Regardless of season, harmful bacteria and viruses are all around and capable of being spread all year long. In order to support a healthy immune system, it is important to be diligent about keeping your body healthy.
Thankfully, keeping yourself healthy is much simpler than it may appear, especially with the following eight simple steps to follow throughout the year.
What is ‘Immune Health’
The immune system is what protects your body against threats to health caused by viruses, harmful bacteria, etc.
It is a complex machine that is powered by the blood and lymph systems. The liquids of blood and lymph transport the main components of the immune system throughout the body (1).
Without diligently keeping the immune system strong, it loses its capacity to keep the body healthy and protect from harmful pathogens.
It’s important to boost your immunity by following simple, healthy lifestyle practices that keep your immune system strong.
Ways to Keep the Immune System Healthy
Simple ways to keep your immune system strong.
- Wash your hands
- Avoid touching your face
- Get enough sleep
- Reduce stress
- Get regular exercise
- Stay hydrated
- Maintain a healthy diet
Though all of these steps to keeping the immune system strong are important, maintaining a healthy diet is essential for fighting away pathogens. This is because macro- and micro-nutrients in certain foods have the ability to fortify and enhance how the immune system functions.
Proper Diet can Strengthen Your Immune Health
Maximizing your diet is an important component of keeping the body healthy. Besides maintaining a well-balanced diet, there several macro- and micro-nutrients with immune-boosting qualities you need.
Vitamins A, C, and E – Provide immune system support, form antibodies, and act as an antioxidant (2). These vitamins participate in functions all the way from protecting against free radicals, aiding in white blood cell production, to healing tissue. Several supplements are available to boost the intake of these vitamins, but foods high in them as well.
Minerals – Minerals like zinc are essential for immune function. This mineral is involved in normal development of several vital immune cells. Deficiencies in zinc have been known to cause improper function of immune cells and reduce immune function (3).
Protein – Plays a role in the body's immune system, especially for healing and recovery (2).
Probiotics – Are ‘good’ bacteria that are beneficial to the gut and can also help the body fend off harmful bacteria. Studies have found that regular use of probiotics kept people healthier and reduced the incidence of upper respiratory infections (4).
9 Immune-Boosting Foods
Here are 9 foods packed with immune-boosting macro- and micro-nutrients that can help you fend off illness and improve recovery time.
- Citrus and Tropical Fruits
Citrus fruits contain high amounts of vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant and key component for white blood cell production (5).
Tropical fruits also contain large amounts of beneficial minerals – potassium, magnesium, folate. As well as vitamin K (5).
Some of the most popular citrus and tropical fruits include:
- Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are packed with healthy fats and large concentrations of antioxidant vitamins, like vitamin E, magnesium, and phosphorus (5).
Great nuts and seeds for the immune system includes almonds and sunflower seeds.
- Green Vegetables
Green vegetables are available to boost immune function and strength.
Green vegetables are of the most healthful plant-based sources of nutrition. Many are rich with vitamins – like vitamin C, beta-carotene – and antioxidants that provide many health benefits to the body (5).
Some of the best green veggies for immune function include spinach, broccoli, and Brussel sprouts.
Turmeric is an age-old remedy used for its anti-inflammatory properties. Reducing inflammation of the body and tissues reduces stress and allows the immune system to work more efficiently.
It contains a high concentration of curcumin, which boosts the immune system and provides antiviral action (5).
Garlic is a common flavor enhancer and an ancient remedy.
It also has the ability to enhance the immune system due to its heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds (5).
Ginger is an herb that may help you recover after becoming sick. It can help reduce symptoms including nausea and inflammation (5).
- Green Tea
Green tea contains a powerful antioxidant (EGCG) known to boost immune function.
It also contains an amino acid – L-theanine – that is believed to help immune cells fight germs (5).
- Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are high in probiotics. These foods help you fortify your good bacteria, which work together with your immune system to keep you healthy (4).
Options to add to your daily diet include yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, and tofu.
Although not a ‘food,’ water is an essential component for a strong immune system.
Drinking plenty of water keeps the body strong. Recent studies have found that staying hydrated may boost immune response to enable the body to better fight viruses (4).
Current recommendations are eight glasses of water for male and female adults daily. However, the body’s requirements for liquids increase under stress, such as illness or hot weather.
Boosting Your Immunity With a Healthy Diet
Living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a balanced, healthy diet full of immune-building foods can keep you healthy all year round, especially during cold and flu season. Remember to place a higher importance on eating foods filled with antioxidant vitamins and minerals, protein, and probiotics
Other ways to keep your immune system strong: ensure you are reducing stress levels, practicing proper hygiene recommendations, and washing your hands.
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD