Today’s processed diet is a major cause of inflammation in the body. Our ancestors ate more raw fruits and vegetables and doctors have proven this is a healthier diet for your immune system (as well as other systems in your body).
Whole plant foods are rich in antioxidants and nutrients that strengthen your immune system.
Registered dietician Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, had this to say about eating your fruits and vegetables: “Try to eat a wide variety of foods and aim to eat fruit and vegetables from every color of the rainbow.”
Eating a colorful diet is not only artistically pleasing, but fresh fruits and veggies are far better for you than processed foods and supplements.
Protein is also needed for immune health. Amino acids help build and maintain immune cells and a low-protein diet may reduce your body’s ability to fight off infection.
In a 2013 study, mice with a diet of only 2% protein were more severely affected by flu than mice who ate a normal (18% protein) diet.
There are three main vitamins needed by your immune system: Vitamin C, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin E.
Vitamin C is one of the essential vitamins needed by your immune system. It’s important for you to get plenty of natural Vitamin C from your diet because your body doesn’t store that vitamin.
Anything you don’t use is flushed from the body by your kidneys.
The good news is that you can easily get enough Vitamin C from food without spending money on supplements. Fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin C include citrus fruits (and their juice), strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, kale, and spinach.
Another immune system-boosting vitamin is B6 or pyridoxine. It’s a water-soluble vitamin that isn’t made in your body, so you need to eat the right foods to get enough for your immune system.
Natural sources of B6 include chicken or turkey and cold-water fish like salmon or tuna. You can also get Vitamin B6 from green vegetables and chickpeas (the main ingredient in hummus). So even if you’re vegan you can get plenty of B6 to strengthen your immune system.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that is a powerful antioxidant. It’s found in nuts, seeds, and spinach. You do need to be more careful with Vitamin E because, since it’s stored in your fat, can actually build up in your body to dangerous levels.
Never take Vitamin E supplements unless your doctor specifically tells you to do so.
If you’re older or feeling particularly tired, you might also have your doctor check your Vitamin D levels. Most people get enough Vitamin D from simply going outside, where sunlight stimulates your body to make the vitamin.
However, if your doctor says you need more, taking 400 IU daily has been shown to increase disease-fighting cells like T-cells. Foods that contain Vitamin D include fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, beef liver, cheese, and egg yolks.
Additional nutrients your immune system needs are zinc, folate, iron, and selenium according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Getting these from your food is better than using supplements, but you do need each of them to support your immune system.
Eating more whole plant foods will greatly improve your immune system.