9 Foods That Fire Up the Immune System
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No matter what color tomato you choose, this immune booster packs a high dose of antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells against damage from free radicals, which can compromise your immune system. Tomatoes provide the three major antioxidant vitamins: beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E. For maximum benefit, enjoy tomatoes raw by adding them to salads and sandwiches.
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Tahini, a spread made from ground sesame seeds and olive oil, is loaded with magnesium and zinc, two nutrients known to boost immunity. Add tahini to hummus or yogurt with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and diced garlic for a zesty dip. Or, for a special treat, spread it on nutty whole-grain bread and add a drizzle of honey. Tahini, which contains just 89 calories per tablespoon, is also a great source of healthy fatty acids, thiamin, phosphorus and copper.
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A cup of pumpkin a day can keep the doctor away, thanks to the beta-carotene and zinc found in these brightly-colored members of the squash family. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A, a nutrient required for a healthy immune system. Add pumpkin puree to casseroles, soups, stews or baked goods. Mash baked pumpkin with cinnamon and a bit of butter for a filling side dish. For a real treat, blend pumpkin puree with yogurt, honey, half of a banana and crushed ice for a super-healthy smoothie.
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Derived from the heart of the wheat kernel, wheat germ is a nutritional multitasker. Loaded with vitamins and minerals, this key source of fiber keeps the digestive system in working order. It also maintains the body's illness-fighting capability by providing choline and zinc. Use wheat germ instead of breadcrumbs in recipes or add it to baked goods. Its nutty crunch is especially good when sprinkled over yogurt or fruit.
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There's no shortage of television commercials touting yogurts filled with probiotics. Often labeled "live and active cultures," probiotics boost immunity by maintaining the balance of "good" bacteria in your digestive system. Eating yogurt after a course of antibiotics is a good idea as antibiotics can destroy the body's healthy bacteria while fighting off other infections.
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Deemed by some as one of the healthiest foods in the world, garlic has long been recognized for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antioxidant properties. There are more than 100 active compounds in garlic that rev up the immune system, and treat fungal and bacterial infections. Readily available year-round, garlic can be consumed raw, cooked, dried or fresh.
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If mushrooms aren't already on your list of immune boosters, jot them down! A source of antioxidants and the mineral selenium, mushrooms (notably shiitake and maitake) have been found to stimulate white blood cell production, which combats harmful bacteria in the body. This unassuming fungus also contains riboflavin and niacin, as well as the B vitamins necessary for a healthy immune system.
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Along with its hydrating benefits, watermelon contains the antioxidant glutathione, which wards off infections. This juicy fruit also boasts vitamin A, which is helpful in boosting the infection-fighting functionality of white blood cells; vitamin B6, a nutrient needed for the immune system to produce antibodies; and vitamin C, which is good for defending against viruses.
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Although many herbs and spices offer nutritional benefits, fresh-leaf oregano can actually improve your immunity-fighting capabilities. The aromatic oil released when fresh leaves are crushed is effective against more than 30 types of germs, including Staph bacteria, yeast infections and E. coli. Shred fresh oregano leaves and sprinkle them over pizza, pasta or salads to take advantage of the herb's antimicrobial and antiviral benefits.