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Better Health Is in the (Grocery) Bag

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You'll give sick days the cold shoulder if you shop wisely at the grocery store or farmers' market. "The right foods are your first line of protection, arming your immune system with the nutrients it needs to fight off foreign invaders," says Joy Dubost, PhD, RD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Make sure these 10 power foods, which will supercharge your defenses to keep you going strong, are on your list.

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Butternut Squash
A cup of this gourd packs more than 160 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A, key for keeping your skin, eyes, and immune system in good shape. Plus your gut's goblet cells, which help your body digest and absorb nutrients, need the vitamin to work their magic. "If your digestive system isn't healthy, nutrients from food can't get where they need to go," says Lisa Young, PhD, RD, a FITNESS advisory board member and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University.

Eat Up:

  • Cook cubed butternut squash in chicken or vegetable broth. Fold into whole wheat mac and cheese.
  • Drizzle squash chunks with olive oil and maple syrup and roast until tender. Serve over kale and lentils with honey-mustard dressing.

Oatmeal
"Millions of bacteria and viruses constantly bombard your body," explains Vaclav Vetvicka, PhD, the vice chair for research in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. Beta-glucan, a special fiber found in foods like yeast, oats, barley and mushrooms, can give you an extra boost. Nearly every immune cell in your body has special receptors designed to grab onto beta-glucan, kicking up the activity of white blood cells that, Pac-Man-like, gobble up bacteria and viruses.

Eat Up:

  • Add a layer of 1/2 cup cooled cooked oatmeal to your yogurt parfait.
  • Whip up a savory oatmeal risotto: Simmer 1/3 cup steel-cut oats in 1 cup chicken broth for 30 minutes, stir in 1/3 cup thawed frozen peas, and top with shaved pecorino cheese.

Shiitake Mushrooms
Like oats, these shrooms provide beta-glucan, but that's just the beginning. "Shiitakes have protective compounds and antioxidants that are believed to work together to stimulate immune cells and proteins in our bodies," Dubost says. The result is a lean, mean virus- and bacteria-fighting machine. Shiitakes are so powerful that a study found that their extract helped kill several strains of bacteria, including the deadly MRSA.

Eat Up:

  • Stir-fry shiitakes with asparagus, onions, hoisin sauce, and sriracha.
  • Saute shiitakes in olive oil with fresh sage and serve over warm polenta.

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