The immune system is a complex network of organs, cells, chemicals, and proteins that help the human body fight infection. Making sure this network runs smoothly ensures our good health. Eating the right foods with the right balance of nutrients can improve and protect our body from sickness.
How Do Vitamins Support Good Health?
We hear a lot regarding the benefits of certain vitamins and how they can improve and enhance our health when incorporated into our diet. But what is a vitamin and how does it work within our bodies?
Vitamins are naturally occurring substances in the food we enjoy everyday. They’re essential nutrients that our body needs, but can’t create itself. Maintaining a strong immune system requires taking in a nutrient-rich diet composed of a balance of fruits, veggies, nuts, and proteins.
While vitamins have an important role in how our whole body operates, some vitamins specifically boost the immune system. Choosing foods that provide the essential nutrients we need to invigorate our natural defenses is a great first step in ensuring a strong immune system.
Read on for information about foods rich in vitamins that support good immune health.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” We’ve heard this hundreds of times, and most parents introduce their kids to fruits like apples and oranges as a crucial component of maintaining a vitamin-rich diet from an early age.
Vitamin C is a key component to protecting our immune system. It’s a powerful antioxidant common in many fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C also helps to preserve the respiratory system and lower high blood pressure. Though it might not cure all the symptoms of common cold, eating foods rich in this vitamin can shorten the time, and less the impact, of sickness in the body.
Vitamin C’s ability to improve many aspects of our inner functions make it essential to our diets. It helps produce collagen for healthy skin and hair and lowers the risk of particular cancers. There are many foods that carry a potent amount of this rewarding nutrient.
Fruits highest in vitamin C:
- Oranges (and other citrus fruit)
Veggies highest in Vitamin C:
- Brussel sprouts
- Kale (or any dark leafy green)
- Snow peas
Though we don’t think of vitamin B6 as a go-to cure-all like vitamin C, its benefits are numerous. It’s true that B6 is a mighty agent in strengthening our immune system, but this vitamin also has positive impacts on brain development, fights anemia, and vitalizes the nervous system.
B6 is a fundamental ingredient in many familiar foods, so adding it to your diet is sure to be easy. Some of the best sources of B6 include:
- Sweet potatoes
Maintaining healthy eyes and cells start with a diet rich in vitamin A. This nutrient also has infection-fighting power and helps sustain our vital organs.
A nutrient of multiple benefits, vitamin A is common in many orange-colored fruits and veggies. This specific hue is a great indicator of beta carotene (the chemical that the body converts to vitamin A), but many other foods have it as well. These foods are:
- Sweet potato
- Winter squash
Colloquially known as the sunshine vitamin, this micronutrient does more than improve our immunity. It is a pivotal element that keeps our bones and muscles strong and active.
When we’re outside soaking in the sun, the rays shining on us convert to vitamin D from the cholesterol on our skin. The ultraviolet B rays transform the cholesterol, giving us the nutrients our body needs.
There are risks to too much sun exposure, despite its ability to create vitamin D, however. Though sunlight and its UVB rays allow us to synthesize the nutrient, increased intake can have a negative effect on our skin. Striking a healthy balance as we source vitamin D is a safe bet for improving our overall health.
A handful of foods include an exemplary amount of this vitamin. Eating fatty fish, like tuna and mackerel, decreases our susceptibility to illness and keeps us healthy. Foods rich in vitamin D include:
If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there are a few options for vitamin D. Mushrooms have the largest amount of vitamin D of any plant-based food. Certain cereals and oatmeals are fortified to include this vitamin as well.
An antioxidant like vitamin C, vitamin E protects cells from decay and defends the body from disease. A deficiency in vitamin E can lead to detrimental effects on the immune system. Low levels of this nutrient can cause muscle weakness, movement impairment, and vision loss.
Vitamin E’s ability to fight cancer and heart disease are astounding! Foods that are full of this nutrient include:
- Sunflower seeds
- Beet greens
- Collard greens
Vitamin B9, also known as folic acid, is a nutrient with extraordinary benefits to our body. B9 is instrumental in aiding and repairing our cells. Keeping these cells, and our DNA, in working condition lets our immune system thrive.
You might have seen the name folic acid pop up on food packaging or a list of ingredients. Folic acid is simply the synthetic form of vitamin B9, but the terms are often used interchangeably.
Green vegetables are usually a good indication of B9. Some specific foods that have this vitamin are:
- Brussel sprouts
- Leafy greens
Looking for other foods rich in vitamin B9? Try searching for enriched pastas and grains, which often have a higher concentration of folates.
Vitamins are crucial for empowering our immune system, but minerals are just as important.
Unlike vitamins, minerals are inorganic elements found in soil and water that are later extracted by plants and eaten by animals. Calcium is a common one that is imperative for our body’s longevity, but other minerals are equally needed for keeping our bodies healthy.
Zinc is a mineral that shows up consistently in our diet. We don’t store it in our bodies, so it’s imperative to eat foods containing zinc everyday.
This mineral is included in many cold remedies because of its ability to strengthen our immunity and increase cellular metabolism. It’s powerful enough to stop viruses and bacteria from overrunning our body. Foods that are high in this essential zinc include:
- Red meat
- Hemp seeds
Many of us have heard the dangers of having too little iron in our diet. This mineral ensures oxygen is carried from cell to cell, preventing anemia and fatigue. Without iron, our body can’t oxygenate the blood cells that need it most. Cells deficient in oxygen leave our immune system unprotected.
Add this vitamin to your meals to keep your momentum up and preserve your immunity. If you’re in need of an extra dose, here are some foods that are rich in iron:
- Red meat
- Dark chocolate
A mineral with remarkable strength, selenium can lower your risk of certain cancers and illnesses. It can minimize stress, halt mental decline, and boost your immune responses.
Endless benefits can be attributed to the incorporation of selenium. It’s responsible for balancing oxygen molecules which lowers inflammation in the body. Having speedy immune responses is also attributed to this mineral. Foods with a good amount of selenium include:
- Brazil nuts
- Brown rice
- Shiitake mushrooms
A fruit and veggie-filled diet rich in vitamins and minerals is key to supporting and building a strong immune system. If you’re having trouble adding vitamins and minerals to your diet, taking a vitamin supplement is a great alternative. Supplements are particularly helpful for those with restricted diets or specific health needs.
That said, even with supplements, our efforts to get our share of your vitamins can still be less than stellar some weeks. If you feel your diet is lacking, or just need a straight up, vitamin-filled immunity pick-me-up, consider therapies like booster shots and IV drips.
Booster shots containing vitamins like C and B12 are a quick and easy way to get vitamins and minerals directly into your bloodstream. Lume Wellness knows the importance of a wellness boost, and offers a range of effective therapies for those looking to ensure great health.