A strong immune system relies on a healthy diet to function properly. Here are some nutrition tips to help you keep your immune system in top shape.
If we were to stop and consider just how hard our immune system works to keep us continuously protected, it's incredible! It's a complex system that never stops working to protect and defend us. How well our immune system works for us depends on the quality of the food fuel, aka good nutrition, in order to work to its fullest potential.
We tend to focus on immunity more during the cold season. It seems like cooler weather and illness go hand-in-hand. One of the reasons is that when the weather turns chilly, we spend more time indoors-which leads to us being in contact with more people and less air circulating. This increases germ exposure, which can make us sick.
That being said, even when we aren't directly focusing on it, our immune system continues to function throughout the year. Our built-in defense system is running 24/7. Fighting for us constantly allows our body to identify anything foreign, from a virus to bacteria to a parasite, to find it out and destroy it before it can affect us.
All this effort requires a lot of resources and depends on the proper nutrients and a healthy lifestyle to keep our defenses up!
Proper Nutrition and Immunity
Our immune system has ‘special forces’ in the form of white blood cells. These cells produce specialized proteins called antibodies that find and destroy invading viruses and bacteria. Since antibodies are proteins, our bodies need adequate protein in our diet to ensure that we're able to manufacture the antibodies it needs. Healthy protein-rich foods, like fish, poultry, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, and high-quality supplements, provide the building blocks that our body needs to make these specialized proteins.
Fruits and vegetables are also key players in immune system health, because they’re great sources of the vitamins A and C, as well as phytonutrients (naturally occuring compounds produced by plants). Vitamin C encourages the body to produce antibodies, and vitamin A supports the health of your skin and tissues of your digestive tract and respiratory system. All of these act as the first lines of defense against foreign invaders. Many of the phytonutrients found in fruits and veggies act as antioxidants, which can help to reduce oxidative stress on the body that may weaken your body’s ability to fight of illness.
Keeping our digestive system healthy is also important in supporting immune function. The digestive tract is home to trillions of bacteria that have numerous functions in promoting health. Some strains of bacteria help you digest the fiber in your foods, others consume intestinal gas, while others produce vitamins like vitamin K and vitamin B12.
When our system is populated with these “good” bacteria, they also serve to crowd out the potentially harmful bacteria that might enter your digestive tract. Some of the best sources of these friendly bacteria are cultured dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, in addition to quality probiotic supplements. As you may know, whenever you’re trying something new, make sure to check with your doctor or other professional about the amount to take that’s right for you.
Some people suffer medical conditions that affect the operation of their immune systems. Diet alone won’t improve the function of a compromised immune system. For those of us that are blessed with health and the ability to maintain it, eating well can help keep your immune system healthy and strong. To help your body in the fight against foreign invaders, your internal ‘army’ needs the best nutrition possible. So call in the troops to support your immunity!