Immunity and diet are closely linked. As we start traveling more frequently or head back to school, what are some immune-boosting foods to incorporate for stronger overall immunity?
Boosting your immune system starts with basic nutritional health. In general, healthy adults should consume around 2,000 calories per day, including a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. But you can get more personalized recommendations at the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate Plan website. These recommendations are based on gender, height and weight, age, and even average activity level.
Regardless of the details, you can never go wrong with a nutritionally dense and varied diet. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans, your diet should focus primarily on different-colored fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, lean proteins, and healthy oils.
However, this doesn’t mean you need to give up cultural traditions or beloved treats. The guidelines are easily customized for different cultures, backgrounds, and preferences. Implementing them simply means that you should focus primarily on healthier foods and save those heavily processed or high in unhealthy fats or sugars for occasional indulgences.
Specific Immune-Boosting Foods and Where to Find Them
Following the basic dietary guidelines can help you get a range of nutrients. It can even boost your immune system, especially if you are transitioning from an unhealthy diet. But to supercharge your immune system, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences recommends focusing on four essential vitamins and minerals.
Vitamin A is critical for the proper functioning of the heart, kidneys, lungs, and vision. It is also a key factor in immune health because it helps the body fight toxins and bacteria. Get your Vitamin A from foods such as:
- Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt
- Green leafy vegetables
- Orange, yellow, and green vegetables such as broccoli and squash
- Fruits such as cantaloupe and mangoes
You might have heard that Vitamin C can help ward off a cold. This vitamin plays a vital role in the immune system, helping your body fight off illnesses. You can find Vitamin C in:
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Other types of fruits and vegetables, from baked potatoes to strawberries
Vitamin D also helps your immune system fight disease-producing viruses and bacterial infections. Your body naturally makes this vitamin through exposure to sunlight. But it’s a good idea to supplement with food sources, especially if you spend a lot of time indoors. Foods that are high in Vitamin D include:
- Dairy products
- Beef liver
- Fish such as mackerel and tuna
Zinc is required for healthy development in childhood, but we also need plenty of it as adults. Zinc helps the immune system resist invaders that can cause disease. You can find it in such foods as:
- Shellfish such as crab, lobster, and especially oysters
- Red meat
- Dairy products
- Whole grains, nuts, seeds, and other high-fiber foods
Depending on your individual circumstances, you may also want to take a multivitamin or targeted dietary supplements. Talk to your doctor before adding these products, as they are not right for everyone.