It’s important to eat tasty, nutritious meals, but it can be even more beneficial when the food you’re consuming can also improve your health. The fare you choose can affect your bodily functions, appearance and the development of illness. Make immune-boosting foods staples in your diet and reap the benefits.

Tomatoes are a plant-based fruit filled with antioxidants and phytonutrients. They are also rich in lycopene, which gives the tomatoes its red color. This powerful combination not only helps repair damage done to cells, but it can also reduce inflammation. A study from the University of Illinois also suggests that when consumed with soy, this fruit may help prevent prostate cancer.

A serving of broccoli packs in vitamins A, C and K, which helps build strong bones. “This cruciferous vegetable also has anti-estrogenic properties and is a good source of fiber,” said Nake Miyaki, fitness author, athlete, coach and certified specialist in fitness and sports nutrition. “Plus it’s high in food bulk, so as long as you stay within your caloric deficits, it’s great for weight loss.”

“Athletes have no need for a low-carb diet but should choose starchy carb sources that support aerobic training,” said Miyaki. Sweet potatoes are a nutrition-packed punch containing calcium, potassium and beta-carotene, which the body converts to activate vitamin A, used to maintain good vision and a healthy immune system. They are also an excellent source of vitamin C, helping regulate high blood pressure because of its antioxidant properties.

Sardines sometimes get a bad rap but are in fact extremely healthy for you, mainly because they’re high in omega-3 fatty acids. “Because the conversion of plant omega 3’s is inefficient in the body, fish sources are the best way to get omega 3’s,” said Miyaki. Therefore, these small swimmers can reduce inflammation and regulate insulin sensitivity. And their high levels of vitamin C help prevent bone disease.

Containing twice as much vitamin C as an orange, red bell peppers help clear skin. “This vegetable is really flavorful, so it’s great to add to a stir fry or other dishes,” said Miyaki. “It’s more beneficial than pouring empty calories on your plate.” It’s also a great source of potassium and vitamin A.

Spinach is a good source of protein, especially for those who have a plant-based diet, building and supporting muscle mass. According to Miyaki, it is the highest alkaline food, stocked with vitamin A, fiber and minerals. This leafy green also has many antioxidant properties thanks to its composition of beta-carotene, vitamin C and lutein.

Don’t just enjoy pumpkin seasonally – eat it year round. “It’s a root vegetable, meaning it’s a primary carb source,” said Miyaki. This orange food is a great source of vitamin A and C, potassium and fiber. It helps promote heart and bone health, and also serves benefits for skin and eyesight thanks to its beta-carotene count.

You’ve probably heard it before, but chocolate can be good for you – if it’s dark. “Dark chocolate contains flavonoids and lots of specific antioxidants,” said Miyaki. This treat can help blood flow and cardiovascular health. But pay attention to the cacao level; the higher it is, the more you benefit.

Magnesium is an important mineral involved in more than 300 metabolic and enzyme processes, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 50 percent of Americans are deficient. “Magnesium helps metabolize carbs and fats, is involved in the production of ADP and synthesizes protein,” said Scott Herkes, a Max Muscle franchisee. “Lots of disorders such as diabetes, frequency of migraine headaches, osteoporosis and hypertension can come partially from being deficient.” Plus, we need magnesium for calcium absorption.

Whey protein contains fractions that can directly enhance your immune system, boosting overall health. “There isn’t really another type of supplement that has the same type of impact as whey,” said Herkes. It contains glutamine and antioxidants that help as you get older and have higher free radical levels. After a workout, your body may feel depleted and whey protein can help with that. MS&F

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