Immune Boosting Foods
Sep 02, 2020, Updated Jun 15, 2022
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As we continue to live in a society with COVID-19, you might find yourself asking… Are there immune boosting foods? Is there a diet to boost my immune system? What nutrients should I be eating for immune health?
When it comes to boosting your immune system, nutrition is an important factor. Our immune system heavily relies on essential nutrients to function properly. The key is incorporating a variety of foods into our diet. There is not one specific vitamin, mineral or antioxidant that alone has been proven to boost immunity. The goal is creating a well-balanced plate packed with fruits, vegetables and other food staples that together can promote a healthy immune system.
What are key nutrients for immune health?
Vitamin C plays an important role in tissue growth and repair, wound healing and immune support. As an antioxidant, vitamin C stimulates white blood cells to protect and defend against infections. Current research is considering the impact of vitamin C on delaying development and progression of specific disease states.
There are SO many delicious ways to add vitamin C-rich foods into your day. Think fruits & veggies when you think of vitamin C. Bell peppers, berries, tomatoes, oranges, mangos, kiwi, and grapefruit are all tasty options.
Ways to add vitamin C to your plate:
- Fruit & Veggie Salsa. Slice & dice a variety of vitamin C-rich produce then mix in a bowl and serve. Need inspiration? Try this Mango Salsa recipe to get started. You will be surprised how quick this salsa is gone!
- Fruit Salad. Choose a combination of your family’s favorite vitamin C-rich fruits to chop and mix together. Try a combo like kiwi + orange + strawberries. Drizzle with lemon or lime juice for a boost of flavor!
- Vitamin C-rich Recipes: Orange Vinaigrette, Strawberry Salad Kabobs, Apricot Mango Smoothie
Like vitamin C, zinc also plays a vital role in wound healing and immune function. Zinc develops and then activates white blood cells to create an immune defense against infection. Zinc is one reason we develop new immune cells. Our bodies do not have the capacity to store zinc, which is why it is essential that we incorporate zinc-rich foods into our meals.
The top food sources of zinc include oysters, red meat & poultry. Nuts, whole grains & beans are great plant-based alternatives that are also rich in zinc.
Ways to add zinc to your plate:
- Oyster dishes. Fresh oysters can be seasoned to enjoy raw or cooked while canned oysters can be added to a stew, stirred into a dip, or air fried.
- Homemade Trail Mix. Mix together a combination of zinc-rich nuts and seeds like cashews, almonds, hemp seeds and pumpkin seeds to create a homemade trail mix.
- Roasted Chickpeas. A crunchy & delicious snack that can be seasoned with chili powder, garlic powder, lime juice, cinnamon & sugar, soy sauce or even parmesan cheese!
- Zinc-rich Recipes: Plum and Blackberry Grain Salad, Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs, Thai Steak Noodle Salad
Vitamin D has widely known functions related to calcium absorption and bone health. However, vitamin D also plays a large role in supporting our adaptive immune system (the immune system that we develop over our lifetime) by activating immune cells to identify and destroy pathogens. Research is currently looking at the relationship between vitamin D deficiency, autoimmune diseases and increased risk of infection.
Vitamin D is a vitamin that can be made by our bodies through direct sun exposure. The nutrient can also be consumed through food when direct sun exposure is not available. Foods rich in vitamin D include mushrooms, eggs, milk & fatty fish.
Ways to add vitamin D to your plate:
- High Vitamin D Mushrooms. Monterey Mushrooms® has produced a mushroom with a higher vitamin D content. A great vegan and vegetarian option!
- Protein swaps. Swap your red meat or poultry meals for dishes made with salmon, trout and/or sardines. These fatty fish choices will provide heart healthy fats as well as vitamin D.
- Fortified foods. Cereal, milk and orange juice are typically the top foods fortified with vitamin D. Take a look at the nutrition and ingredient label the next time you select one of these three items.
- Vitamin D-rich Recipes: Baked Salmon and Sesame Glazed Broccolini, Baked Mushrooms with Lemon and Gruyere
Selenium is an antioxidant that reduces oxidative stress and inflammation to boost the immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Like many nutrients, selenium is an essential nutrient that our body cannot make on its own.
Looking for creative ways to add selenium into your diet? A brazil nut is the richest food source of selenium.
Ways to add Brazil nuts to your plate:
- Chopped. Raw brazil nuts can be chopped and tossed in a salad, oatmeal and/or trail mix
- Grated. Brazil nuts can be finely grated to resemble the appearance and taste of parmesan cheese as a vegan alternative.
- Roasted. Brazil nuts can be roasted at 350 degrees for 5 minutes and enjoyed whole.
- Selenium-rich Recipes: Roasted Broccoli and Brazil Nut Pesto, Vegan Parmesan
Vitamin A plays an important role in immune health by keeping our skin and tissues healthy. Healthy skin provides a strong barrier to fight off infections that could potentially compromise our immune system.
Vitamin A can be found in both animal and plant foods. The best animal sources of vitamin A include liver, fish and dairy products. The top plant sources of vitamin A include leafy green vegetables, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe and mangos.
Ways to add vitamin A to your plate:
- Dark green or orange produce. Fruits & vegetables with a high vitamin A content can be easily selected by looking at the color. Dark green vegetables and orange produce have higher amounts of beta-carotene, which is the pigment that converts to vitamin A.
- Smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to blend a variety of fruits for a sweet flavor while sneaking in a handful of leafy green vegetables! Try this tasty Super Green Smoothie!
- Vitamin A-rich Recipes: Roasted Sweet Potato and Beet Salad, Apple Pumpkin Spice Smoothie, Sweet Kale and Fish Tacos
Other Factors Influencing Your Immune System
- Sleep. Check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC) recommendations for the amount of sleep each night based on age groups.
- Hydration. Like nutrition, hydration allows our body to function properly. Did you know that fruits & vegetables have a high water content? Eating produce daily is a great way to meet hydration recommendations.
- Hand washing. Proper hand washing is necessary to prevent the spread of germs. The Center for Disease Control and Prevent has additional resources for your family.
Have additional questions regarding the nutrition and immune health? Comment below!
Disclaimer: The health information shared by The Produce Moms is meant for education to inspire you and your family to eat more produce. Before making any lifestyle or diet changes, consult your physician.