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JOHNSTON: Strengthen your immune system with the right foods

As we are focusing on staying #healthyathome, keeping our immune system running well is extremely important.

People seem to be wondering what kinds of foods are best to boost the immune system, to help our bodies fight sickness better than others.

In reality, we don’t want to boost our immune system because it will overreact. This can actually put more stress on the body.

Instead, we want to choose foods and healthy lifestyle behaviors that support the immune system to respond appropriately when under stress.

As we age, our immune system function declines. However, there are steps you can take to support a healthy immune system so it can respond appropriately when faced with illness.

Our immune system is complex, so we want to focus on a balanced diet that includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Some nutritionists even encourage seven servings a day.

Adding fruits and vegetables of any kind will help ensure your body receives the nutrients — vitamins, minerals and fiber — it needs to work properly.

Vitamins A, C, D, E and zinc are nutrients that will help support the immune system when it needs to work hard. Choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables that match the rainbow will be the best source of these nutrients.

By getting enough nutrients, you improve your body’s ability to fight sickness.

Here are some foods you can choose that are good sources of the nutrients our bodies are looking for and easy to grab when we go to the grocery store:

— Vitamin A: carrots, romaine lettuce, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe

— Vitamin C: bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, oranges and potatoes

— Vitamin D: salmon, fortified milk, eggs and fortified cereal (the sun is a great non-food source too)

— Vitamin E: sunflower seeds, almonds, red bell peppers and peanut butter

— Zinc: beef, baked beans, fortified cereals and yogurt

Keys to staying healthy for people of any age are much broader than nutrition and include things like:

— Choose brightly-colored plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Make your plate look like a rainbow.

— Choose lean proteins.

— Stay hydrated with water.

— Be physically active on a regular basis.

— Get an adequate amount of sleep.

— Find ways to reduce stress.

— Practice good hygiene and wash your hands often.

The Clark County Cooperative Extension Facebook page and website have some great resources on all of these tips.

I’ve included a great Plate It Up Kentucky recipe that uses some of the nutrient-rich foods listed.

Also, keep an eye out for our brown bag projects coming up, the stress away bags are available at 8 a.m. today to pick up (call or check Facebook for availability).

As always, feel free to reach out to the Extension Office for more information during these stressful times.

Shonda Johnston is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 859-744-4682 or by email at shonda.johnston@uky.edu.