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Q: Are there any foods that help boost the immune system?

Posted December 04, 2013 in Advice Column, Ames

A: The flu and cold season is upon us, making it important to have a healthy immune system. Consider these nutrients when meal planning to keep your immunity working in top condition during the peak flu and cold season.

• Zinc is important for building immune function and may help lessen the severity of some cold symptoms. Animal sources of zinc are absorbed best; they include lean red meat, pork, eggs, oysters, shellfish and milk. Other non-animal sources of zinc include wheat germ, whole-wheat foods, lima beans, soybeans and peanuts.

• Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent infections. Choose dark green, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables like cantaloupe, carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, spinach and broccoli for vitamin A.

• Vitamin D has been linked to strengthening the immune response and is normally synthesized by our bodies during exposure to sunlight in the summer. Only a few foods contain significant amounts of vitamin D: salmon, tuna, vitamin D-enriched milk and some mushrooms. Consider talking to your physician about a vitamin D supplement to help meet your needs during the fall and winter months.

• Probiotics are friendly bacteria that make up 70 to 80 percent of our immune system, so it’s important to make sure the friendly bacteria outnumbers the unfriendly bacteria to handle the potential germs we encounter daily. Yogurt and kefir are sources of probiotics.

Information provided by Amy Clark, RD, LD, Hy-Vee, 640 Lincoln Way, Ames, 515-232-1961,

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