While there is not one “magic” food or supplement that can guarantee to prevent or stop an existing illness, a combination of certain foods, nutrients and healthy habits can help support the proper functioning of your immune system and may help your bodies fend off germs or recover more quickly.
Here are our Dietitians’ top 10 recommended foods and tips for immune health:
1. C’s the day
Vitamin C is one of the most well-known immune-supporting nutrients. While oranges are a great source, there are many other fruits and vegetables valuable in Vitamin C.
Tip: For more vitamin C, add citrus, kiwi, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, leafy greens, potatoes or tomatoes to your plate!
2. Eat from A to zinc
Eat plenty of diverse foods (lean proteins, legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains and low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives) to reap the immune-supporting benefits of getting adequate amounts of essential nutrients. Typically, a well-balanced diet will be enough, but supplement with a multivitamin if recommended.
Tip: Consume 5 or more servings (1/2 cup = 1 serving) of fruits and vegetables each day.
3. Power up with protein
Protein helps our bodies build and repair; not getting an adequate amount may interfere with the body’s production of our immune system’s infection-fighting white blood cells. Proteins are also often good sources of zinc – another important immune soldier.
Tip: Have a source of lean protein, plant-based protein and/or low-fat dairy product at every meal.
4. Take a teatime
Green tea, black tea and white tea are all good sources of antioxidants, which stimulate the activity of cells associated with combating viruses.
Tip: Combine teatime with de-stress time and knock out two tips in one sitting!
5. Feed your gut
Much of our immune system resides in our gut, so having a healthy microbiome (e.g. having enough “good bacteria”) is important. To foster this, consume probiotic foods daily, including yogurt, fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut), kefir, kombucha, miso and tempeh.
Tip: Be sure to feed the good bacteria in your body by eating prebiotic foods, too. Sources include bananas, oats, onion, garlic, avocado, whole grains, asparagus, chicory and inulin.
6. Make garlic a go-to
Garlic has antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic is a versatile seasoning that can be used in nearly every recipe. Load up!
Tip: Consider buying multiple bulbs at a time, so you always have fresh garlic on hand!
7. Get enough Z’s
During restful sleep, the body recovers and repairs and the immune system fights illness. Without enough sleep, the immune system can slowly get worn down.
Tip: Get 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
8. Keep calm and carry on
Take time to manage stress. Too much stress decreases white blood cells, leaving our immune systems weakened and more vulnerable.
Tip: Try a stress-relieving activity daily, such as reading, talking with a friend, walking, deep breathing, yoga, or simply spending time outdoors.
9. Move it
Exercise helps gut health, stress reduction and white blood cell circulation. Get outside daily for a bit of fresh air, daylight and the sounds of Mother Nature.
Tip: Exercising outside during the daytime means you’ll get more Vitamin D, physical activity and stress relief all at once!
It’s a pretty obvious suggestion, but it’s certainly the most important and effective way to prevent illness – wash your hands frequently!
Tip: To make hand washing more fun and ensure a long enough scrub, sing the lyrics of your favorite song while washing (out loud or to yourself depending on the setting!)
Which of these steps are you already doing and which ones are you ready to work on? Try to set one realistic, immune-supporting goal today. And to get answers to all of your questions about foods or supplements to support your immune system or to get personalized support with other nutrition matters, book an appointment with a Kroger Health Dietitian.