Your body’s immune system is a complicated network of cells, tissues and organs that work together to fight infection and keep you healthy. The immune system contains specialized cells that detect and attack foreign substances like bacteria and viruses.
Many people don’t realize that lifestyle choices can influence the health of the immune system. By taking steps to maintain your overall health, you can boost immunity to keep yourself healthy. Keep reading to find out how your diet affects your immune system and which immune-boosting foods you can incorporate into your diet.
Top Foods That Boost Immune System Function
Eating a nutritious diet is one of the most important steps you can take to boost your overall health. There are many different vitamin and nutrient-rich foods that can help to support a healthy immune system. A well-rounded diet includes a variety of different foods including fruits and vegetables, protein, fermented foods and herbs.
Fruits and Vegetables That Boost Immune Function
Many of us are familiar with the fact that vitamin C is important for immune function. This antioxidant is found abundantly in many different fruits and vegetables. Some of the best fruits and vegetables to support your immune function are listed below.
Most citrus fruits have high levels of vitamin C which helps to boost the immune system and help your body fight off sickness. Common citrus fruits include grapefruits, oranges, tangerines and lemons.
Blueberries and strawberries are two super nutritious foods that can help your body fight off sickness. Strawberries are high in vitamin C and blueberries contain a type of antioxidant called anthocyanin which helps to boost the immune system.
Garlic is commonly taken as a daily supplement to help boost overall health and support immune function. You can add garlic to just about any meal by chopping it up and cooking it down. In addition to offering immune-boosting support garlic also adds a delicious flavor it just about any meal.
Leafy greens like spinach, kale and collard greens are great for the immune system since they’re high in vitamin C and packed with antioxidants. Certain vegetables like spinach are actually most nutritious when they aren’t cooked too much since it helps the plant retain its nutrients.
Protein Sources That Boost Immune Function
Fruits and vegetables are essential to a healthy diet but protein is important too. Below, we’ve listed some protein sources that can help to boost immune function.
Lean Meats and Poultry
Many of us remember being fed chicken soup as a cold remedy when we were children. Lean meats like chicken can have immune-boosting properties since they’re high in vitamin B6 and zinc. Vitamin B6 is important for immune function since it helps with the formation of new red blood cells.
Fish and Seafood
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for immune function. These nutrients are found in most seafood such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. Omega-3 fatty acids can help to reduce inflammation and boost the function of immune cells.
Plant-Based Protein Options
Plant-based protein options like beans, peas, chickpeas, nuts and seeds offer the body a boost of healthy fats and protein while also being nutrient rich. Nuts are rich in magnesium, iron, vitamin E and vitamin B6.
Other Important Immune-Boosting Foods
In addition to fruits, vegetables and lean meats there are many other foods that can help to boost the immune system. Actually, some of the most beneficial foods are listed below.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are an excellent source of nutrients that can help to support immune function. They are rich in protein, healthy fat and fiber. They are also filled with vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, magnesium and zinc.
Fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and sauerkraut support your microbiome since they contain active cultures and provide the body with probiotics. Your body contains all types of healthy bacteria and fermented foods help to boost the health of these bacteria to support overall health as well as immune health.
Herbs and Spices
Herbs and spices like turmeric and oregano are great for immune function. Many natural supplements are made using herbs and spices–and for good reason. You can easily incorporate herbs and spices into your meals to add an extra boost of nutrients as well as extra flavor.
Recipes Featuring Immune-Boosting Foods
There are many different delicious meals that are packed with immune-boosting nutrients. Below we’re listing some of our favorite ways to combine immune-boosting foods to make some healthy and nutritious meals.
Chicken and Vegetable Soup
Soups are a hearty and satisfying meal and they’re not just for eating during flu season. Even though soup is a delicious option when you’ve already come down with a sickness like the common cold, you can eat it any time you want to for a healthy boost to the immune system.
The great thing about soup is that it can be made with health-supporting bone broth and you can literally throw in just about any other nutritious foods. Start by sauteeing the vegetables (we recommend using carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, onions, garlic and celery). While you do that, cook the chicken in the oven. Once the chicken is cooked you can shred it or pull it apart. Add the chicken and broth to the vegetables then top with some immune-boosting herbs like thyme and rosemary.
Quinoa and Vegetable Stir-Fry
Make a colorful stir fry using protein-packed quinoa and a variety of brightly colored vegetables like broccoli and red bell pepper. Start by cooking the quinoa. Then in a saute pan, cook the vegetables. Mix in the cooked quinoa and top with ginger and garlic for added nutritional benefits.
Roasted Salmon with Lemon and Dill
Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which support immune health and help to lower inflammation. Start by placing the salmon on an aluminum foil or parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Top the salmon with some lemon juice, olive oil and fresh dill. Season lightly with salt, pepper and garlic. Bake for 30 minutes at 450 degrees. You can also serve this dish with some cooked vegetables and wild rice.
Kale and Berry Smoothie
A smoothie is a great way to blend a variety of different nutritious ingredients. To make this smoothie, blend together kale and berries with some coconut water or plant-based milk. You can also add some nutritious herbs like ginger and turmeric for extra benefits. Kale is a superfood, full of nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin K, folate and fiber and berries are packed with powerful antioxidants like vitamin C.
Lifestyle Habits That Support Immune System Health
In addition to incorporating immune-boosting foods into your diet, there are a variety of other lifestyle habits you can choose to support your immune system as well. Choosing healthy habits can help to lower your stress levels, reduce inflammation and improve your overall health and well-being.
Get Enough Sleep
Getting enough hours of sleep is essential for proper immune function. During sleep your body repairs and regenerates immune cells. You want to make sure that you are not only sleeping enough but also getting restorative sleep–this means that when you wake up you actually feel rested. Take steps to get high-quality sleep such as going to bed at a reasonable hour and creating a comfortable sleep environment.
Regular exercise helps to keep your body functioning properly and reduces inflammation to help support immune function. Try to incorporate daily exercise into your routine by walking, jogging or doing a circuit workout most days of the week. You should also do some strength training exercises like weight lifting a couple of times a week as well.
Chronic stress can suppress immune function and make you more susceptible to illness and infection. Many people experience chronic stress which interferes with their daily lives. Try using some stress management techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation and exercise to help reduce your stress levels.
Practice Good Hygiene
Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent sickness since it helps you reduce your exposure to illness-causing bacteria and germs. Wash your hands frequently throughout the day and try to limit your exposure to sick individuals to prevent sickness.
Avoid Smoking and Excessive Alcohol Consumption
Unhealthy habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can reduce your immune function and make you more likely to get sick. Quitting both of these habits will have a variety of other health benefits outside of just improving your immune function so it is entirely worth the effort it takes. If you’re having a hard time quitting smoking or drinking, talk with your doctor about how they can help you cut out these harmful habits.
Incorporating healthy lifestyle habits into your routine will have a lasting impact on your overall health and it will help you feel your best. Take steps to incorporate immune-boosting foods and healthy habits into your daily routine to prevent sickness and keep your immune system functioning optimally.