Everyone searches for ways to support their immune system. While there’s no magic bullet for increasing immunity, there are ways to keep your immune system strong so that you are better prepared to keep your body healthy. This blog reviews how good nutrition, adequate sleep, and managing stress contribute to supporting your immune system and keeping you well.
Good nutrition is essential for maintaining a strong immune system. Focus on the following key components of a healthy diet.
Immunity-Boosting Tip 1: Eat More Vegetables
You have heard it a thousand times, but vegetables are the foundation of a healthy, balanced diet. While all vegetables have health benefits, some pack a more powerful immune-boosting punch than others. Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables are rich in fiber, phytochemicals (plant nutrients), vitamins, and minerals. Research has shown that these vegetables are a source of a chemical signal that keeps your immune system fully functioning. Other vegetables such as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, and tomatoes are rich in beta-carotene (vitamin A), which helps regulate the immune system and protect against harmful invaders by keeping skin and other tissues healthy.*
Aim for 2½ to 3 cups of vegetables a day. Those who are very physically active may benefit from more. Seem like a lot? Here are some easy ways to increase your daily vegetable intake:
- Sautéed mushrooms, onions, peppers, kale, and spinach are great additions to eggs. Sprinkle in some cheese and your favorite seasonings for a delicious omelet.
- Slice all your raw vegetables ahead of time so that they are ready to go when you want to eat them.
- Skip the pita, crackers, or chips and instead serve raw veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, red peppers) with hummus as a mid-afternoon or pre-dinner snack.
- Add extra veggies to mixed dishes such as chili, soups, and stews.
- Mix cauliflower rice into ground beef or turkey tacos, or combine riced cauliflower with brown rice (both available frozen) for a quick, high-fiber side dish.
Immunity-Boosting Tip 2: Don’t Forget Your Fruits!
Fruits such as citrus (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit), strawberries, melon, and kiwi are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant known for its potential immune-boosting properties*. Blueberries contain flavonoids called anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants responsible for this berry’s deep blue color. Flavonoids play a crucial role in keeping your immune system strong.* Another potent flavonoid is quercetin, found in apples, onions, grapes, berries, and other fruits and vegetables. Perhaps the old saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” is still relevant.
Immunity-Boosting Tip 3: Include Proteins in Your Diet
Protein is the building block of life and is especially important for healing and recovery.* Excellent protein sources include lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. You can also get plenty of protein from plants, too. Legumes (like beans and lentils) tofu, nuts, and seeds are all great heart-healthy choices. These foods are also good sources of zinc, a mineral that promotes healthy immune function and aids in wound healing.* When eating eggs, be sure to eat the yolk, which is rich in many nutrients, including choline and an immune-boosting compound called PEA (palmitoylethanolamide).*
Immunity Boosting Tip 4: Don’t Skip Your Fats
Fats are in! At one time, the fad was to stick to a low-fat diet, but now it’s well-known that healthy fats are essential to support your immune health. Include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats into your daily diet. These are found in avocado, olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. These foods not only provide good fats, but are also rich in phytonutrients and fat-soluble vitamins. For example, a small handful of nuts such as almonds is an excellent source of vitamin E. Wild-caught salmon is one of the only foods naturally rich in vitamin D. Fatty fish are also rich in essential fats called omega-3s, which are known for their multiple health benefits.* Avocados are loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Avocados are also rich in vitamin K and phytosterols.
Immunity-Boosting Tip 5: Get Some Sleep
The simple act of getting enough sleep has numerous health benefits. This may be partly because sleep helps your immune system function at its best. Research has revealed that sleep improves the way T cells, which are involved in the immune response, work to keep your body healthy. Higher levels of stress hormones may keep T cells from functioning correctly for people who don’t sleep enough. Lack of sleep puts your body into ‘fight or flight’ mode, releasing adrenaline and increased stress hormones.
In general, adults need at least seven hours of sleep for optimal health and well-being. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than one-third of adults in the U.S. get less than the recommended amount of sleep.
Tips for getting a good night’s sleep include turning off your screens (TV, laptop, smartphones, etc.) well before bedtime, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening, limiting food and alcohol within a few hours of going to bed, and sleeping in a cool, dark room.
Immunity-Boosting Tip 6: Manage Your Stress
You may not often think about how stress affects your ability to stay healthy, but your state of mind can have a significant impact on your immune system. Managing your stress may help you fight germs and other invaders. Stress management techniques include meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises. Moderate exercise, such as getting outside for a walk or run, can also help support immune health. In addition, research on social stress highlights the value of friendship. A few close friends can help you feel connected and stay strong through stressful times.
Although there is no magical potion for immunity, you can take several natural steps to boost your immune system. Don’t underestimate your lifestyle’s impact on your ability to help keep your immune system strong. Good nutrition, quality sleep, and managing stress can all have a significant impact on your health.