Eating for Immunity
Author: be well™ with Big Y® Registered Dietitian Team
The secret recipe for fighting off disease! Spoiler:
It’s not that magical-it’s pretty basic.
In addition to getting enough sleep, relieving stress with self-care practices, being physically active, drinking alcohol moderately and not smoking, the foods you eat support your immune system.
Let’s set the record straight: Although there are a handful of nutrients shown to support your immune system (see below!), there are no magic foods you need to eat in large quantities during cold and flu season, or during the pandemic.
The secret to supporting your immune system is to look at how you eat overall: Do you eat a variety of foods that include mostly plant-based sources such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and dried beans, peas and lentils? Do meats and milk products serve as complements in recipes for flavor and texture versus the main event? If yes, then you’re on track to feeding your body, and your immune system, what it needs to perform its best.
That said, here are a few must-haves to weave into daily meals:
Helping your body build cells, tissues and hormones, protein is key to maintaining a healthy, active immune system. Be mindful to eat protein foods throughout the day for best absorption and pair with those that provide carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits and vegetables for the greatest energy benefit too.
For your body to function in tip-top shape, proper hydration is essential. Without water, your body can’t transport important compounds to tissues, nor remove waste. Want a little more umph in your cup? Drop in a tea bag or macerated herbs, shaved ginger or crushed fruit for additional compounds your body will benefit from like polyphenols and vitamins.
Vitamins & Minerals
Certain vitamins, like vitamins A, C, E and members of the B family as well as minerals such as zinc, selenium and iron, receive praise for their role in supporting immune cells. To focus just on these superheroes, though, would dismiss the supporting roles other vitamins and minerals have in making the matrix of the immune system work in tandem. Best practice? Add different colors of fruits and vegetables into meals and snacks so you support your immune system matrix.
Pre- & Probiotics
Your gut has tiny microbes (or bacteria) working to digest and release different compounds from the food you eat. Prebiotic foods, such as dried beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas and bananas, artichokes, onions and garlic, have fiber that feed these microbes. Probiotics add more helpful bacteria to your gut from foods like yogurts containing “Live & Active Cultures”, kefir, kombucha, half-sour or full-sour pickles, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh.