Maintaining a healthy, strong immune system is more important than ever. Did you know what you eat (or don't eat) can significantly affect your body’s ability to fight off infections and diseases? So what makes immunity boosting foods, well, immunity boosting? These essential vitamins and minerals can easily be obtained from food, a far superior alternative to pills.
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While supplements are certainly trending in the wellness space, the truth is they were originally created because people stopped getting essential nutrients as they moved away from whole foods and toward processed ones. A well rounded whole food plant based diet, on the other hand, provides all the nutrients you need (except for potentially B-12, a bacteria found in the soil and it's in the intestinal lining of animals).
Maintaining a healthy immune system can be easily achieved by eating a variety of fruit and vegetables. Which immunity boosting foods are best? You want to stock up on these essential vitamins and minerals.
1. Vitamin A
Think orange! Fruits and vegetables with an orange hue, such as carrots, squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes, are high in carotenoids, compounds that your body uses as building blocks of Vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential to the development of the immune system, and its antioxidant effects strengthen the anti-inflammatory response of your body during infections.
2. Vitamin B-complex
B vitamins help create blood cells and give you energy. B vitamin insufficiency is not common, but it can have severe consequences, including fatigue, and nausea. You can top up your body with B vitamins by consuming leafy greens, potatoes, beets, avocados, nuts and seeds, among others.
3. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a popular vitamin; people know that it is connected to a healthy immune system. It is a powerful antioxidant, naturally found in fruit and vegetables like oranges, broccoli, and berries. In fact, not a lot of people know that, but strawberries have more Vitamin C than citrus fruits!
4. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is essential for a healthy immune system and strong bones. Deficiency is associated with autoimmune disorders. Also known as the Sun Vitamin, it can be accumulated in the body by a short exposure to the sun, preferably between 10 am to 2 pm. While some mushrooms grown outside contain Vitamin D, Admittedly, making sure that you get enough Vitamin D with a plant-based diet now that we spend so much time indoors can be tricky, and this is the reason why so many plant-based products are now fortified with it.
When we talk about vitamin D, we're talking about D3, which is something our bodies synthesize when exposed to sunlight. Other animals, and even mushrooms do the same, so D3 can be found in both meat and outdoor grown mushrooms.
You can eat fortified cereals and plant-based milks and try to enjoy them sitting outside on a warm, sunny day.
5. Vitamin E
Similar to Vitamin C, Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is found in nuts and seeds such as hazelnuts, almonds, and peanuts, sunflower seeds, and vegetables like broccoli or spinach. In addition to its vital role in the healthy function of your immune system, Vitamin E also has benefits for your skin and protects your body from free radical damage.
Folate is found in dark leafy green vegetables and legumes. It is essential during pregnancy as it lowers the risk of birth defects, but it is also vital for a healthy immune system. While popular, especially during pregnancy, be weary of folic acid supplements as they have been linked to elevated cancer risk.
Iron is vital for carrying oxygen to your blood cells, directly impacting energy levels. There are two types of iron: heme, which is found in animal products, and non-heme, which is found in plants. Even though heme iron is more readily absorbed, it is also correlated with a number of conditions, including coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and cancer among others. Plants can offer all the iron you need, and you can get it by consuming beans, lentils, tofu, chickpeas, and nuts and seeds.
Zinc is a mineral known to control inflammation in the body and help digestion. It is involved in the production of many important enzymes in the body and can be found in whole grains, nuts and seeds, and legumes. By combining your legumes with onions or garlic you also maximize zinc absorption in your body.
Selenium is a trace element, key for the proper function of your immune system (and healthy skin and hair!). The best source of selenium is brazil nuts, as one nut is enough to provide you with the daily recommended intake. Be careful not to overindulge in brazil nuts, however, as it can lead to selenium toxicity, resulting in hair loss and organ failure. Four brazil nuts per month are the perfect amount to strengthen your immune system and thyroid function!
- Eating an abundant, healthy diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, can give your body everything it needs to maintain and boost its immunity.
- Consuming vitamins and minerals in their natural food is superior to pills.
- Make sure to have blood tests regularly to check your levels of vitamins and minerals in your body.
Rafaela Michailidou is a Vegan Lifestyle Coach, and a freelance health and wellness content writer, with a Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies.