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Dietitians Dish: Eat right to increase your immunity

By By Stephanie Whitley
Jan. 28, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 27, 2014 at 7:28 p.m.

Stephanie Whitley

Now that the flu has reached South Texas, it is a good time to remind ourselves of what we can do to keep our immunities strong in the winter months. Four things that you can control to help prevent sickness are eating right, staying active, adequate rest and minimize stress.

Let's focus on eating right. If you are overweight (Body Mass Index between 25 to 29.9) or obese (BMI equal to 30), your are decreasing the strength of you immune system.

On the other hand, if you have protein-calorie malnutrition you are also hurting your immunity. Talk to a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist if you wonder about this type of malnutrition. Common indicators are significant weight loss in a short amount of time, chronic poor food intake, muscle wasting, etc. So, the first thing you need to focus on is maintaining a healthy weight.

Secondly, you must make sure you are getting a wide variety of macro and micro nutrients in your diet. This means adequate protein, carbohydrate and fat intake, specifically protein. Make sure you have a serving of meat (3 ounces), dairy, beans or nuts at every meal.

There are many micronutrients that play directly into the strength of your immunity; beta-carotene, Omega-3, vitamins A, B6, C and E, zinc, folate and friendly bacteria.

Here is a list of foods that are good sources of these immune-friendly nutrients:

Beta-carotene: Any orange, yellow or red fruit or vegetable and leafy greens

Omega-3: Flaxseeds, walnuts, sardines, salmon, soybeans, tofu, shrimp, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and winter squash (in order from highest to lowest content).

Vitamin A: Sweet potato, beef liver, spinach, carrots, pumpkin pie, cantaloupe, sweet red peppers, mangoes, black-eyed peas, apricots and broccoli (in order from highest to lowest content)

Vitamin B6: Chickpeas, beef liver, tuna, salmon, chicken breast, fortified breakfast cereals, potatoes, turkey, banana, marinara sauce, ground beef (in order from highest to lowest content)

Vitamin C: Sweet red pepper, orange, kiwifruit, sweet green pepper, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit (in order from highest to lowest content)

Vitamin E: Wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, corn oil, spinach, broccoli, soybean oil, kiwifruit, mango, tomato, spinach (in order from highest to lowest content)

Zinc: Oysters, king crab, beef, fortified breakfast cereal, lobster, pork chop, baked beans, dark meat chicken, yogurt, cashews and chickpeas (in order from highest to lowest content)

Folate: Beef liver, spinach, black-eyed peas, fortified breakfast cereals, white rice, asparagus, spaghetti, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, avocado, spinach and broccoli (in order from highest to lowest content)

Friendly bacteria (also known as probiotics): Yogurt kefir, miso soup, sauerkraut and kimchi

Try to consume a food from each nutrient category daily. If you can't, discuss taking a daily multivitamin with your physician.

Stephanie Whitley is a registered and licensed dietitian DeTar Healthcare Systems. Send questions or comments to dietitians@vicad.com.

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