A Healthy Immune System through Diet
Our immune systems are vital for keeping us healthy, but does our diet have anything to do with keeping our immune system strong? While the science is still out on whether or not eating certain foods are linked to keeping our immune systems strong, what we eat is still a very important part of a healthy lifestyle.
Just like refraining from smoking, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and drinking alcohol in moderation are all important for keeping us healthy, a diet full of fruits and vegetables is key for our bodies functioning the best they can. Certain nutrients have been shown to affect how our bodies stave off infections and illnesses. While many of these claims are still in the process of being proven, the following vitamins and nutrients are important in keeping our bodies functioning happily.
Vitamin A: Known for its work as an antioxidant, vitamin A is important for healthy bones, the maintenance of vital organs, and keeping our vision strong. People who are deficient in vitamin A have been shown to be more susceptible to infections,1 proving that vitamin A is an important part of keeping our immune systems functioning properly.
Vitamin A can be found in carrots, swiss chard, kale, papaya, grapefruit (red or pink varieties), and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin B6: Commonly found in animal organ meats and fish, vitamin B6 is an important nutrient for metabolizing the foods we eat as well as the proper function of many of our body systems.
Other sources of vitamin B6 are starchy vegetables (such as potatoes), and non-citrus fruits.
Vitamin C: Long touted as a key to a healthy immune system, vitamin C is often the star of many “immune boosting” supplements. While the science community is still proving its link to immune health, vitamin C is important for helping the body heal and it helps our bodies block damage caused by environmental pollution.
Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruits, dark berries (such as strawberries, blueberries, and cranberries), mangos, and certain melons (watermelon and cantaloupe).
Vitamin D: Our favorite sunny vitamin is good for more than just boosting our mood, it is also essential for the absorption of calcium (leading to strong bones and teeth). Recent evidence has even shown that people who have low levels of vitamin D have an increased risk of type 1 diabetes and some cancers.2
Vitamin D is not naturally occurring in many foods, but it can be found in small amounts in fatty fish and some cheeses. The best source of vitamin D is through sun exposure, just 10 minutes is enough to get a healthy amount of vitamin D.
Vitamin E: Known for its antioxidant properties, vitamin E helps protect our cells from damage but the research is still inconclusive as to whether it helps protect our bodies from diseases such as diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease. It has, however, been shown to help the antibody response that happens in our bodies after certain vaccines.1
Vitamin E can be found in wheat germ oil, nuts, and seeds.
Folic Acid: A B vitamin, folic acid is the synthetic form of folate which is an essential nutrient for our bodies and one that we cannot produce on our own. Folate is needed in our bodies to produce cells and maintain their functions.
Folic acid can be found in leafy greens, as well as many enriched foods such as cereal, bread, and pasta.
Selenium: Another essential nutrient that our bodies cannot produce, selenium is part of muscle function and how our immune system responds to vaccines. Selenium has also been linked to a lower risk of certain types of cancer.3
Selenium is found in seafood such as tuna and salmon, mushrooms, sunflower seeds, and eggs.
Zinc: An essential trace nutrient (our bodies only need a trace amount), zinc is important for immune function, thyroid function, and healing.
The best food sources of zinc are dairy, nuts, meat, legumes, whole grains, and meat.
While the science is still out on some of these vitamins and nutrients and whether they are a vital part of the immune function, they are all important for our proper (and healthy) body functions. Some of these nutrients can have negative health implications if they are taken in large doses, so if you are thinking of adding supplements to your diet it is best to consult your physician prior to making any changes to your diets.
1. Harvard Medical School. “How to boost your immune system.” Harvard Health Publications. Harvard University. Web.
2. Chang, Louise. “Vitamin D: Vital Role in your Health.” WebMD. WebMD. Web.
3. Cox, Lauren. “What are selenium supplements?” Live Science. Purch, 21 Feb. 2014. Web.