Who doesn’t want a healthy immune system? (Raise your hand. No one?) But did you know the role your diet plays in keeping it in top shape to protect you from toxins and infections? Sadly, too many of us don’t eat enough of the fresh fruits, vegetables, and other foods we need to keep ourselves healthy year-round. Healthy foods provide many substances including vitamins and minerals to keep us strong and healthy. You can’t just eat an orange or grapefruit or pop a vitamin pill and expect one quick burst of vitamin C to prevent a cold and boost your immune system. In fact, in areas where people suffer from malnutrition, there is a corresponding impairment of immune function and more sickness and hospitalization compared to developed countries.
Long story short, if you want to stay healthy, pay attention to what makes it to your plate.
With some exceptions, it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from your food rather than in pill form. Smith shares some tips for some of the top vitamins and minerals your immune system needs to perform:
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C may help prevent infections or shorten their stay. Citrus fruits are a standout, but did you know there are other good sources? It’s true! Smith recommends the following:
- Bell peppers.
- Brussels sprouts.
Fun fact: vitamin C is in so many foods that most people may not need to take supplements unless a doctor advises it. Consult with your doctor before taking any vitamin C supplements.
2. Vitamin E
Like vitamin C, vitamin E can be a powerful antioxidant that helps your body fight off infection. This important vitamin — part of nearly 200 biochemical reactions in your body — is critical in how your immune system functions. To get your vitamin E, think of high-fat plant foods such as:
- Peanuts/peanut butter.
- Sunflower seeds.
- Oils such as sunflower, safflower, and soybean oil.
3. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is an infection-fighter and comes in two forms: in animal foods such as fish, meat, and dairy or from plant carotenoids. Tuna is a great source of preformed vitamin A. When it comes to carotenoids, go colorful:
- Sweet potatoes.
- Butternut squash.
- Dark green leafy vegetables.
4. Vitamin D
Known as the sunshine vitamin, it’s one of the most important and powerful nutrients for supporting the immune system. Food sources are limited but include:
- Vitamin D is fortified through milk, orange juice, and cereals.
In general, it’s best to get most of your vitamins from food, but vitamin D may be the exception to that rule. Talk with your doctor to find out if you need a supplement.
5. Folate/folic acid
Folate is the natural form and folic acid is the synthetic form, often added to foods because of its health benefits. To get more folate, add more beans and lentils to your plate on a regular basis, as well as leafy green vegetables. Avocado is another tasty source. You can also get folic acid in fortified foods (check the label first).
- Enriched pasta.
- Enriched rice.
Iron, which helps your body carry oxygen to cells, plays a part in many of the immune system processes. It comes in different forms. Your body can more easily absorb heme iron (aka iron from animal products), which is abundant in:
- Red meat (limit to smaller amounts and less often).
- Canned sardines.
- Canned light tuna.
If you’re a vegetarian, have no fear. You can still find iron in:
- Iron-fortified cereals.
Selenium seems to have a powerful effect on the immune system being important for preventing infections. Animal foods are the best sources, with the exception of Brazil nuts, which offer a whopping greater than 100% daily value in one nut. However, too much can be a problem, so keep to no more than one to two of these in a day. Look for selenium in:
- Seafood (tuna, halibut, sardines).
- Meat and liver.
- Cottage cheese.
Zinc is needed for the production of new immune system cells. It’s found primarily in animal foods but can be also found in some vegetarian food like.
- Lean meats and poultry.
- Baked beans.
How to grocery shop to boost your immunity
A simple rule can help you when choosing fruits and vegetables at the grocery store or farmers’ market: The more colorful the fruits and vegetables are, the better.
“Try to eat a wide variety of foods, and aim to eat fruit and vegetables from every color of the rainbow,” Zumpano says. “Your plate will be more enticing to look at, and you will ensure that you’re getting as many health-boosting vitamins and nutrients as possible.”
It’s also important to know that you build a robust immune system by maintaining healthy eating habits over time. You can’t eat four oranges at breakfast and expect to be protected that day against catching a cold.
What Is a Vitamin Supplement?
Vitamin supplements—sometimes referred to as dietary supplements—contain a variety of ingredients to help people attain the nutrients they need in the recommended amounts. Ingredients often include vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, and herbs. Vitamin supplements can provide a wide range of benefits, including assisting in disease prevention and preventing nutrient deficiencies.
Speak with your doctor before beginning a new vitamin supplement, especially if you’re on blood clotting medications, as certain supplements may interfere with drug effectiveness.
Can supplements help your immunity?
While vitamins and supplements can help fill in the gaps in your diet, the best way to load up on essential nutrients is to get them straight from food.
Your body absorbs and uses vitamins and nutrients better when they come from a dietary source. When it’s a vitamin or supplement, it’s often questionable how much you’re actually getting. Because supplements are regulated as foods, not as drugs, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t evaluate the quality of supplements or assess their effects on the body.
Some supplements may have side effects, especially if taken before surgery or with other medicines. Supplements can also cause problems if you have certain health conditions. And the effects of many supplements haven’t been tested in children, pregnant women, and other groups.
It’s especially important to avoid taking vitamin E supplements. Not only is there little clinical research showing that vitamin E supplements benefit your health, but they may also be harmful in some situations.
How to Boost the Immune System Naturally
In addition to a healthy diet and vitamin supplements, several other lifestyle factors can contribute to a boosted immune system as well. Exercise and maintaining a healthy weight are among helpful tactics, as well as getting enough sleep, minimizing stress, keeping up with recommended vaccines, practicing good hygiene, moderating alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking.
Some ay of the immune system
Maintain a healthy diet
As with most things in your body, a healthy diet is a key to a strong immune system. This means making sure you eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats.
In addition to providing your immune system the energy it needs, a healthy diet can help ensure you’re getting sufficient amounts of the micronutrients that play a role in maintaining your immune system, including:
- Vitamin B6 is found in chicken, salmon, tuna, bananas, green vegetables, and potatoes (with the skin)
- And Vitamin C is found in citrus fruit, including oranges and strawberries, as well as tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach
- Vitamin E is found in almonds, sunflower and safflower oil, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, and spinach.
Since experts believe that your body absorbs vitamins more efficiently from dietary sources, rather than supplements, the best way to support your immune system is to eat a well-balanced diet.
Physical activity isn’t just for building muscles and helping yourself de-stress — it’s also an important part of being healthy and supporting a healthy immune system.
One way exercise may improve immune function is by boosting your overall circulation, making it easier for immune cells and other infection-fighting molecules to travel more easily throughout your body.
In fact, studies have shown that engaging in as little as 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every day helps stimulate your immune system. This means it’s important to focus on staying active and getting regular exercise.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep certainly doesn’t feel like an active process, but there are plenty of important things happening in your body when you’re not awake. For instance, important infection-fighting molecules are created while you sleep.
Studies have shown that people who don’t get enough quality sleep are more prone to getting sick after exposure to viruses, such as those that cause the common cold.
To give your immune system the best chance to fight off infection and illness, it’s important to know how much sleep you should be getting every night, as well as the steps to take if your sleep is suffering.
Whether it comes on quickly or builds over time, it’s important to understand how stress affects your health — including the impact it has on your immune system.
During a period of stress, particularly chronic stress that’s frequent and long-lasting, your body responds by initiating what’s called a stress response. It’s meant to help you handle the stressful situations coming your way. Unfortunately, this response also suppresses your immune system — increasing your chance of infection or illness.
Stress is different for everyone, and how we relieve it is, too. Given the effect it can have on your health, it’s important to know how to identify stress. And, whether it’s deep breathing, meditation, prayer, or exercise, you should also get familiar with the activities that help you reduce stress.
Point of post
Keeping your immune system healthy year-round is key to preventing infection and disease. Making healthy lifestyle choices by consuming nutritious foods and getting enough sleep and exercise are the most important ways to bolster your immune system. However, note that some supplements can interact with prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking. Some may not be appropriate for people with certain health conditions. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before starting any supplements.