Fight Stress…With Your Plate

Slices of fresh green appleStress affects our ability to fight certain disease and it speeds the aging process through some of the same mechanisms. Stress has been shown to reduce the activity of agents in our bodies called natural killer cells, or NK cells. These NK cells protect us against viruses and cancer cells that pop up in our bodies.

Research studies have shown that stressed populations have higher cancer rates. Stress also affects our bodies’ ability to repair our DNA. With unhealthy DNA our cells don’t divide and grow properly leading to poor health of the organs.

So what does what you eat have to do with all of this?

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They may also change become abnormal and change into cancer cells. One study in healthy women, found that psychological stress is associated with more rapid aging.

So where does what we eat come into all of this? We have all heard the term antioxidants. Antioxidants are substances that protect and repair cells from damage. Many experts believe this damage plays a part in a number of chronic diseases, including hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) that lead to strokes and heart attacks, cancer, and arthritis. Fighting off damage with antioxidants helps keep your immune system strong, making you better able to ward off colds, flu, and other infections.

Below is a list of the foods with the highest amounts of antioxidants. These foods help the body to repair itself by supporting immune system health.

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: Apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon.

Vitamin C: Berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, orange, papaya, red, green or yellow peppers, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Vitamin E: Broccoli, carrots, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, and sunflower seeds.

Zinc: Found in oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified cereals, and dairy products. Vegetarians require 50% more zinc because it is harder to absorb with a plant based diet.

Selenium: Found in Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry and fortified breads, and other grain products

Multiple Antioxidants: prunes, apples, raisins , all berries, plums , red grapes, alfalfa sprouts, onions, eggplant, beans.

Foods also contain many different nutrients in addition to these antioxidant vitamins and minerals, not found in supplements, that work together to promote health. Some examples substances that protect against disease but are neither vitamins nor minerals include:

• Quercetin: a plant-based chemical found in apples, onions, teas, red wines, and other foods. It fights inflammation and may help reduce allergies.

• Luteolin: a flavonoid found in abundance in celery and green peppers. It also fights inflammation and one study showed it may help protect against inflammatory brain conditions like Alzheimer’s.

• Catechins: a type of flavonoid found in tea. Catechins in tea may help reduce risk of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

If you can’t get enough antioxidants in your diet by eating fresh produce, some experts recommend taking a multivitamin that contains minerals, too. But be cautious about taking individual immune system supplements to boost immunity. With antioxidants, as with most anything, moderation is key. Vitamins A and E, for example, are stored in the body and eliminated slowly. Getting too much can be toxic.

If you are on medication or have a chronic illness, always check with your health care provider about your dietary intake.

So in summary, staying healthy is having a healthy immune system for daily repair and protection.

What we eat provides the raw materials to fight off daily effects of stress that wear our body down over time. Work with your doctor and/or a nutritionist to know how to out together a nutrition plan that is right for you.