Health

How To Boost Your Immune System Through Your Diet

Boosting your immune system through your daily nutrition is an easy and simple way to avoid getting sick this cold and flu season. By including a few key foods, vitamins, and minerals, your immunity can benefit! Below, are a couple of ways to help keep your immune system healthy.

Foods That Can Support a Healthy Immune System 

Protein 

When you eat protein, your body finds amino acids within the ingested protein to help build protein within your body. The custom-made protein that your body produces is used everywhere, but protein is specifically utilized for the immune system to function. An example of proteins that work in your immune system are antibodies (proteins that circulate in your blood and make up key components of a strong immune system). Proteins are also part of interferon and complement proteins that support immune system cells or attack viruses, bacteria, or other foreign substances in your body.

According to the Institute of Medicine, the amount of protein you should aim for per day is about 46 grams for women, 56 grams for men, and 71 grams for pregnant or lactating women. 

Fortunately, if you are looking to increase your protein intake to help out your immune system, you probably don’t have to look too far from your regular diet. Protein foods such as: seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products and nuts are all great sources of protein that you can incorporate into your daily diet. 

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Vitamin A 

Vitamin A is a little vitamin that doesn’t get a lot of attention but should be on your list of vitamins to keep in mind when thinking about your immune system. Research has found that Vitamin A helps regulate the immune system and protect against infections by keeping skin and tissues in the mouth, stomach, intestines, and respiratory system healthy. There are plenty of great Vitamin A sources that you can find right in the produce section including: sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, spinach, red bell peppers, apricots, and eggs. Vitamin A is also most commonly added to enriched cereals or fortified milk. 

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Vitamin C 

Around the cold and flu season, you’ll often see Vitamin C supplements, drinks, and cold anecdotes hit the shelves. So what does Vitamin C do for your immune system? Well, Vitamin C helps encourage the production of white blood cells known as “lymphocytes” and “phagocytes”, which help protect the body against infection. Low vitamin C levels also have been linked to poorer health outcomes. For example, people who have pneumonia have shown to have lower vitamin C levels and vitamin C supplements, and has proven to shorten recovery time. Eating a regular diet of citrus fruits such as: oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, red bell peppers, papaya, strawberries, and tomato juice are all great ways to boost your immune system and help protect your body against certain illnesses. 

Zinc

You’ve probably been given the advice before starting to feel sick to take some zinc lozenges. So how does zinc help your immune system when you get sick? ScienceDaily writes that “zinc helps control infections by gently tapping the brakes on the immune response in a way that prevents out-of-control inflammation that can be damaging and even deadly.” Zinc can be found in lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans, seeds, and nuts.

Foods That Weaken The Immune System 

Alcohol 

Recent studies have confirmed that alcohol “can impair the body’s ability to defend against infection, contribute to organ damage associated with alcohol consumption, and impede recovery from tissue injury.” 

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Processed Sugar 

This one probably isn’t all that surprising. With more and more research coming out on processed sugar’s impact on the body, the widely used sweetener has proven to be very detrimental. Processed sugar’s impact on our immune system turns out to be no different. Research has found that consuming refined sugar can actually reduce the performance of white blood cells and also increases inflammatory markers. Obese people have been studied to have fewer white blood cells, which reduces the body’s capability to fight infection.

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The majority of  foods that are high in refined or processed sugar are low in nutrients that support a healthy immune system. If you eat sugary processed foods consistently enough, you become at risk for developing nutrient deficiencies, which can increase your risk for infections, according to one study done by the Journal of Investigative Medicine. Also, sugary foods can decrease your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, which can potentially compromise your immune system’s  function. 

Caffeine

This is probably the last thing you wanted to show up on a list of foods recommended not to have. Sorry, but your morning cup of coffee usually leads to a notable uptick in cortisol (the stress hormone). If your caffeine and cortisol levels are sustained throughout the day, this can lower your immune function. This is only really a risk with a habitually high intake of caffeine throughout the day, so start worrying that your daily coffee is the grim reaper.

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Boosting Your Immunity Through Diet

Although your main method of defense against airborne sickness should be effective hand washing and avoiding touching public surfaces, boosting your immune system through your diet can also bolster your overall health. By focusing on including a diverse amount of food into your daily eating habits and also limiting the sugar, alcohol, and caffeine you consume, there’s a good chance you’ve better protected yourself against germs.

Do you have some immunity-boosting foods that we missed?

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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