Have you ever wondered how nutrition plays a role in your immune system? Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is one way to help prevent against bacterial, viral, and other infections. Now, let’s take a look under the nutrition microscope to see how micronutrients function in the world of your immune system.
Nutrition supports immunity through multiple mechanisms. All cells in the body require energy from food, and immune cells are no exception. One of the best ways to support your immune system is to eat enough. In order to make and support immune cells, your body needs energy, which comes from the food and drinks you put in your body. In addition to fueling immune cells, the different micronutrients offer support on many other levels:
- Vitamin C: works as an antioxidant, promotes growth and activity of immune cells.
- Food sources: spinach, kale, bell peppers, oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, papaya, kiwi, mango, tomatoes
- Vitamin E: works as an antioxidant
- Food sources: avocados, whole grains, nuts and seeds such as almonds, peanuts/peanut butter, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts
- Vitamin A: works as an antioxidant, helps produce white blood cells and regulates immune cell responses
- Food sources: carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, peppers, squash, leafy greens, spinach
- Vitamin D: provides structure for immune cells, promotes growth and activity of the immune cell
- Food sources: salmon, tuna, eggs, mushrooms, beef liver, yogurt, cheese, vitamin D fortified orange juice and milk
- Folate/Folic acid: produces antibodies and supports synthesis of immune cell DNA and protein
- Food sources: enriched pasta, bread, rice, legumes, beans, spinach, spinach, kale, arugula, asparagus, turnip greens, romaine lettuce, brussels sprouts, broccoli, beets, orange, grapefruit, lemon, lime, papaya, banana, avocado, peanuts, sunflower seeds, eggs, wheat germ
- Iron: promotes growth and activity of immune cells, carries oxygen to immune cells
- Food sources: red meat, chicken, canned light tuna, clams, oysters, turkey, beans, peas, lentils
- Selenium: promotes growth and activity of immune cells, lowers oxidative stress and inflammation
- Food sources: seafood, lean meat, poultry, cottage cheese, whole grains in bread and pastas, brown rice, barely, quinoa, rye, millet, brazil nuts
- Zinc: promotes growth and activity of immune cells
- Food sources: meats, poultry, tofu, chickpeas, shellfish, cashews
As Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” There is no medicine that can replace a healthy diet. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is key for supporting your immune system and preventing disease. It is important to emphasize adequacy and variety in your diet to ensure your immune system has all the nutrients it needs to stay strong.
This nutrition tip was provided by Jia Ning Koh, Dietetic Intern at Castle Rock Adventist Hospital to celebrate National Nutrition Month.
- Aranow, C. (2011, August). Vitamin D and the immune system. Journal of investigative medicine : the official publication of the American Federation for Clinical Research. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/
- AS;, S. A. H. P. (n.d.). Zinc and immune function: The biological basis of altered resistance to infection. The American journal of clinical nutrition. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9701160/#:~:text=It%20is%20clear%20that%20zinc,neutrophils%20and%20natural%20killer%20cells.
- Frederick Health. (2021, March 3). Foods that support a healthy immune system. Frederick Health. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.frederickhealth.org/news/2021/january/foods-that-support-a-healthy-immune-system/
- Humoral immunity. Humoral Immunity - an overview | ScienceDirect Topics. (n.d.). Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/humoral-immunity
- JD;, L. S. R. C. (n.d.). Interaction of vitamin C and iron. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6940487/
- Team, W. (2021, August 3). 8 vitamins for an immune system boost. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved March 3, 2022, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/eat-these-foods-to-boost-your-immune-system/