Having a healthy immune system is essential to fight off illness and disease. There are numerous ways that this system may end up being compromised or weakened. When this happens, a person is much more susceptible to catching viruses or developing infections and diseases. At this point, it is critical to repair the immune system as quickly as possible. This is often accomplished by consuming foods that boost immunity. These foods are rich in certain vitamins and minerals that boost the immune system.
There are numerous nutrients and while they are all important, certain ones are most responsible for healing and maintaining high levels of immunity. Even within that list, it can be reduced down to eight of them that when consumed in proper amounts, are effective in fighting illnesses and making you a healthier person.
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Vitamins That Boost The Immune System
Here is a look at eight vitamins and minerals that are able and highly effective in boosting immune systems.
1. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant that helps to eliminate toxins from the body. It is actually one of the most common vitamins to boost the immune system (1). This nutrient is well-known for its effectiveness in fighting the common cold and influenza viruses (2). It encourages the production of white blood cells that protects the body against infections (3). Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient, which means that if there is any left after the body uses what it needs, it is flushed out upon urination. The body is not able to produce or store the nutrient, so it is important to consume enough of it.
There are a few methods that can be used to obtain more of this nutrient. While there are supplements available, certain foods contain high levels of it, and doctors recommend consuming them when possible. It is also encouraged to eat a wide variety of these products so more essential nutrients may be obtained. Such goods high in vitamin C include fruits and vegetables like oranges, lemons, strawberries, kiwis, black currants, papayas, sweet bell peppers, spinach, kale, parsley, and broccoli.
Summary: Vitamin C is a strong antioxidant and water-soluble vitamin with immune-boosting properties. It helps produce white blood cells, which fights against the common cold and flu viruses. Many fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C including citrus fruits, strawberries, kiwis, black currants, papaya, bell peppers, spinach and other leafy greens, parsley, and broccoli.
2. Vitamin D
This nutrient, vitamin D, is also known as the “Sunshine Vitamin”. The body is able to produce it from exposure to the sun. Many individuals do not get enough sunlight to produce sufficient amounts of this vitamin. In these cases, it is essential to obtain it from food so that the body and its immune system are able to function correctly. With regard to its actual duties, vitamin D helps to protect the body from infection and aids in adapting immune responses (4).
For someone who lacks this nutrient, there are certain foods that contain high levels of it so that the immune system can be strengthened. Fatty fish including tuna, mackerel, salmon and sardines are recommended, as are milk, fortified cereals, and orange juice. While there are vitamin D supplements, it is highly recommended that the nutrient is obtained from food products. Many people find it difficult to absorb the vitamin found within the supplement.
Summary: Vitamin D, known as the “sunshine” vitamin, helps protect the body from infection and strengthens immune responses. The body produces vitamin D after being exposed to sunlight. Many people don’t get enough sun exposure, so in some cases either a supplement or consuming vitamin D-rich food such as tuna, mackerel, salmon, sardines, milk, and fortified cereal or orange juice is necessary.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is often known for its use in skin products but it is actually a powerful antioxidant also utilized to boost the immune system (5). It protects the body by flushing out toxins and free radicals. Because of the potency of this nutrient, it is considered to be one of the most powerful immune boosters, especially in older individuals (6).
Vitamin E is found in a wide variety of foods, so it may easily be incorporated into the diet. Such things as almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, and bananas are high in this nutrient and make lovely snacks. However, if the preferred method is through meals then spinach, potatoes, chicken, chickpeas, and broccoli are other great options.
Summary: Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and fat-soluble vitamin that is essential for immune health. It helps to flush free radicals and toxins from the body. It is known for being a powerful immune booster, especially for older adults. Almonds, sunflower seeds, peanuts, bananas, spinach, potatoes, chicken, chickpeas, and broccoli are a few great sources to name.
4. Vitamin A
Vitamin A is turned into carotenoids that make foods bright and colorful. The brighter and more colorful the food, the more of this nutrient it contains, therefore making it a better choice. Aside from being a carotenoid, this particular nutrient is also an antioxidant, ridding the body of various kinds of toxins and helping the body to fight illness (7, 8, 9).
Foods that contain vitamin A may be easier to spot because of the colors. Pumpkins, carrots, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes all contain high levels of the nutrient, as do the dark leafy green vegetables, kale and broccoli. Perhaps lesser known carriers of this nutrient are eggs, fortified or enriched cereals, and fortified skim milk. If the enriched products are the preferred options, it is essential to read the labels to ensure adequate levels of vitamin A are within the goods.
Summary: Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant. It helps to rid the body of toxins and fight illness in the body. Vitamin A is turned into carotenoids that give vitamin A-rich foods their brightness and color. Pumpkins, carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, broccoli, eggs, milk, and fortified cereals are great sources. Fill your plate with color to meet vitamin A intake.
Minerals That Boost The Immune System
This mineral is essential to the overall well-being of the body. Iron assists the body in bringing oxygen to cells, which is necessary for them to function and to allow the body to work properly. Without this, not only can’t the organs work effectively, but the immune system weakens and cannot protect the body from infection and illness as it is meant to (10). Such a situation may lead a person to experience many symptoms, and not just those related to any illness the body might be trying to fight.
The good news is that iron is found within many food products. Organ meats like liver are some of the products containing very high levels of the mineral but seafood, chicken, and turkey are good options as well. Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, and broccoli may be chosen for this purpose. Additional options include beans, fortified cereals, and dark chocolate.
Summary: Iron is an essential mineral that transports oxygen to cells. This allows for the organs to work effectively and strengthen the body’s systems, including the immune system. Iron is important to help the body fight against illness. Organ meats are very high in iron, followed by seafood, chicken, turkey, kale, spinach, broccoli, beans, fortified cereals, and dark chocolate.
Zinc is critical for boosting the immune system but not for the same reasons as other nutrients are (11, 12, 13). While it does strengthen immunity, this particular mineral is required for preventing inflammation and for slowing the immune response that may cause this symptom. Along with these features, zinc also assists in healing wounds (14). The latter purpose is vital for stopping bacteria and viruses from invading the body through the wounds.
This nutrient is contained within a number of foods such as crab, poultry, oysters, and beans. Yogurt and chickpeas are also good sources of the mineral. It is important to note that some of the processed foods that contain zinc may have added sugar. It is recommended to avoid these options if at all possible.
Summary: Zinc, a common cold-fighting remedy, is important for strengthening immunity, reducing inflammation, and healing wounds. It also stops bacteria and viruses from invading the body through wounds, and has even shown to slow immune response from illness. Crab, poultry, oysters, beans, yogurt, and chickpeas are very good sources of this essential mineral.
Folate is one of the B-vitamins. Its synthetic form is called folic acid, which is added to certain foods to make them healthier. The mineral is used by the body for a number of purposes. It helps to make red and white blood cells, as well as to make and repair DNA (15, 16). In terms of immunity, it assists in preventing changes to cells and DNA that may cause illness and disease, such as cancer (17, 18, 19).
To increase the consumption of this vitamin, it is recommended to add more beans, peas, lentils, and leafy green vegetables like kale and spinach to the diet. There are other options, such as whole-grain bread and pasta. Certain types of cereals and other forms of carbohydrates may be enriched by manufacturers by adding folic acid. It is important to read the label and nutrition information to be sure that this nutrient has been added.
Summary: Folate, or vitamin B9, is a mineral the body needs to make red and white blood cells, and make or repair DNA. It helps to prevent changes to cells and DNA that could cause illness. Beans, peas, lentils, leafy greens, and whole grain breads or pasta are great sources. The synthetic form, folic acid, is often added to foods such as fortified cereals to help boost intake of this important mineral.
Selenium is not one of the most talked-about minerals but it is essential in the correct function of the immune system (20, 21). One of its responsibilities is similar to zinc in slowing down the body’s overreaction to certain types of foreign cells or growths. This not only helps to prevent inflammation but also to lower the immune system’s overactive response to cancer cells (22, 23). In addition to these purposes, selenium is said to boost immunity in people who have tuberculosis, HIV, and influenza.
The list of foods containing this vital nutrient is actually quite long. It is contained in many meat products like pork, chicken, fish, beef, and turkey, However, there are alternatives suitable for vegetarians as well. Brazil nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, baked beans, mushrooms, oatmeal, bananas, eggs, spinach, and brown rice also rank highly in terms of their selenium content.
Summary: Selenium helps to delay the body’s overreaction to foreign cells and growth. This helps prevent inflammation and lower the immune system’s response. Pork, chicken, fish, beef, turkey, Brazil nuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, baked beans, mushrooms, oatmeal, bananas, eggs, spinach, and brown rice are excellent selenium-rich foods necessary for boosting immunity.
Choosing a Variety for Better Immunity
Each one of these minerals and vitamins helps to boost the immune system in some way. They work together to create a healthier environment and body. Their purposes include flushing out toxins, reducing inflammation, creating red and white blood cells, and more. There may be supplements available for each of these nutrients but it is highly recommended that they are obtained from food products.
The wide variety of goods that contain these nutrients including fish, lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and carbohydrates. The selection is such that something can be included in the diet each day. Some of the items have more than one of the vitamins and minerals in them from the above list. That may make it easier to consume what is needed. That being said, a person is always encouraged to eat a wide variety of these goods plus others, not only to increase the amount of these specified nutrients obtained but to consume others that are necessary for good health.
An issue with purchasing fresh produce may arise depending on the geographical location. If frozen alternatives are available, these too make good options. Whether fresh or frozen, a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins, and complex carbohydrates is suggested for boosting immunity and overall good health.