Boosting Your immune System with Food

by Isaac Hoops, Tahoe Trail Bar



At a time when our health and the health of others is a priority, it is important to take the proper steps toward a strong immune system. The easiest way to maintain and boost your immune system is to ensure your diet is providing the proper nutrients to keep you healthy. 

 

What Are the Components of the Immune System?

 

When we think about the immune system, generally Vitamin C comes to mind. Although Vitamin C plays a role in maintaining a healthy immune system, a number of vitamins and minerals are required. According to the National Institutes of Health’s office of Dietary Supplements, the definition of immune system is:

A group of organs and cells that defends the body against infection, disease, and altered cells. It includes the thymus, spleen, lymphatic system, bone marrow, tonsils, and white blood cells.

Vitamins and minerals are necessary for this process because they are considered essential nutrients. They perform hundreds of tasks throughout the body and play an essential role in our health.

Fruits and vegetables provide some of the best fuel you can put in your body to enhance your immune system. This is due to the high amounts of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are found in them. 

 

These are recommended vitamins and minerals to boost the immune system: 

 

Vitamins:

  • Vitamin A
    • Plays an important role in defense against illness (https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-a-benefits#section3). 
    • Helps in production of white blood cells in bone marrow – working to clear bacteria from the bloodstream. 
    • Speeds up recovery time when you are sick. 
    • Vitamin A can be found in many types of foods such as carrots, spinach, broccoli, melons, apricots, mangos and cabbage.
  • Vitamin B
    • Works to strengthen the immune system. 
    • Made up of 8 B vitamins which have numerous roles in protection from illness
    • B Vitamins regulate the nervous system. 
    • Plays a role in the growth and formation of red blood cells.
    • Helps with digestion.
    • Different B-Vitamins can be found in avocados, strawberries, bananas and asparagus. 
  • Vitamin C
    • Increases production of interferons which are proteins that produce a defense response to viruses 
    • Protects and promotes cell growth 
    • Vitamin C can be found in most citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits and lemons – but also in blackberries, guava, kiwi and bell peppers.
  • Vitamin E
    • Contains antioxidants which balance free radicals, reducing potential for disease 
    • Found in walnuts, almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, spinach and broccoli. Sunflower oil and soybean oil also contain significant amounts of Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
    • The two primary K Vitamins are Vitamin K1 and K2 
    • Vitamin K1 is essential in preventing blood clots and also helps with bone health 
    • Vitamin K2 is important for a healthy gastrointestinal tract. Digestion is a key factor in the immune system because this is often where bacteria and the immune system meet
    • Vitamin K can be found in many leafy greens such as kale, collard greens and spinach

 

Minerals:

  • Zinc
    • Essential micronutrient which is necessary for proper body function
    • Plays a crucial role in immune system functionality 
    • Aids in protein and DNA production 
    • Major role in cell division 
  • Iron
    • Works within cells to produce energy – decreasing fatigue 
    • Helps red blood cells move oxygen throughout the body
  • Selenium
    • Works to produce active thyroid hormone
    • Selenium is an antioxidant which slows damage to cells

 

Foods that boost your immune system:

 

Papaya:

  • One papaya contains 157% of daily vitamin c 
  • Contains an enzyme called papain which helps with digestion and helps to break down tough protein chains
  • Contains potassium, vitamin A vitamin B, folate, and other antioxidants

Garlic:

  • Used to treat the flu and common cold across the world
  • One clove of garlic contains 5mg of calcium, 12mg of potassium, and 100 sulphuric compounds
  • Raw garlic is most beneficial – soaking or heating garlic can lower nutrients 
  • Lowers blood pressure & cholesterol
  • Used to fight intestinal parasites 

Green Tea:

  • Contains flavonoids, which are an antioxidant
  • Contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which is shown to be beneficial in many body functions, especially in the immune system
  • Good source of the amino acid L-theanine known to lower stress and promote relaxation

Broccoli:

  • Contains vitamins A, C and E.
  • Contains antioxidants.
  • 100 grams of broccoli can contain up to 89mg of Vitamin C, helping to boost your immune system. 
  • Good source of fiber. 
  • Broccoli will be most beneficial if it is not cooked for a long time, or if it is eaten raw. Steaming is the best cooking method for preserving nutrients.

Ginger:

  • Decreases inflammation which can help cure joint pains, sore throat, flu or common cold symptoms.  
  • Contains gingerol which is known to decrease chronic pain and lower cholesterol 
  • Ginger can also decrease nausea
  • Boosts the immune system when it is under-active, and slows the immune system when it is over active.

Nuts:

  • Different types of nuts provide important vitamins and minerals. They are easy to snack on and can also be added to oatmeal or salads. 
  • Almonds are a great source of vitamin E. 
  • Walnuts and pistachios contain significant levels of Vitamin B6. 
  • Cashews are a great source of zinc. 

 

Benefit of Probiotics:

  • There is a link between improved gut health, and an improved immune system 
  • Probiotics work to limit the growth of harmful gut bacteria 
  • You can find probiotics in good quality low fat yogurt, tempeh, miso, kimchi, and fresh sauerkraut 

 

Exercise:

 

Staying active can improve your immune system. As your heart rate increases, antibodies and white blood cells move faster through the body, meaning they can identify illnesses sooner. Cardio is known to clear the lungs and airways of bacteria, and as your body temperature rises this can prevent bacteria from growing. 

 

Diet:

 

Dieting is not recommended during quarantine. When your body is deficient in calories, it can make it harder to keep a healthy immune system and heal when you are sick.. Maintaining adequate nutrients is vital to create enzymes or antibodies which will help fight infection. 

 


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