What do tissues, cells, and organs have in common? These make up the body’s immune system. It is an elaborate network of sophisticated defense systems to help the body detect and fight bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens. The immune system is the armed forces of the body that help keep us healthy.
Can our lifestyle choices impact the immune system? A resounding yes! Habits such as washing our hands help keep germs at bay. We can also get enough rest, sleep, regular exercise, and manage stress to help keep the immune system in good shape. And just as we feed the body to stay healthy, we need nutrients from foods to support the immune system to stay strong.
What should we eat?
Vitamin C—For decades, researchers have evaluated the role of vitamin C and the immune system. Here’s what we know. This vitamin helps protect us from infections and can help reduce the common cold by one day. We also know that if we have suboptimal levels of vitamin C in our bodies, it compromises our immune system. Add citrus fruits, strawberries, red bell pepper, tomatoes, and other vitamin C rich foods to the diet.1
Vitamin A also has a rich history in the world of research. It is known to keep skin, the inside of the mouth, the respiratory system, and intestines healthy. These serve as protective barriers in the war against infections and pathogens. It also helps regulate our immune system. Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, apricots, butternut squash, and green vegetables such as spinach and broccoli help supply vitamin A in our diets.2
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that works hard to protect us from free radicals. This can help strengthen the immune system by supporting immune cells. Get foods such as sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, and dark green leafy vegetables.2
Zinc helps to strengthen the immune system and with wound healing. Studies have shown that it helps to reduce respiratory infections in children. Adding foods such as milk, whole grains, eggs, nuts, and seeds helps us stay healthy.3
Selenium is an antioxidant that has been studied for its functions in the immune system. It helps to protect cells and keep them healthy. We find it in Brazil nuts, walnuts, eggs, garlic, broccoli, barley, and other grains.4
Prebiotics and Probiotics help to protect the lining of the gastrointestinal system. Microorganisms live in our gut. Prebiotics help to grow good bacteria and probiotics add living organisms to improve the good bacteria profile. A healthy gut supports a healthy immune system. We get probiotics from fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi, and yogurt. We get prebiotics from garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, oats, and dandelion greens.5
Other nutrients such as iron, vitamin B6, and folate help keep the immune system secure.6 By adding fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains to the diet, we get these and other nutrients to support a strong immune system.
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Pamela Williams writes from Southern California.