Immunity Support on Your Plate

By Cara Rosenbloom, RD

If you’ve read a headline that mentions immune boosting, don’t believe the hype. The idea of boosting the immune system with supplements or specific ingredients is misleading and scientifically inaccurate. 

There are many things we can do to keep our immune system running smoothly, such as getting enough sleep, being physically active, minimizing stress and eating a balanced diet. But boosting immunity implies heightened action, which should be avoided — an overactive immune system is linked with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus or multiple sclerosis, and is equally harmful to your health as an underactive immune system. Immune boosting is a marketing term, not a medical term. 

Let’s focus on supporting your immune system instead. Certain nutrients, including zinc, iron selenium, protein and omega-3 fats, as well as vitamins C, D and E, are critical for the growth and function of immune cells. Build meals with a variety of foods to get the nutrients your body needs. 

  1.  Get extra vegetables and fruit. They should fill half of your plate at every meal. Fresh, frozen and canned are all great choices.
  2. Add protein from fish, chicken, dairy, tofu or beans. The building blocks of protein (aminoacids) are essential for T-cell function, which protects the body against bacteria and viruses.
  3. Choose nuts and seeds. Include Brazil nuts for selenium; walnuts and flax for omega-3 fats; pumpkin seeds for zinc; and almonds or sunflower seeds for vitamin E.
  4. Enjoy fermented foods. Yogurt, kefir and fermented vegetables — such as sauerkrautor kimchi — contain probiotics, which may be linked to a strong immune system.
  5. Look for vitamin D. It’s found in fish, milk, fortified plant-based beverages and eggs. If you don’t eat any of these foods or get much sun, consider asking your health care provider to check your blood levels. You may need a vitamin D supplement.

It’s also important to minimize highly processed foods, such as soft drinks, candy, fast food and salty snacks. These foods lack nutrients and can impair the production of immune cells and antibodies.

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