immune system

If you do not have a healthy immune system, then survival is compromised.

Let’s start with learning about the immune system and how it works and why it is crucial to our health. The immune system is made up of cells, tissues, and organs. One of the main purposes of the immune system is to fight off infection. For example, if bacteria, viruses, fungi, or toxins attack your body then the immune system helps to fight off the invasion.

What is the Immune System?

There are two parts to the immune system: the innate system you are born with and the adaptive immune system. The innate system’s purpose is to prevent the spread and movement of foreign pathogens. These foreign pathogens consist of viruses, bacteria, fungi, and other parasites. Viruses make us sick by killing cells or disrupting cell function. For example, COVID enters the body and starts to kill the cells and/or disrupts the cell function. In response, our body then has a fever and releases something called interferon which should block the virus from reproducing or by calling on the immune system's antibodies to target the virus.

The adaptive immune response is created in response to a foreign substance. This system starts to remember if it is exposed again to the foreign substance. The adaptive immune response forms a stronger response through an antigen-specific response. When the innate immune response fails to prevent a pathogen from causing an infection it takes over. The bottom line is without a healthy immune response the foreign pathogen can take over your body and make you very sick.

The Immune System and Diet

Part of a healthy immune system is your diet. The food that you eat is made up of nutrients, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and enzymes designed to support your cells and their health. Especially as we age, it is important to incorporate a balanced diet to reduce your risk of becoming sick and not recovering.

I am going to focus on the role diet and nutrients play in supporting immune function. The SAD diet (Standard American Diet) is not going to support your immune system over the long term. Fast food, processed food, sugar, saturated fat consist of very little to no nutritional value. If you continue to eat a diet with these foods, then more than likely it will catch up with you and your immune system will be compromised.

A balanced diet is key whether you are healthy or chronically sick. If you are chronically sick (for example, you have an auto-immune disease), then processed foods, and sugar should be removed from your diet. It is critical to replace these foods with healthy fats containing fatty acids, such as wild-caught fish. You can further support the immune system by the addition of phytonutrients from vegetables and fruit and low glycemic index carbohydrates like wild rice, sweet potato, and broccoli.

How to Support Your Immune System During the Holidays

Let’s talk about the holidays. It comes as no surprise that normally during this time of year we try and do way too much. We do not get enough sleep, and we indulge in alcohol, sugar, and processed foods which compromises our immune system.

This year, however, could be different. Many of us will spend the holidays with just our immediate family or a few close friends. Why not use this time to create holiday meals that can support and improve immunity? What a wonderful gift to give yourself, your family, and your friends.

To support our immune system, we need an abundance of color, antioxidants, and specific nutrients to allow your immune system to fight off foreign pathogens from attacking your body.

Did you know that what you eat directly supports whether your cells are attacked?

Foods to Support Our Immune System

Cruciferous vegetables provide your body with sulforaphane a sulfur-rich compound found in broccoli cabbage, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. What are the benefits of sulforaphane? Sulforaphane benefits include neutralizing toxins, canceling out free radicals (that are invading cells), and reducing inflammation.

Let’s talk about the colors of the rainbow and how each food that has color benefits the immune system:

Red: Anti-inflammatory and cell protection: Pomegranate, cranberries, cherries, grapes, beets, apples, blood oranges Orange: Immune health and cell protection: Oranges, Pumpkin, winter squash, sweet potato, turmeric root, tangerines, carrots

Yellow: Anti-inflammatory, cell protection: Asian pear, ginger root, lemon

Green: Anti-inflammatory, cell protection: Apple, avocado, bean sprouts, bok choy, broccoli, broccolini, brussels sprouts, cabbage, edamame, green tea, greens, olives

Blue/Purple/Black: Anti-inflammatory, cell protection: Berries, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, plums, olives, figs

White/Tan/Brown: Cell protection: Dates, garlic, ginger, jicama, legumes, mushrooms, nuts, onions, sauerkraut, seeds, whole grains(oats)

In addition to phytochemicals, your body needs zinc, selenium, vitamin D, and vitamin C to support the immune system as well as to support respiratory health.

Include beans, nuts, whole grains for zinc support as well as a 20-30 mg. supplement.

Selenium can be found in brazil nuts. It is also recommended you take vitamin D if you are not drinking milk or including dairy in your diet. Vitamin C can be found in a lot of fruits and vegetables and if you take it by supplement form take at least 1000 mg. a day. Remember to include at least 8-12 vegetables and fruits in your diet daily meaning 8-10 veggies and 1-2 fruits. The vegetables and fruits provide phytonutrients, vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, and many more benefits all to support the immune system.

Be well, thank you for your support, and stay tuned for next week!

Tina Shiver, RD, IFMCP

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