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7 Foods That are Immune System Boosters

Your immune system can use all the help it can get. Even when it’s not cold and flu season, or when the novel coronavirus is no longer a threat, keeping your immunity in good shape is a smart idea. In addition to practicing well-studied healthy habits like getting adequate sleep, prioritizing exercise, building relationships, and engaging with your community, and using stress-relieving strategies, you can supercharge your immune system by eating nutrient-rich foods. For better immunity, here are some of the best foods to include in your meals.

Seafood

The omega-3 fatty acids found in some seafood enhances the functioning of immune cells. DHA is a type of omega-3 that has shown to increase the activity of white blood cells, which further strengthens immunity. Studies have found that not only do omega-3s have a significant effect on immune cells, but they also work very quickly.

Healthy Proteins

The National Institute of Health (NIH) notes that zinc, a mineral abundant in meats like oysters, poultry, seafood, beef, and lamb, works with the protein found in meat to strengthen the immune system. Certain types of immune cells, including white blood cells, can’t function without zinc, according to a review published in the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics. Experts advise that whether you get your protein from lean meats or vegan or vegetarian foods such as tempeh or tofu, make sure you get some at every meal to keep your energy and strength up. For the most heart-healthy option, choose lean protein.

Dark Chocolate

Many vitamins and minerals play a role in immune function, but a particular standout is magnesium. Your immune system is made up of numerous components, including proteins like antibodies, lymphocytes, and macrophages, which all work together to repel viruses. Magnesium plays an important role by improving how each of these protein types function. Research has noted that magnesium helps lymphocytes bind to invaders to they can be removed from the body, and helps prevent antibodies from being impaired. A surprising food that contains an abundance of magnesium is dark chocolate, with around 65 milligrams of magnesium per ounce. Just one ounce of dark chocolate is a good source for this important nutrient. Be sure to enjoy this treat in moderation, as it does have a high number of calories.

Citrus and Leafy Greens

Vitamin C helps protect the body against oxidative stress, and that helps support immune function. Oxidative stress happens when there is an imbalance of healthy antioxidants and harmful substances called free radicals in the body. Oxidative stress is associated with an increased risk of various health conditions, including stroke, cancer, and diabetes. As a type of antioxidant, vitamin C is a free radical scavenger and enhances immunity by supporting cellular function, among other benefits. According to the NIH, foods with vitamin C include oranges, lemons, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, leafy greens like kale, and bell peppers. To help retain vitamin C in your food, enjoy them in raw form when possible. Vitamin C is heat sensitive, so cooking can reduce the amount of this nutrient that your body can take in.

Nuts and Seeds

For a filling snack that’s also a benefit to your immune system, reach for a handful of nuts or seeds. Not only do they have magnesium, but they’re rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that’s been shown to improve the body’s ability to fight off bacteria and viruses. Just a small handful of sunflower seeds, almonds, walnuts, or pecans, can give you that vitamin E boost, and they’re a tasty addition to salads and other dishes. One caveat to keep in mind is that portion control is essential when it comes to nuts. They’re a healthy food but are calorie dense, so overindulgence can contribute to weight gain.

Garlic and Onions

Garlic gets its distinctive smell from sulfur compounds, and whether or not you love the aroma, it offers protective benefits to your health and immune response. That’s because when garlic is crushed or chopped, it produces allicin, which previous research has highlighted for its antiviral and antibacterial properties. Onions have a substance called quercetin, which helps regulate histamine response and contains antiviral properties. If you’re looking for a powerful immune-driven dinner, whip up some fresh pasta sauce with garlic and onions, plus tomatoes for that vitamin C addition.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, the good bacteria that support gut health. Johns Hopkins notes that a huge proportion of the immune system is actually in the gastrointestinal tract. One study found that participants without diabetes who ate yogurt with probiotics daily saw an increase in protective immune function compared to the control group. To avoid added sugar, choose plain, unsweetened yogurt. Another study details a clinical trial of 36 adults given two different diets, chosen because both have shown benefits for gut health, and researchers wanted to determine which would be most useful. The group who ate or drank fermented foods and drinks like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha showed less inflammation compared to the group assigned to a high-fiber diet alone, and had more diversity in their digestive systems’ beneficial bacteria.

Making smart lifestyle choices and healthy eating can boost your immunity, and it can lift your spirit and nourish your sense of well-being, too. If you want to get a check on your immune system and see if you’re doing all the right things to strengthen it, schedule an appointment with your HealthLynked provider.

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