Diet for Immune Health
What you eat has huge implications for the health of your entire body, including your immune system. Here are just a few ways that you can help boost your immune health just by paying attention to what and how you eat!
1. EAT ENOUGH
The first way you can use your diet to support your immune system is by making sure you’re eating enough food each day. People who are malnourished are more likely to have recurrent infections and chronic inflammation - both of which point to a struggling immune system.
Maintaining a healthy and robust immune system is a lot of work. Your body needs plenty of energy (in the form of calories) to support those immune processes. Knowing that you need to eat enough food to support your immune health is only half the battle. Actually figuring out how much is enough for you and then getting a plan in place to make sure you’re doing just that is a different story.
To get started, best thing to do is get a personalized meal plan from a Dietitian , otherwise tracking your intake can be helpful.
2. FOCUS ON NUTRIENT DENSITY
Just like not eating enough can lead to a weakened immune system, not eating enough NUTRIENTS can also put a damper on your immune health. If you’re not eating a variety of micronutrients, you could be at risk for poor immune function.
Eating a diet that consists of a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, quality meats, and healthy fats is likely more than enough to give your immune system what it needs. But, there are some instances where you want to eat certain foods to specifically boost your immune health.
So, let’s take a look at a few of the essential nutrients to support a healthy, robust immune system.
Vitamin A: This vitamin has anti-inflammatory properties and helps to regulate the cellular immune response. Foods that contain plenty of Vitamin A are liver, sweet potatoes, spinach and broccoli.
Protein: Animal proteins contain all 20 amino acids that the human body needs to do things like making new cells for a healthy immune response. The amino acid arginine is specifically important for helping to regulate and boost the immune system. Making sure you’re eating plenty of high-quality meats will be more than enough to satisfy this immune system requirement.
Vitamin B6: This vitamin is critical to support a healthy immune response because it has been shown to increase T-cell activity. T-cells are the body’s first line of defense in response to a foreign substance (a virus, parasite, or allergen). Foods that are high in Vitamin B6 are salmon, eggs, carrots, and bananas.
Vitamin C: This vitamin is the most well-known immune supporter, and for good reason. Vitamin C is a high-powered antioxidant that helps to protect against oxidative stress that can weaken the immune response. Foods that contain plenty of Vitamin C are citrus fruits, kale, broccoli, melon, and bell peppers.
Zinc: This mineral is a key component of a healthy immune response because it helps modulate the immune system to prevent out of control inflammation that can do more harm than good. You can think of zinc as the great immune system balancer. Foods that are high in zinc are shellfish, legumes, seeds, nuts, eggs, and whole grains. Fitting just a few of these immune-boosting, nutrient-dense foods into your diet each day will do wonders to support your immune system and overall health and well-being.
3. TAKE CARE OF YOUR GUT
Research shows that 70-80% of the immune system resides in your gut. So if your gut is healthy and thriving, your immune system will be also. It may come as a surprise, but what drives the gut-immune system relationship are actually the billions of beneficial bacteria that reside in our gut. These gut bacteria, known as our microbiome, communicate with our immune system to help keep us healthy from external invaders.
Certain beneficial bacteria (Acidolphus, L. Casei, and L. Rhamnosus) have been studied to be specifically important for a robust immune response.
And any fluctuations in the number and diversity of our beneficial gut bugs can have a negative impact on how our immune system functions.
A decrease in beneficial gut bacteria, called dysbiosis, can result in your gut becoming more permeable (or leaky). When your gut is leaky you are more susceptible to infection and negative reaction to foreign invaders.
Here are a few of my best tips to help support your gut, and in turn your immune, health:
Avoid foods that are hard on your gut (like alcohol, fried foods, and grains for some people)
Eat plenty of fermented foods or supplement with a probiotic
Eat a wide variety of prebiotic containing vegetables (like asparagus and leeks)
Supporting your gut health will go a long way in keeping your immune system in it’s best shape.
4. STAY HYDRATED
Staying hydrated is important for your body’s overall health and well-being. So it’s not too much of a stretch to believe drinking enough water would also be critical to support your immune system.
When you’re dehydrated your body’s overall volume of fluid (think blood and lymph) gets reduced.
The cells that are responsible for your immune response are carried through both of these fluids. So, when you’re dehydrated, your immune system can’t respond as efficiently as it could if you were drinking plenty of water.