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Boosting the immune system through diet

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat

As the cold and flu season approaches, dietitians and medical experts across Texoma say that the first step in preparing your immune system is a proper diet. The key to fighting off that common cold this season may be to feed your system the foods it needs to fight back.

Stacie Markel, a clinical dietitian with Wilson N. Jones Regional Medical Center, said people can help boost their system by eating foods that spur the production of white blood cells.

It is not too late to work to boost the immune system. Diet can help keep illness away.

“What you want to be doing is increasing your white blood cell count, which will help with infection,” Markel said. “You can do that through vitamin C, which is thought to increase the production of white blood cells— the key to fighting off that infection.”

Markel said common stories about oranges and orange juice containing large quantities of vitamin C are true, but many other kinds of foods can also be good sources when added to a diet.

“Vitamin C is also known to help reduce nasal systems,” she said. “When you have a cold or the flu you tend to have a sore throat, cough, fever and things like that.”

Markel noted that vitamin C is water soluble and is not actively stored in the body for long periods of time. Because of this, it is important to regularly take in foods that contain it. Beyond oranges, Markel said other citrus fruits like lemons and grapefruit also contained high quantities of vitamin C. Likewise, red bell peppers are a good source as well and can be added easily to soups, stir fries and other recipes.

However, the best sources for the vitamin are spinach and broccoli, Markel said. In addition to vitamin C, broccoli also contains vitamins A and E, which also are good for the immune system.

Entering into the holiday season, a healthy diet can help families ward off illness during the time period also known as cold and flu season.

“Broccoli is considered a super food, pretty much,” she said. “It is pretty much the healthiest vegetable you can put on your plate.”

Natural yogurt with live cultures can also help boost the immune system by giving it something relatively benign to react to and strengthen itself. However, Markel said to avoid yogurts with significant amounts of added sugars. Markel recommended avoiding alcohol, which can suppress the immune system due to its effects on the circulatory system.

“The big thing with alcohol is that it dilates your blood vessels and makes your nose and sinuses even more stuffed up,” she said.