It’s no secret that you are what you eat. Research over the years has shown that a well-balanced diet filled with nutritious foods is your strongest defense against chronic and dangerous conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes

But did you know the foods you eat can also help you fight illnesses such as the flu? There are certain foods that are known immune system boosters. That means they help your body fight disease. 

Let’s take a closer look at your immune system and which foods affect your body’s ability to respond to threats.

What is the immune system?

The immune system is how your body defends itself from threats from the outside world. This complex system of cells, tissues and organs identifies when something has entered your body such as the flu virus. It then triggers an automatic, coordinated response to help you heal, using what is known as your white blood cells. 

When your immune system is strong, your body is better prepared to fight off sickness. When your immune system is weaker, you are more likely to get sick. 

Your immune system is also key to fighting diseases such as cancer. In fact, immunotherapy is a treatment that trigger’s your body’s own immune system into attacking cancerous cells. Given its important role in your health, we need to do what we can to keep the immune system strong.

What are superfoods?

In recent years, we have all heard the term “superfoods” used frequently to describe anything from the humble blueberry to the exotic goji berry. But there really is no such thing as a superfood. The word is a marketing term used to describe some foods that are “nutrient dense,” meaning they contain nutrients and minerals your body can use for improved health and wellness. 

These kinds of foods can impact your well-being and help your body be at its best. But it’s also important to remember that they cannot cure or prevent disease. 

10 foods to boost your immune system

The following are 10 different foods that are known immune boosters. Try any or all of them and start reaping the benefits these nutritional powerhouses offer your body.

  1. Berries. With a wide variety to choose from, you can’t go wrong adding these little nutrient packed sweet treats to your regular diet. From local blueberries and blackberries to imported goji or açai, these tiny little morsels are packed with vitamins and nutrients to give you a boost you need. Enjoy them in your yogurt or smoothie, or as a less sugary but still sweet option for dessert.
  2. Fish oil. Fish that have high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids such as salmon, tuna or mackerel are known to increase activity among white blood cells, which fight infection. These healthy fats help your immune system and are also good for your heart and brain too.
  3. Leafy greens. Dark vegetables such as spinach, kale and collard greens are known to have high levels of vitamin C along with antioxidants and beta carotene, all of which help fight infection. They are also good for your heart, brain, and gut.
  4. Nuts and seeds. Nuts such as almonds and walnuts as well as seeds such as sunflower contain several vitamins and minerals (B-6, magnesium, phosphorous or selenium) that help regulate and maintain your immune system. Add them to your salads or enjoy a handful for an energy-boosting healthy snack.
  5. Spices. In addition to giving your foods some zing, garlic, ginger and turmeric are ancient spices that have long been considered to have immune-boosting properties to fight infection. So don’t be shy when it comes to spicing up your dishes. 
  6. Citrus fruits. Most citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons, and limes contain high levels of vitamin C, which is thought to help fight infection by increasing your white blood cells. Whether you eat them whole, or squeeze the juice onto your food, don’t forget to add these tangy fruits to your regular diet.
  7. Poultry. Chicken soup is good for more than the soul. Poultry is high in vitamin B-6, which can reduce inflammation and is needed in the creation of new red blood cells, and zinc, which increases production of white blood cells. So don’t wait until you have a cold to enjoy a warm bowl of comforting goodness. 
  8. Brightly colored vegetables. While we often think of citrus fruits as our source of vitamin C, brightly colored vegetables such as red peppers have even higher levels! The beta carotene in carrots is also good for your immune system, along with your eyes and skin too.
  9. Yogurt. This fermented food with its “live and active cultures” and vitamin D may stimulate your immune system to help fight disease. Look for brands without added sugar and sweeten them naturally with honey or fruit (like berries, for an additional boost). 
  10. Olive oil. A staple in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is a healthy fat that is good for your heart and brain. It also gives your immune system a boost through its ability to reduce inflammation in your body.

Other ways to boost the immune system naturally

In addition to choosing healthy options for your diet, your immune system will also benefit from healthy lifestyle choices:
•    Exercise regularly. Aim for 30 minutes a day five times a week and mix up your cardio and strength training.
•    Don’t smoke. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your body. If you do smoke, there is support available to help you quit.
•    Manage stress. Everyone faces stress in life. But when that stress becomes chronic, it can weaken your immune system. You can find ways to manage your stress and feel better mentally and physically. 
•    Get recommended vaccines. We are so fortunate to have vaccines available to help us fight common illnesses such as flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19. Be sure to stay up to date on your vaccines.
•    Alcohol in moderation only. It’s important to remember that alcohol is a depressant, a drug that has far-reaching effects on your body. If you drink, please do so in moderation
•    Manage your weight. Extra weight places stress on many systems within your body, including your immune system. Eating healthy is one of the best ways to manage your weight, and it will help keep you healthy by supporting your immune system with nutritious foods.
•    Get proper sleep. Sleep is critical for a healthy life, and the CDC recommends seven to nine hours of sleep a night for healthy adults. Your sleep and the quality of that sleep can also impact your immune system. If you are not getting a good night’s sleep regularly, there are ways to improve your sleep
•    Practice good hygiene. One of the simplest yet most effective ways to stay healthy is through washing our hands thoroughly and doing so often. 

Visit the Nourishing section of our Lifespan Living health and wellness blog for more tips on eating for better health. 

Lifespan Blog Team

The Lifespan Blog Team is working to provide you with timely and pertinent information that will help keep you and your family happy and healthy.