Infectious germs pose a serious danger to our health and well-being. The recent Covid-19 illness causing virus was just a new (and deadly) addition to a very long list. Scientists know of at least 1,400 different types of harmful bacteria and viruses that cause disease in human beings.
Our immune system is our main defense against infectious diseases. A strong immune system helps detect many of the harmful pathogens, fights to eliminate them, and reduces your risk of falling severely ill.
To boost your immune system, you need a healthy diet. In this guide, we will look at how certain foods work in the body to improve your immunity and support immune health.
Essential Nutrients for a Healthy Immune System
The food we eat contains carbs, proteins, healthy fats, minerals, and vitamins. These are all essential to keep us alive and give us strength and energy. Some of these nutrients are extra important for a strong immune system. They include Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin E, Zinc, Selenium, Iron, antioxidants, proteins, and amino acids.
If your diet does not contain any one of these nutrients in recommended quantities, you could end up with a weaker immune system not able to prevent disease. This condition is called a nutrient deficiency. People with deficiencies are more likely to get sick often.
This is why doctors recommend a balanced diet – eating a diet that contains different types of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, meat, fish, and dairy products improves your chances of getting all the essential nutrients to support your health.
The Link Between Gut Health and the Immune System
Along with healthy eating, you also need a healthy digestive system to get benefit from those nutrients. Our gut contains millions of “good” bacteria – the kind that helps us digest food and absorb vitamins and minerals efficiently.
Eating too much sugar, processed foods, and fried food is bad for your stomach – it upsets the balance in our gut and reduces the population of the “good” bacteria. This decreases the effectiveness of the digestive system and also weakens our immune health.
There are some minimally processed foods that help the “good” bacteria thrive in our stomachs. Such foods are called “probiotic” foods. Yogurt, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, garlic, bananas, onions, and leeks are all good for maintaining healthy populations of “good” bacteria in our stomachs.
Let’s now take a look at the top foods for boosting your immune system, and look at how each food can help your body:
Citrus Fruits – Vitamin C
When you catch a cold or the flu virus, white blood cells fight and kill the germs causing the disease. Vitamin C plays an important role in the production of white blood cells.
Citrus fruits are one of the best sources of Vitamin C in our diet. Lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, and tangerines all contain high levels of Vitamin C. Red bell peppers are another great source of Vitamin C, in case you cannot eat citrus every day. Peppers contain three times as much of this vitamin as some citrus fruits.
Unfortunately, our body cannot produce any Vitamin C on its own. It is essential that we eat these fruits every day for a healthy immune function.
Broccoli – Vitamin A, C, & E and Fiber
Although it’s often hated by kids and many adults, broccoli is a true “superfood.” It’s rich in nutrients like Vitamins C, A, and E, all of which enhance a body’s immune response. It is also rich in fiber, which is great for a healthy stomach and digestion.
Stale and overcooked broccoli will become very bitter, which is why it is so unpopular. Fresh broccoli will have a deep green color and tight firm buds. For best results, steam it until it is fork-tender, but still firm – if it becomes soggy or limp, it will taste bitter.
Sunflower Seeds & Almonds – Vitamin E
T-cells are special immune cells released from bone marrow. They help fight infection and cancer. Vitamin E helps the immune system to release proteins and T-cells. You need a regular supply of Vitamin E for a strong immune system.
Thankfully, Vitamin E is readily available in many foods. Seeds and nuts are the best sources of Vitamin E, as they contain the nutrient in high quantities. Sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, and peanuts are all good sources.
Spinach, Kale, and Root Vegetables – Vitamin A
The key to a healthy immune function lies in our stomach. Along with Vitamin D, Vitamin A is essential for a healthy gut that can properly digest a wide range of foods. If your digestion is weak, it cannot fully absorb immune-boosting nutrients.
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin found in green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale. It is also found in bright yellow and orange-colored vegetables like carrots and squash. The color in these vegetables comes from a substance called beta-carotene.
When we eat these root vegetables, our body digests the beta carotene and converts it into Vitamin A. Sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, and onions are also good natural sources of Vitamin A and beta carotene.
Fish & Eggs – Vitamin D
Vitamin D is critical for healthy immune system function. You can get most of your necessary requirements from sunlight – when exposed to UV rays from the sun, our skin produces this vitamin in the body. The best and easiest way to get enough Vitamin D for an immune system boost is standing out in the sunlight, at least for 10–15 minutes.
You can also get additional doses of Vitamin D from eating fish like salmon and tuna. Egg yolks and mushrooms contain this vitamin as well.
Chicken – Zinc & Vitamin B-6
Chicken soup is considered a go-to home remedy when you have a viral infection or common cold. A traditional chicken soup contains carrots, onions, and spices which together boost the immune system.
Chicken also gives us lean proteins and amino acids essential for overall immune response. Poultry is a great source of Zinc and Vitamin B-6, both of which can boost immunity. Vitamin B-6 is necessary to form healthy red blood cells. Zinc is a mineral that keeps immune cells healthy.
Yogurt, Fermented Foods – Probiotics
As already explained earlier, probiotics and prebiotics are nutritious foods that improve gut health. Yogurt with live and active cultures is what you need. Always check the label for this tag before buying – am example of an excellent probiotic is Greek Yogurt.
Visit Your Nearest VNA Health Care Center for the Best Medical Advice
There is no doubt that a diet rich in these foods can help keep a person healthy. But even with healthy food, exercise, and a balanced diet for immune support, you can still fall ill when flu season arrives. If you or any member of your family needs assistance with viral infections or other chronic diseases, visit your nearest VNA Health Care center today. Call (630) 892-4355 for an appointment. Same Day Care is available and you can be assured of fast access to quality health care and advice.