By Melissa Mitri, MS, RD
Maintaining a strong immune system is important no matter who you are. Getting the right nutrients daily is one of the best places to start strengthening your immunity, in addition to practicing other beneficial lifestyle habits like sufficient sleep and regular exercise.
So which foods are best for immunity? Here are our top seven:
Citrus fruits – Vitamin C-containing citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemon and limes are natural immunity-boosters. Vitamin C deficiency can impair immune function and increase susceptibility to infections. Specifically, Vitamin C has been shown to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting off infections.
Berries – In addition to also being high in Vitamin C, berries are rich in flavanols, which are potent antioxidants. Flavanols put your immune system on high alert to fight any foreign invaders. Eating a variety of berries such as blackberries, strawberries and blueberries will yield the biggest immunity boost. Try this mixed berry and beet smoothie as an easy way to get in your daily dose of immune-boosting berries.
Red bell peppers – We may think of oranges most often as being high in Vitamin C. However, red bell peppers actually contain almost three times as much C. Vitamin C protects your immune system, but it also protects your skin. Healthy skin can help create a barrier of protection, keeping damaging particles in the air from entering your body.
Broccoli – Broccoli is a nutritional powerhouse and. It is a rich source of vitamins A, C and E — all potent antioxidants that play an important role in immunity. Raw or partially cooked broccoli, such as in a stir-fry, is preferred to retain the most potent nutrients.
Greek yogurt – Greek yogurt is a great source of probiotics, or healthy bacteria. Probiotics support your immune system. When shopping for yogurt, look for the phrase “live and active cultures” to ensure it provides probiotics that have not been heat-treated, which kills the live cultures.
Many yogurts also contain added Vitamin D, another nutrient needed for immunity that is difficult to find in many foods. Vitamin D may help to regulate the our immune system and strengthen the body’s natural defenses against infection. Unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency is fairly common, and so focusing on getting enough in your diet or taking a supplement is important — especially if you do not live in a location that gets a lot of sunlight in winter months.
Elderberry – The elderberry plant is jam-packed with antioxidants and vitamins that may support your immune system. In many parts of the world, elderberry is used as an herbal remedy. Elderberries are a rich source of Vitamin C, antioxidants, and flavanols, which classify it as a functional food, or which is a food that offers health benefits beyond their basic nutritional value.
Shellfish – Oysters, crab, lobster and mussels are excellent sources of zinc. A nutrient that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves, Zinc helps our immune cells to properly fight off infections.
Incorporating a variety of these nutritious foods into your diet will help support your immune system and overall health. If you struggle to eat enough of these foods, a supplement can help you meet your needs. A combination of a healthy diet with the right supplements can keep your immune system in tip-top shape.
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