Deirdre Riley is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant who specializes in wellness and prevention. She promotes a healthy lifestyle with a focus on nutritious and delicious foods and believes healthy eating can also be fun. She received her Master's degree in nutrition from Boston University.

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Eat This!

by Deirdre Riley, Registered Dietitian

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With winter fast approaching and the temperatures dropping, cold and flu season is upon us. H1N1 flu is especially concerning, given the rising number of people infected and its potential severity. The best prevention against getting sick is a healthy immune system, ready to attack at the first sign of illness.

Certain lifestyle factors have been shown to optimize your immune system's ability to fight off infection. These include getting adequate sleep (at least 7-8 hours each night!), limiting and managing stress, regular hand washing, exercising regularly and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet.

In addition to eating a nutrient-dense diet filled with lots of brightly colored fruits and vegetables (bright colors=antioxidants), certain specific foods and nutrients have also been shown to help boost the immune response. These include:

Vitamin C: Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant shown to increase production of white blood cells and antibodies, aid in wound healing, and protect against free radical damage to the body. Although research to date on Vitamin C supplementation and immunity remains inconclusive, consuming adequate vitamin C from foods is essential. Best bet? Make sure you consume a variety of Vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, broccoli, red peppers, strawberries, kiwi and melons, on a regular basis.

Mushrooms: Studies demonstrate mushrooms have powerful influence on immune function. They contain beta glucans, which have been shown to to boost immunity, lower bad cholesterol, and regulate blood sugar levels. Although exotic mushroom, such as shiitake and maitake, contain especially potent immune-boosting properties, all types of mushrooms can help promote a healthy immune system. Best bet? Add a variety of mushrooms to salads, sandwiches, soups, stews, stir fries or pizza.

Probiotics: Yogurt and kefir contain probiotics, healthy bacteria that have been shown to help fight off germs by stimulating production of white blood cells (the cells that fight off infection). However, even though most yogurt and kefir products claim they are good for your digestive health and may boost immunity, not all bacterial strains are proven effective. So far, only certain strains, such as Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus reuteri have been scientifically shown to prevent colds, improve immune response, or shorten sick leaves from work. Best bet? Continue eating those "friendly" bugs, but look for products that contain these strains!

Green Tea: Green tea is an excellent source catechins, antioxidants shown to boost immune response, decrease inflammation, and inhibit viral replication. Although many studies show benefit from drinking up to 6 cups of green tea per day, trading at least one cup of coffee each day for green tea is a good place to start. Best bet? Obtain the optimal amounts of catechins from your tea by letting the bag steep in hot water for at least three minutes.

Seafood: Seafood is an excellent source of the mineral selenium, a potent antioxidant that has been shown to boost the body's immune response. In addition to selenium, seafood contains omega 3 fatty acids, which help calm inflammation associated with illness. Best bet? Include a variety of sustainable seafood in your diet.

Zinc: This valuable mineral increases the production of white blood cells and antibodies and helps them fight more aggressively. However, use of zinc supplements to promote immune response is controversial. While some studies claim that zinc lozenges can lower the incidence and severity of infections, other studies have failed to show this correlation. A word of caution: too much zinc in the form of supplements (more than 75 milligrams a day) can inhibit immune function. Therefore it's safest to stick to getting zinc from your diet and aim for 15 to 25 milligrams a day. Best bet? Choose a variety of good food sources of zinc, such as oysters, lean beef, fortified cereal, poultry and yogurt on a regular basis.

Chicken soup: Your grandmother was right! A 2000 study found that chicken soup might actually have some beneficial medicinal properties due to its anti-inflammatory effect. In addition, chicken soup can help provide hydration (essential ...    Continue

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