To support your immune system, eat a healthy and well-balanced diet.
Consuming a balanced diet consisting of adequate amounts of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals will help support your body’s immune system, says Lisa Jones, a registered dietitian in Philadelphia.
Eating a healthy diet that contains the nutrients you need is the best way to support your immunity, and supporting your immune system is particularly important during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruit, and the rest of it with protein-rich foods,” she says.
Here are 10 foods and food groups that can help support your immunity:
Unsalted almonds are one of the best things to keep around the house for a quick, immune-boosting snack, says Anna Kippen, a registered dietitian based in Cleveland.
Almonds are rich in vitamin E, which research suggests is important for maintaining the immune system, particularly as we get older. “This is because vitamin E is an antioxidant our immune system needs to function properly,” Kippen says. Antioxidants are substances in the body that help prevent some kinds of cell damage by mitigating the oxidative (oxygen-derived) stress that occurs as we age.
The nut is also a good source of protein and healthy fat. “They can sit on the counter for a quick go-to snack and are so versatile,” she says. “I love throwing them into different recipes as a topping and using them instead of high-sugar granola with yogurt. My two favorite ways of snacking on nuts is pairing them with a small piece of fruit or dipping them into some delicious greater-than-72% dark chocolate or a healthy dessert.”
The dark chocolate percentage refers to the percentage of cacao in the chocolate. The higher the percentage, the greater the amount of antioxidants in the chocolate. A higher percentage of cacao also means a lower amount of sugar.
2. Bell peppers
Kippen says bell peppers are one of her favorite immune-supporting foods, because they’re a great source of vitamin C, another antioxidant vitamin that supports the immune system’s proper functioning. Bell peppers are also an excellent option for people who are trying to limit their carb consumption.
“One bell pepper on average provides us more vitamin C than our bodies need in a whole day,” she says. “They are rich sources of beta carotene, another antioxidant vitamin, and vitamin C, which is good for our immune system as well as our eye and skin health.”
Vitamin C helps our body form the antibodies that will help it fight illnesses, Kippen says.
“I also love that bell peppers freeze so well,” Kippen says. “That can be helpful in the winter months or when we are doing our best to stay home.”
Broccoli is a great immune-boosting vegetable because it’s so rich in nutrients, Kippen says.
“It’s rich in antioxidants, vitamins A, C, E (and) potassium and has lots of healthy fiber, which makes it filling,” she says.
Broccoli is non-starchy so it’s a great option if you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight. Frozen broccoli is fine, just make sure the package you get is only broccoli and doesn’t include other ingredients, like cheese.
In addition to being highly nutritious, broccoli is extremely versatile. You can use it in stir-fry dishes, soups, omelets, quiche or just topped with some spices and steamed. “It’s delicious and healthy,” she says.
4. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits are high in the type of plant compounds that have health benefits, such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which can help support your immunity, says Vanessa Spiller, a certified nutritionist based in Tysons Corner, Virginia. She is a manager and health and wellness coach with Copare, which offers programs designed to help people lose weight, stay healthy and live their best life.
In addition to helping support your immune system, citrus fruits also contain many vitamins and minerals that help our bodies function properly, she says.
Here are six healthy citrus fruits:
5. Dark, leafy greens
Dark, leafy greens are good sources of beta carotene, the plant form of vitamin A, which is an antioxidant that helps scavenge free radicals — unstable molecules produced during regular metabolic activities — that can damage our cells, including our immune cells. “This will help support your immunity,” Jones says.
Since beta carotene requires fat to be absorbed, it’s a good idea to pair dark, leafy greens with a healthy fat, like nuts or olive oil, for best absorption. “Any fat-soluble vitamin, such as A, D, E and K, have better absorption when consumed with dietary fat,” Spiller says. “Include some fats into your meals, like avocado or olive oil, and help ensure these valuable nutrients get absorbed and utilized more effectively while adding more flavor.”
Dark, leafy greens include:
“I almost never go a day without eating some delicious, immune-boosting garlic,” Kippen says. “In addition to being my favorite way to spice up any dish, it is also very healthy.”
Garlic contains compounds like allicin and its derivatives, like ajoenes, that naturally act to destroy bacteria and infection, which helps support your immune system.
It’s easy to incorporate garlic into your eating regimen. “I add garlic to steamed and roasted vegetables or to my chicken while it cooks to make it more savory,” Kippen says.
7. Green tea
If you’re looking for a beverage that can help boost your immunity, consider green tea. This kind of tea contains a number of healthy compounds, including epigallocatechin gallate, an antioxidant that research suggests helps enhance immune function, Jones says.
Green tea also contains an amino acid called L-theanine. “This amino acid might help the immune system by stimulating the body’s production of a special type of T-cell (white blood cell) that forms our body’s ‘front-line defense’ against infectious germs and tumors” she says.
8. Pumpkin seeds
“These small but mighty seeds are a good source of zinc, a mineral crucial for immune cells to function and do their jobs properly,” says Maggie Michalczyk, a registered dietitian based in Chicago. She’s the author of “Once Upon a Pumpkin: 50 Creative Pumpkin Seasoned, Flavored, Shaped & Spiced Recipes.”
About 1.5 ounces of pumpkin seeds provide about 20% of your daily requirement for zinc, Michalczyk says.
This golden yellow spice traditionally found in Middle Eastern dishes contains strong anti-inflammatory properties that can help boost the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body, Michalczyk says. That’s because turmeric contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory compound.
Research suggests that curcumin plays an important role in fighting inflammatory processes. Additionally, curcumin may be especially helpful in enhancing the efficacy of medications for people who have an inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis; several studies have demonstrated that adding supplemental curcumin to UC medication regimens increases the chance of sending the disease into remission compared to just taking the medications alone.
Curcumin is associated with protecting the body against an array of chronic conditions, including:
— Neurodegenerative diseases.
“Did you know yogurt can help support your immunity?” Jones says. “Live and active cultures are good for your immune system.”
Live active cultures contain probiotics, which research suggests can enhance the body’s innate immunity and help moderate inflammation. Jones suggests opting for plain yogurt, which has less added sugar, and sweetening it with berries or citrus fruit.
Many yogurts are also fortified with vitamin D, which helps regulate your immune system and may boost your body’s natural defenses against diseases.
10 foods and food groups that can help boost your immunity:
— Bell peppers.
— Citrus fruits.
— Dark, leafy greens.
— Green tea.
— Pumpkin seeds.
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Update 03/18/22: This story was previously published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.