6 Superfoods to Eat for a Strong, Healthy Immune System

6 Superfoods to Eat for a Strong, Healthy Immune System

Immunity is important all year round, every year, but it seems to have become an even hotter health topic than ever in recent years. And it’s always of particular interest when cold and flu season rolls around (and lasts through the winter – and sometimes into early spring). Fortunately, it is possible to protect yourself from the sniffles and sick days by maintaining a healthy immune system on your own through daily habits. One of the best lifelong ways to support your immunity is through nutrition and smart eating habits. Eating immune-boosting foods (and drinking certain beverages) is not only effective, but easier and tastier than you think.

Why nutrition matters for immunity

If you’re on a mission to optimize immune function, your diet is a great place to start. Nutrition is a major factor that affects the immune system and, ultimately, how well the body is able to defend itself against harmful microbes. Immune cells require certain nutrients to function properly, explains Gary E. Deng, MD, PhD, integrative medicine specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. These nutrients may work by triggering critical cellular reactions, providing energy for immune cells, or fighting harmful molecules—just to name a few mechanisms, according to a 2019 article in the journal Nutrients.

Eat more plants, probiotics and protein.

But what exactly does eating for immunity look like? Fortunately, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the best nutrition plan for a strong immune system aligns extremely well with popular nutrition advice and should focus specifically on lots of whole plants, especially fruits and vegetables. vegetables. Such plant foods provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, all of which are essential to fuel your immune cells. An immune-boosting diet also calls for foods with probiotics (those “good” bacteria for a healthy gut microbiome) and lean protein, which both animal and plant sources can provide.

Eat less processed, packaged and ultra-refined foods.

Immune system nutrition also involves eating less of certain foods. These less favorable foods generally include ultra-processed and refined foods, which are often stripped of immune-supporting nutrients (eg, natural fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals). Not only do they fail to provide what is needed, but they can also actively damage the immune system when eaten in excess. They can cause oxidative stress and contribute to inflammation, prompting your body to use its own supply of antioxidants to fight those processes, instead of being ready and able to fight the microscopic invaders that cause disease, says the nutritionist of recorded Rhyan Geiger, RDN. Don’t worry, you can still enjoy ice cream and chips! But your system will thank you if these foods become a lower priority in your daily eating habits.

And, of course, what you eat and drink is only part of boosting immunity. Other important habits include managing stress, getting enough sleep (eg, seven to eight hours for most adults), and staying physically active.

When it comes to everyday meals and grocery shopping, here are the key immune-boosting ingredients to reach for.

Best Immunity Foods Leafy Greens Anna Williams

In addition to supporting heart health and brain function, leafy greens like kale, spinach, Swiss chard and arugula are some of the best foods to eat on a regular basis. Leafy greens are rich in trace elements, especially vitamin C and vitamin K, which [are essential for promoting] a healthy immune system,” says Geiger. Other immune-promoting nutrients in greens include beta-carotene and folate, or vitamin B9. To fill up on leafy greens, aim for at least two cups a day, she says. And remember, you’re not limited to salads: Try making a refreshing green smoothie or adding a handful of greens to soups, stews, omelets, pasta and grain bowls.

Probiotic foods Victor Protasio

When it comes to gut health, probiotic foods like tempeh, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut steal the show. And since gut function is linked to immunity, these probiotic-rich choices are multifunctional superfoods. The “good” bacteria in probiotic foods strengthen the immune cells in the lining of the gut, explains Dr. Deng, adding that these microbes also metabolize foods to generate nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable to the body. This ensures that your immune system gets the nutrients it needs to bring its A game. For optimal immune support benefits, Dr. Deng recommends adding probiotic foods to your diet two to three times a week. Start your morning with Greek yogurt with chopped nuts and berries; naturally fermented pickled snacks; or top your fish tacos with sauerkraut.

Greg DuPree Berries

When it comes to immune-boosting foods, you can’t go wrong with berries like strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries. According to Dr. Deng, berries are rich in antioxidants, which help protect healthy cells from harmful molecules. Berries also provide vitamin C (especially strawberries), an essential nutrient for immunity, and fiber, which supports “good” bacteria in the digestive tract, he adds. Aim for two half-cup servings of berries per week, which is easy to do with delicious snacks like berry-baked oatmeal and smoothie bowls. Or you can always munch them by the handful straight from the carton in the fridge.

Caitlin Bensel Lean Protein

Although the vitamins and antioxidants we get from plant foods are often linked to immune function, protein is just as important. “Protein [helps] the body repairs tissue and muscle, builds antibodies, and promotes the synthesis of amino acids needed for immune function,” says Geiger. For the healthiest option, use lean proteins, which are low in saturated fat. (This type of fat can raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol when consumed in high amounts). Examples of lean protein sources include tofu, beans, lentils, skinless chicken or turkey, and white-fleshed fish such as tilapia.

Green tea Grace Elkus

You can also drink your way to better immunity. Incredibly refreshing and earthy, green tea is a must in your tea drawer. “Green tea has a variety of antioxidants, including [a] plant compound called epigallocatechin gallate,” explains Geiger. “This compound can help reduce inflammation in the body and improve function.” Enjoy green tea hot or iced, or add it to a smoothie for a delicious twist.

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