How to boost your immune system by eating the right foods

There's no more crucial time to strengthen your immune system in any way you can.
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There are plenty of recommendations floating around about what to do about coronavirus: Wash your hands, disinfect high-traffic areas, stay away from crowds, watch out for symptoms etc.

But you can also help your body prepare in case you do come in contact with the virus, or if you just generally want to keep healthy.

The easiest way to do that? Making sure your immune system is in tip-top shape by using food to power it.

I reached out to Jesse Haas, a licensed functional nutritionist and the cofounder of Wellness Minneapolis, for some advice on what we should be eating to boost our immunity.

“Our immune system is influenced by many, many things,” she says. “Our nutrition is either going to support it or fight against it.”

Haas’ recommendation? Think prevention, not reaction. She says we should always want our bodies to be functioning at the highest level so it is important to think of these suggestions as a way of living, not just a reaction to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Here are some nutrition-focused tips Haas offered up to help boost your immune system.

Go Heavy On Plants

The more plants you eat, the more antioxidant rich, vitamin rich and mineral rich your diet will be — which is one of the quickest ways to appropriately support your body’s immune response. Haas stresses the importance of getting those nutrients into the diet in a regular way so that the body has what it needs in order to mount an appropriate attack. Think balance, not a sudden overdose of vitamins, she says.

Most Americans eat an adequate amount of fruits, Haas says. But the majority of us are failing when it comes to getting an adequate amount of vegetables in our diet. She recommends eating nine servings of vegetables every day — most than the USDA recommendation — and in order to do that, she says it is imperative to build all three meals around vegetables.

Drink that water

Most Americans don’t consume enough water, she says. But it plays a critical role in making sure your body functions properly. Simply put, dehydration weakens your immune system.

So is there a perfect equation to prevent dehydration? Every human body is different, she says. But for her clients, she recommends a simple equation — 50 percent of your body weight in fluid ounces, up to a 100 fluid ounces a day.

I always have a reusable water bottle on me that I fill up at every opportunity. It helps me easily drink water throughout the day and I rarely ever deal with dehydration.

Eat Anthocyanidins (Even If You Can’t Pronounce It)

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Anthocyanidins are a type of antioxidant. Antioxidants help protect your body and anthocyanidins take it to the next level. Think of them as bringing in the big guns. Research shows they play an essential role in protecting tissues, cells and vital organs — in addition to supporting your immune system.

Where can you find anthocyanidins? Think purple! Anthocyanidins are actually responsible for the purple color in your favorite fruits and vegetables. Blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, pomegranate, plums, red cabbage, cherries, cranberries — all are loaded with anthocyanidins and are a great nutrient-rich addition to your diet.

Watch your sugar intake

“When we eat refined, added sugars, our immune system is dampened for several hours after that,” she says. “So eating candies, cookies and sugary beverages is going to have a negative impact and lower our abilities to fight against any immune stressors like the flu or other viruses.”

This doesn’t apply to sugars found in fruits or starchy vegetables, Haas was quick to point out. But balance is important, even when it comes to foods you might consider healthy.

Seek out zinc

Some people tend to pop a zinc tablet when they feel a cold coming on. But adding foods that are rich into zinc into your diet is an incredible way to boost your immune system in a balanced way, Haas says.

Unfamiliar with zinc-rich foods? Think shellfish (low calorie options like oysters, mussels, shrimp), legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans which are also high in fiber) and red meat (great in moderation).

Embrace herbs & spices

Lots of spices and herbs are incredibly beneficial for the body’s immune system, she says. Think turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, garlic, cinnamon, rosemary, thyme, cardamom. There are so many options and you don’t need to be taking supplements to see the benefits — simply use them to make flavorful food.

Be kind to your gut

Eat foods that promote a healthy microbiome in your gut. Think fermented foods like raw sauerkraut, Kombucha and yogurt, Haas says. Fermented foods are loaded with probiotic bacteria that are great for your gut and your microbiome, making them a critical addition to your diet when concerned about illness.

Why? Having a health gut is critical in supporting a strong immune system — a large portion of your immune system is actually packed around your GI tract. 

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