The best foods to boost your immune system this winter
the flu and other viruses thrive when the weather turns cold – and this year is particularly bad. Although it is important to stay healthy and keep your immune system strong year-round, it becomes particularly critical during these months. If you don’t want to be stuck in bed with the sniffles all winter, you need to make sure your immune system is up to snuff.
The good news is that you can do a lot to boost your immunity, including changing your diet. Let’s see how your diet can affect your ability to stay healthy and explore some of the best foods for immune health.
Can Food Boost Your Immune System?
Your immune system is a complex network of cells, chemicals, and pathways, all of which work together to defend your body against infection. The human body is built with powerful defense mechanisms that not only naturally fend off foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria, but also learn to recognize new ones so they can do their job better, according to the Cleveland Clinic. .
However, to function effectively, your immune system needs your help. It involves a range of different supportive behaviors, from getting enough rest and managing stress levels to regular exercise and, yes, proper nutrition. Each of these factors is important, but we’ll focus specifically on diet here.
Malnutrition has been associated with poor immune health in many studies. For example, low levels of vitamins C and D or zinc have been shown to increase inflammation and increase susceptibility to infection. These aren’t the only nutrients your immune system needs. It needs a wide range of nutrients to function best.
If you can’t get enough of certain nutrients from your diet, multivitamins can be a helpful supplement. The best way to determine if you have a nutrient deficiency and would benefit from a multivitamin is to ask a doctor.
However, you to have take supplements or eat specific “immune-boosting foods” like garlic or ginger to boost your immune health, according to Harvard Health. Instead, you can focus on eating a balanced diet that includes all the necessary nutrients. These include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamins B6 and B12
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- The copper
- Folic acid (folate)
- Protein (including the amino acid glutamine)
It’s also important to understand the role your gut plays in regulating your immune health. In fact, 70% of your immune system is in your gut, and the bacteria that live there have a significant impact on your immune health, according to UCLA Health. This not only means you need a diet rich in the above nutrients, but also a diet that supports gut health. A gut-healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limits highly processed foods, refined sugars, and red meat. You can also support your gut with prebiotic and probiotic foods, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.
What foods should you buy?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a nutrient-dense, immune-healthy diet can take many forms. You don’t have to eat a specific set of foods to get everything you need, so you can plan your diet according to your preferences and budget.
Here are some examples of nutrient rich foods for immune health you can include in your diet, courtesy of Harvard Health and the British Nutrition Foundation:
- Orange and red fruits and vegetables like carrots, peppers and apricots are rich in vitamin A, which promotes healthy skin. Your skin is an essential first line of defense against infections.
- citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, strawberries and tomatoes are packed with vitamin C, one of the most important vitamins for supporting immune health.
- Foods rich in iron and protein such as meat, fish, beans, nuts, and fortified cereals support the healthy growth and function of immune cells.
- Many seeds, nuts, peanut butter and vegetable oils contain vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps fight free radicals and boost your immune health.
- Whole grains, plus many types of meat, seeds, and nutsprovide zinc, which promotes wound healing and strengthens the immune response.
- Poultry, fish, some other meats, eggs, bananas and avocados contain vitamins B6 or B12 (and some contain both), which are important for the growth and communication of new immune cells.
- Fatty fish, eggs, and some fortified cereals and dairy products contain vitamin D, which appears to support a better immune response.
- Bread, rice, quinoa, shellfish and dried fruit are rich in copper, an important stimulant for immune cells.
- Greens, berries, oranges, nuts and seeds contain folate, which helps in the production of new cells.
- Foods with Active Cultures like kefir, kombucha, kimchi, fermented vegetables and some yogurts are known as probiotics because they add to the good bacteria in your gut.
- Garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and seaweed, plus many fruits, vegetables, and whole grainsare considered prebiotic foods because they contain fiber and oligosaccharides to nourish and support the bacteria in your gut.
As you can see, this list overlaps, and many foods offer multiple nutrients that support immune health. A balanced diet, good rest, plenty of exercise and habits that reduce stress are all key ingredients in building a strong immune system.
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.
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