As COVID-19 has spread across the world and cold and flu season quickly approaches, people have begun to wonder how to stay healthy. Of course, washing your hands, wearing a mask, and practicing social distancing guidelines can go a long way in preventing disease. However, research has shown that certain lifestyle changes can also positively impact your immunity, such as getting enough sleep, exercising a few times each week, and eating healthier. Here’s how healthy foods and beverages can help with immunity building.
What is the Immune System?
Our bodies are constantly being attacked by potentially harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The immune system works to protects us against these foreign invaders. Once it recognizes a threat, it takes immediate action to rid the body of the harmful pathogens.
The immune system has two lines of defense to help protect the body from bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The first is protective barriers, such as skin, mucus, stomach acid, and enzymes, that keep pathogens out, trap them, and destroy them onsite. It’s also comprised of immune system cells that attack any foreign invader in the body.
The second line of defense is the body’s ability to recognize a harmful invader and build up antibodies that quickly destroy it. When a pathogen enters the body, the immune system works to create antibodies that attack and destroy that specific microbe. The immune system then remembers that specific pathogen so that if it enters the body again, the antibodies can destroy it more quickly.
How Vitamins and Minerals Help Provide the Building Blocks for Immunity
Getting enough nutrients from your diet is essential for the health and function of your immune system. Diets that are made up of processed junk foods can depress your entire immune system. In fact, many nutritionists believe that the Western diet that’s typically high in refined sugar, saturated fat, and sodium can compromise your microbiome and immune function. A diet low in omega-3s, fiber, and phytochemicals can cause inflammation in the gut and suppress the body’s immunity. Processed, simple sugars reduce the number white blood cells in the body, as well as increase inflammation. Saturated fats are also known to be inflammatory and can disrupt the normal function of the immune system.
On the other hand, a diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes appears to support a healthy immune system. Eating foods with a variety of different antioxidants, phytochemicals, and plant fiber can help populate your microbiome with beneficial bacteria. These bacteria contribute to a healthy gut, which plays a key role in immune function. Eating a diet full of whole, healthy foods can also help reduce inflammation, which gives your entire body, including the immune system, a much-needed boost.
Types of Nutrients that Help Build Immunity
Eating plenty of whole fruits and vegetables and decreasing the amount of processed foods you take in can help restore your immunity to its optimal state. That being said, there are certain types of nutrients that are especially powerful in boosting immunity:
- Probiotic foods. Probiotic foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi, add beneficial bacteria to your microbiome. These bacteria help strengthen your gut health which can boost your entire immune system and prevent pathogens from taking hold and making you sick.
- Prebiotic foods. Prebiotic foods, including garlic, onions, apples and, bananas, help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. If probiotics add beneficial bacteria, prebiotics are what help it grow and populate in your gut.
- Beta-Carotene. Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant. It has been shown to reduce inflammation and boost immune function by increasing white blood cells in the body. It’s found in carrots, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
- Vitamins C and E. Vitamins C and E work to destroy free radicals and support your natural immunity. You’ll find vitamin C in oranges, red peppers, strawberries, broccoli, and more. Vitamin E can be found in nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.
- Vitamin D. Research shows vitamin D help boost our body’s defenses to fight infectious disease. It does this by reducing inflammation in the body. Food sources of vitamin D include salmon and other fatty fish, eggs, and mushrooms.
- Zinc also helps boost white blood cell production and improve overall immunity. You can find this important mineral in nuts, pumpkin seeds, beans, and lentils.
As they say, food is medicine. Eating the right types of food can play a big part in keeping you from getting sick and helping you recover faster if you do happen to come down with an illness.