What to eat to boost your immune system

The immune system plays an important role in helping the body fend off viruses, bacteria and other sources of illness. Did you know you can boost your immune system through the foods you eat?

It may feel like we’re in control of very little these days. But one thing you do control is your habits. Are you practicing lifestyle habits that can help keep you healthy?

Those lifestyle habits — particularly maintaining a healthy diet — can help strengthen your immune system, helping your body successfully fight off illness.

So, what should you be eating? Let’s take a look at some healthy eating basics, along with foods specifically known to be immune system boosters.

What a Healthy Diet Looks Like

While it’s all too easy to turn to junk food when you’re at home, your mind and body will reap the benefits if you stick to healthier options most of the time.

Fill up your plate with fruits and vegetables, lean protein (either from meat or meatless options), whole grains and low-fat dairy. The fruits and veggies are especially important — experts recommend filling half your plate at each meal with these essential foods.

To break that down a little more, it’s recommended that you get four servings of fruit per day and five servings of vegetables. We know that the selection at the grocery store has been sparse at times lately, so take comfort in knowing that the frozen varieties of fruits and veggies have the same nutritional value as their fresh counterparts.

Even canned options are fine! Simply make sure you’re choosing options that don’t contain sauces or syrups, since those often add unnecessary calories, sodium and sugar.

Protein-wise, stock up on lean meats like chicken or turkey to store in the freezer, or load up your pantry with beans, nuts or nut butters, and seeds like quinoa.

Known Immune System Boosters

While eating a healthy diet overall is a great first step toward keeping your immune system strong, there are some foods that are known to help protect your immunity. Add a few of the foods below into your diet to help give your immune system an extra boost!

  • Citrus fruits. You may have guessed this one. Citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, tangerines, lemons, limes and clementines all offer your body a big dose of vitamin C. Vitamin C plays a key role in our immunity, since it is thought to boost the body’s production of infection-fighting white blood cells. A daily dose of vitamin C-containing foods is necessary, since the body doesn’t store or produce this essential vitamin on its own.
  • Red bell peppers. Believe it or not, these veggies have even more vitamin C in them than citrus fruits do! They also have an added bonus, since they are a source of beta carotene, which helps protect your eyes and skin.
  • Chicken. Not only is chicken a great source of lean protein, but it’s also a good source of vitamin B6. This is probably at least part of the reason that chicken soup is a go-to comfort food when we’re sick. Not only does it help us feel better, but it actually has a helpful effect in boosting your immune system. Vitamin B6, which is also found in turkey, green veggies and tofu, helps the body perform necessary chemical reactions and also plays an important role in the formation of red blood cells.
  • Nuts and seeds. These foods can be safely stored in your pantry for a while, making them a good staple to have around. They are packed with vitamin E, which helps protect the body from what’s known as “oxidative stress.” Most nuts and seeds — along with their “butters” — are good sources of vitamin E, but sunflower seeds and almonds contain the most. One ounce of sunflower seeds contains 10 mg of vitamin E, or two-thirds of your daily recommended intake.
  • Garlic. Add some flavor to your food and a little zing to your immune system by adding garlic. Garlic offers multiple health benefits, including lowering blood pressure, but is also thought to boost the immune system due to its high concentration of sulfur-containing compounds.
  • Greek yogurt. This type of yogurt, which is known for being high in protein, benefits your immune system, too. You’ve probably seen on the label that yogurt contains “live and active cultures.” That means that it contains a good type of bacteria that helps stimulate the immune system to fend off illness. If you choose a fortified yogurt, you’ll also benefit from a dose of vitamin D, which helps regulate the immune system.
  • Broccoli. Even if you don’t love this veggie, your health will reap the benefits if you eat it! Broccoli contains big doses of vitamins A and C, along with an antioxidant known as “glutathione,” which helps strengthen the immune system.

Other Things You Can Do to Boost Your Immune System

Besides making healthy food choices and filling your plate with some immune-boosting foods, you can also help protect your immune system with other healthy lifestyle habits.

Even though you may not be able to access the gym, regular exercise is still one of the best things you can do to keep your immunity strong. Aim to get moving for at least 30 minutes on most days by taking a walk or doing an online exercise program.

Getting enough sleep is also essential. Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night for optimal health — and that includes keeping your immune system running strong.

And finally, find healthy ways to alleviate stress. It’s natural to feel more stress during a time like this. Some stress is normal and to be expected, but too much stress can weaken your immune system, making you more likely to get sick. So, find stress management techniques that work for you, such as meditation, a hobby or regular FaceTime with friends.

The immune system protects and defends your body against invaders including viruses. For more information about COVID-19 precautions, please visit our website.