What to Eat to Support Your Immune System

Immune system and your gut 

We know a healthy immune system is one of the most important functions of our bodies. And here’s some pretty great news: we can do a lot to support our immune health on a daily basis. 

Fiber, fiber and more fiber

70% of our immune system is in the intestines: the immune cells in our gut directly interact with our intestinal microbiome, which is made up of trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material, and live in your intestinal tract.

The foods we eat directly affect the diversity and composition of bacteria in the gut, which in turn affects immune cells. 

Our microbiome is healthiest and supports strong immunity when we consume plant-based foods that are high in fiber. The American Heart Association Eating Plan suggests dietary fiber intake should be 25 to 30 grams a day from food, not supplements. Most Americans average only around 15 grams per day.  

Legumes have a significant amount of fiber – you can get half your daily fiber requirement in one cup of black beans or lentils. Not into beans? Raspberries, broccoli or oatmeal are also great sources of fiber.

Keeping yourself hydrated helps strengthen the immune system

Our lymphatic system is about 95% water – it carries our white blood cells and other immune cells to tissues in the body to fight infection and carries waste away from the body. Think of proper hydration as a way to make it easier for immune-boosting nutrients to get where they need to go (i.e., your cells)..

How to hydrate right

Drinking water is the best way to hydrate your body. You can also eat foods with high water content such as cucumbers, watermelon, and celery. 

If you have a hard time drinking plain water, try a cup of green tea with lemon, watermelon, cucumber or mint-infused water for an immune system powerhouse beverage.

How much to drink? Check you pee before you flush. If it’s dark yellow, you need to be better hydrated; if it’s clear, you’re in the clear.

Vitamins and minerals that are critical for healthy immune function

Vitamin C : You likely know citrus is a vitamin C powerhouse but did you know spinach, kale, strawberries, bell peppers, papaya and brussels sprouts also contain vitamin C? 

Vitamin A: This often-overlooked vitamin is critical for immune function. Cod liver oil is an amazing source of vitamin A, as are milk and eggs. Vegetarian sources include sweet potatoes, pumpkin and carrots. 

Vitamin D: Vitamin D is critical for so many functions in the body – and exercising outside is one of the best ways to improve vitamin D levels. Some types of fish (salmon, tuna and swordfish) contain vitamin D and mushrooms left in the sunshine, gills up will provide vitamin D as well. Shiitake mushrooms have the highest amount of vitamin D. Another option is Vitamin D fortified orange juice or milk. Even plant-based milks can contain added Vitamin D. 

Zinc: Our body does not store or produce this essential nutrient, so we can only get it from the foods we eat. It is a huge immune booster, though it has many other functions in the body as well. Oysters have a particularly high zinc content, as do other shellfish including crab, clams, lobster, and mussels. Chicken and turkey are also rich in zinc, and if you’re vegetarian, opt for zinc-packed pumpkin seeds.

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