Protein is known for its role in muscle building and keeping you feeling satisfied between meals, but it also plays a crucial role in the healing of wounds, recovery, and the construction of cells, according to Simon. Additionally, the amino acids that make up protein help to maintain the functioning of the immune system by contributing to the production of immune cells.
In addition to its other benefits, many protein sources are packed with a variety of important vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients, making them an especially good choice for boosting the immune system, according to Simon. For the best results, she advises choosing whole or fresh foods as sources of protein. When seeking high-protein snacks on the go, opt for options that are as natural as possible and avoid those with added additives and artificial colors. To ensure that you’re making healthy choices, it’s a good idea to be wary of ingredients that you don’t recognize or understand. Some examples of whole foods that are high in protein include eggs, chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, and plain Greek yogurt.
2. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is well-known for its role in supporting immune function and helping to reduce the duration of a cold, but it has many other important functions as well.
For example, vitamin C plays a vital role in wound healing, which is important for maintaining the integrity of the skin barrier and supporting the immune system. Additionally, vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation in the body, potentially lowering the risk of developing certain diseases and illness.
While orange juice is a good source of vitamin C, there are other food options that can also provide this important nutrient. According to Simon, some examples of foods that are rich in vitamin C include tomatoes, potatoes, cantaloupe, and red bell peppers.
3. Vitamin D
According to Simon, vitamin D can support immune function by reducing inflammation in the body and decreasing the risk of infection.
Interestingly, the best source of vitamin D is not food, but rather sunlight. This fat-soluble vitamin can be stored in the body’s fatty tissue and liver, and it is recommended to get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure per day in order to maintain healthy levels, according to Harvard Health.
If you don’t have access to regular sun exposure, it can be important to get your vitamin D through food. Simon suggests supplementing with food in order to ensure that you are getting enough of this essential nutrient, even if you don’t necessarily feel any deficiencies.
Some good sources of vitamin D include salmon, orange juice fortified with vitamin D, fortified cereal, dairy or plant milk fortified with vitamin D, tuna, sardines, and egg yolks.
4. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin that has strong antioxidant properties and supports the production of immune cells. According to Simon, it is especially important for supporting the growth of T-cells, which are white blood cells that play a key role in immune function.
T-cells are responsible for defending the body against pathogens, and vitamin E helps to support the growth of these defense cells.
Add these vitamin E foods to your plate to help boost immune health.
- Sunflower seeds
- Red bell peppers
Think of zinc as an immunity superstar. Not only does it play a major role in wound healing, but it also aids in the development of immunity cells by impacting the growth of T-cells, says Simon. And while some studies show that zinc can help shorten the length of a common cold, there’s no need to overdo your zinc intake. “Most people are able to maintain their zinc levels within a healthy range by eating a normal, balanced diet,” says Simon.
Iron is important not only for maintaining energy levels, but also for supporting the development of immune cells so that they can reach full maturity and carry out their functions effectively, according to Simon.
Hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the body, is also heavily reliant on iron. If you experience significant blood loss, your iron levels may drop. For this reason, it is particularly important for women who menstruate to consume iron-rich foods and maintain their iron levels.
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation in the body, and it has been linked to numerous health benefits such as promoting heart health, optimizing immune function, and potentially preventing cancer. While a varied diet typically provides sufficient selenium, low levels of this nutrient have been shown to impair immune function.
To increase your selenium intake, consider incorporating some of the following foods into your diet: Brazil nuts (just one per day can help you meet your daily requirement, according to Simon), salmon, lean beef, chicken, turkey, tuna, shrimp, and mushrooms.
Copper plays a vital role in reducing inflammation in the body by neutralizing free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can cause cell damage and illness, according to Simon. Copper has antimicrobial properties that can help to reduce the presence of free radicals and calm inflammation.
It is important to maintain healthy copper levels, but it is also necessary to be mindful of getting the right amount. Too little copper can suppress immune function, while too much copper can be harmful and even lead to cell death. However, copper toxicity is rare, and it is generally sufficient to focus on eating a varied diet in order to ensure that you are getting enough of this essential nutrient.
Some foods that are high in copper include unsweetened baker’s chocolate, nuts, sunflower seeds, potatoes (with the skin), shiitake mushrooms, and oysters.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in the digestive system and have been shown to support immune health, according to Simon. These microorganisms can stimulate the production of natural antibodies in the body, promote the production of immune cells, and help to fight off infection.
Some research suggests that probiotics may be able to prevent respiratory tract infections such as the common cold or flu, and reduce the risk of urinary tract infections in women.
There are a number of foods that are high in probiotics and can be included in the diet to support immune health. Some examples of these foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, tempeh, yogurt (with live active cultures), and kefir.