Immunity is important every year, every year, but it seems to have become a hotter health topic than ever in the past few years. And it’s always particularly interesting when cold and flu season arrives (and lasts throughout the winter and sometimes even early spring). Fortunately, it is possible to protect yourself from a runny nose and sick days by maintaining a healthy immune system on your own with daily habits. One of the best lifelong ways to support your immunity is through nutrition and smart eating habits. Jumping into immune-boosting foods (and sipping on some drinks) isn’t just effective, it’s easier and more delicious than you might think.
Why is Nutrition Important for Immunity?
If you’re on a mission to optimize immune function, your diet is a great place to start. Nutrition is an important factor influencing the immune system and ultimately how well the body is able to protect itself against harmful microbes. D., an integrative medicine specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Gary E. Deng explains that immune cells need certain nutrients to function properly. According to a 2019 article in the journal Nutrients, these nutrients may work by triggering critical cellular reactions, providing energy to immune cells or fighting harmful molecules.
Consume more herbs, probiotics and protein.
But what exactly does food for immunity look like? Fortunately, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the best diet plan for a strong immune system is highly consistent with known nutritional advice and should focus on plenty of whole plants, especially fruits and vegetables. These types of plant foods offer fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all essential to fuel your immune cells. An immune-boosting diet also requires foods that contain probiotics (the “good” bacteria for a healthy gut microbiome) and lean protein, which both animal and plant sources can provide.
Eat less processed, packaged and ultra-refined foods.
Immune system nutrition also includes eating less of certain foods. These less advantageous foods often include ultra-processed and refined foods that are often free of immune-supporting nutrients (e.g. natural fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals). Not only do they fail to provide what is needed, they can also actively weaken the immune system when overeaten. Oxidative stress can cause oxidative stress and contribute to inflammation, causing your body to use its supply of antioxidants to fight these processes, rather than getting ready and fighting off microscopic intruders that cause disease, says Rhyan Geiger, RDN. Don’t worry, you can still enjoy the ice cream and chips! However, if these treats become a lower priority in your daily eating habits, your system will thank you.
And of course, what you eat and drink is only part of boosting immunity. Other important habits include managing stress, getting enough sleep (i.e. seven to eight hours for most adults), and staying physically active.
When it comes to daily meals and grocery shopping, here are the best immune-boosting ingredients to reach for.
Best Foods for Immunity
In addition to supporting heart health and brain function, leafy greens like kale, spinach, chard, and arugula are some of the best foods to eat time and time again. “Leafy greens are rich in micronutrients, especially vitamin C and vitamin K. [are essential for promoting] a healthy immune system,” says Geiger. Other immune-promoting nutrients in leafy greens include beta-carotene and folate, or vitamin B9. Aim for at least two cups a day to be satiated with leafy greens, she says. And remember, you’re not limited to salads: Try making a refreshing green smoothie or adding a handful of greens to soups, stews, omelets, pasta dishes, and cereal bowls.
When it comes to gut health, probiotic foods like tempeh, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut steal the show. Because gut function is dependent on immunity, these probiotic-rich options are multifunctional superfoods. Dr. Deng explains that the “good” bacteria in probiotic foods strengthen immune cells in the gut lining, adding that these microbes also metabolize food, producing nutrients the body wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain. This ensures your immune system gets the nutrients it needs to bring on the A-game. For optimal immune-boosting benefits, Dr. Deng recommends adding probiotic foods to your diet two to three times a week. Start your morning with Greek yogurt with chopped nuts and strawberries; snack on naturally fermented pickles; or top your fish tacos with sauerkraut.
When it comes to immune-boosting foods, you can’t go wrong with berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. Dr. According to Deng, berries are high in antioxidants that help protect healthy cells from harmful molecules. Berries also offer vitamin C (especially strawberries), an essential immune nutrient, and fiber, which supports the “good” bacteria in the digestive tract, she adds. Aim for two half-cup servings of strawberries per week; This is easy to do with delicious foods like fruity baked oatmeal and smoothie bowls. Or you can always have it with a handful of the cardboard box in the fridge.
While the vitamins and antioxidants we get from plant foods are often associated with immune function, protein is just as important. “Protein [helps] It repairs body tissues and muscles, creates antibodies, and supports the synthesis of amino acids essential for immune function, says Geiger. For the healthiest option, opt for lean proteins that are low in saturated fat. (This type of fat can raise your LDL or “bad” cholesterol when consumed in high amounts). Examples of lean protein sources are tofu, beans, lentils, skinless chicken or white-fleshed fish such as turkey and tilapia.
You too can sip your way to better immunity. Delightfully refreshing and earthy, green tea is a must have in your tea drawer. “Green tea has several antioxidants, including: [a] Geiger explains the plant compound called epigallocatechin gallate. “This compound can help reduce inflammation in the body and improve function.” Enjoy green tea hot or cold, or add it to a smoothie for a delicious twist.