Nowadays more than ever, people are looking for ways to boost their immune system.
The immune system is the body’s first defense to protecting against infection and disease.
There are many factors that play a role in immune health including sleep, exercise, and mental health. But nutrition is arguably the most important.
Eating a diet rich in immune-boosting vitamins and minerals is one way to support health and wellness.
This article will outline the most important vitamins and minerals to help support immunity, and the best ways to consume them in your diet.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient. It acts as an antioxidant in the body and plays a role in boosting the immune system.
It helps stimulate the formation of antibodies, and increases the production of white blood cells, further enabling the body to fight off anything from the common cold to the flu (1).
Vitamin C may also help prevent some from getting sick in the first place, or may shorten the duration of colds or other infections.
Some of the best sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, and lemons.
Containing even more vitamin C than citrus fruits, bell peppers have nearly three times as much vitamin C as an orange.
Other fantastic sources include strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
With a wide variety of fruits and vegetables containing this immune-boosting vitamin, it’s easy to add vitamin C to your diet.
Simply sauté brussels sprouts as a side dish, add strawberries to your morning smoothie, or incorporate a fresh orange as a snack, for example.
Oftentimes when people start to feel under the weather, they reach for zinc to shorten ward off their cold, and for good reason too.
Our bodies need zinc so that our immune cells can function properly.
There are many reactions in the body that require zinc. Plus, this mineral is involved in producing certain immune cells. Without adequate zinc, the immune system cannot function optimally (2).
Some of the best sources of zinc include seafood – especially shellfish like shrimp, clams, and oysters. Beans, seeds, chicken, and turkey are also great sources of zinc.
Many people like to eat chicken soup when they are sick, and interestingly, it’s more than merely a comfort food or an old wives’ tale. Chicken soup is a great source of zinc, so it actually gives a boost to your immune system.
It’s important to keep in mind that too much zinc can in fact inhibit immune function.
While you likely won’t overdo it with food sources of zinc, be cautious of consuming too much zinc from supplements.
The recommended daily amounts for zinc are 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for adult women.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that is essential to immune function. It helps the body have a stronger immune response to invaders such as bacteria or viruses that make us sick.
Having healthy levels of vitamin D can help keep the immune system strong and may prevent the onset of certain illnesses.
In fact, a deficiency in vitamin D may make us more susceptible to getting sick (3).
Vitamin D is found in fatty fish such as salmon and tuna. It’s also found in egg yolks, certain mushrooms, and some fortified foods such as cereals and breads. Yogurt, too, can be a great source of vitamin D.
In addition to getting some vitamin D from food, the body can also make vitamin D with just about 10-15 minutes of sunlight a few days each week.
Although vitamin A has varied roles in the body, it plays a specific role in maintaining the health of the immune system.
It helps regulate the immune response, reduces inflammation, and may even have a therapeutic effect in the treatment of certain infections (4).
One way that vitamin A plays a role in immune health is that it protects the cells that line our intestines.
Did you know that 70% of the immune system is in the gut? Because vitamin A supports gut health, it in turn supports the health of the immune system.
Foods naturally rich in vitamin A include dairy products, liver, and fish. However, there are many foods rich in an antioxidant called beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A.
Foods rich in beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, kale, mangos, apricots, papayas, mangos, and red bell peppers.
It’s best to eat a variety of foods rich in vitamin A and beta-carotene for reduced inflammation and boosted immune health.
Similar to vitamin C, Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, also key to a healthy immune system. Vitamin E helps the body fight off infection (5).
It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning that it requires fat to be absorbed.
Research suggests that meeting recommended levels of vitamin E is crucial for maintaining a healthy immune system.
Some of the best sources include almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, avocados, leafy green vegetables, and vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, and soybean oil.
It’s not challenging to meet your daily needs for vitamin E as adults only need about 15 mg daily. In just one half-cup serving of almonds, you would nearly meet your daily requirements.
There are many important vitamins and minerals that support the immune system. This list provides some of the key players, although there are many others not listed here such as iron, selenium, B vitamins, and many more that have a place in supporting immune health.
The body uses and absorbs nutrients from both foods and supplements.
Aim to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as lean sources of protein, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and perhaps dairy products, for a varied, nutrient-dense diet that can best support your immune system.
Additionally, be sure to focus on other pillars of health such as stress reduction, getting good quality sleep, and engaging regular exercise.