With everything going on in the world, there’s a renewed sense of interest and importance in protecting immune health.
And while there is no one food or supplement that can stop an illness in its tracks, certain foods and nutrients can help support the proper functioning of your immune system, which helps your body fend off germs.
Many foods may claim to be the golden ticket to good health, but which are actually helpful for supporting immune health? Our Kroger Health dietitians weighed on this important topic — here are our top 5 recommended types of foods for immune health.
Eating citrus fruits for better health seems like a no brainer – but it’s not just oranges that provide immune-supporting vitamin C. Fill your plate with grapefruit, lemons and limes, too! These juicy, tangy and versatile fruits help boost your immune system by supporting the body’s normal production of white blood cells.*
Foods with beta-carotene
Did you know that the compound that’s responsible for the rich orange color of carrots and the deep red in certain bell peppers can help immune health? Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A; not only is it an antioxidant, but it may play a role in proper immune function!* Good sources of beta-carotene include carrots and red bell peppers (of course), as well as spinach, kale and winter squashes.
Related reading: What is Vitamin A?
Lean protein sources such as poultry and fish are high in protein and zinc, two nutrients that are important to immune health. Protein is an essential nutrient to help your body build and repair; not getting an adequate amount may interfere with your body’s production of white blood cells, which are involved in protecting your body against infectious diseases and foreign invaders. One of the many benefits of zinc is its support for proper immune function; it’s also essential for wound healing.*
Green, black, and white teas are all actually made from the same plant, and each is a good source of polyphenols, a certain type of antioxidant which stimulates the activity of cells associated with combating viruses.* Green tea and black tea, with their higher caffeine content, are the perfect way to kick start a healthy day.
Many of your immune system’s cells actually reside in your digestive tract – so it should come as no surprise that a healthy gut can support proper immune function. Consuming good bacteria called probiotics help decrease the bad bacteria and keep your gut functioning at its highest capacity. Look for probiotic-rich foods such as yogurt, kefir and kombucha (or make your own kombucha!) to stimulate normal immune cell production and improve your overall gut health. Probiotic supplements are also available if your diet is lacking these foods.*
Related reading: Best Prebiotic Foods for Gut Health
Good habits for immune health
In addition to a healthy, balanced diet, other lifestyle factors and habits can also support immune health. Here are a few to consider:
- Getting enough sleep: Make sure you are getting a good night of sleep. Most adults need 7-9 high quality hours of sleep to be fully rested. Some ways to improve sleep quality include limiting screen time for an hour before bed, implementing a bedtime routine, and sticking to a consistent bedtime.
- Staying active: For most healthy adults you should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. Increasing activity can also help accelerate the circulation of white blood cells.
- Washing your hands: This seems like a no brainer (especially right now), but it must be said — washing hands often is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of germs and avoid getting sick. Carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer for situations where soap and water are not available. When soap and water are available, scrub for at least 20 seconds to remove germs.
- Not smoking: Smoking is a risk factor for many diseases; people who are regularly exposed to cigarette smoke are more likely to experience symptoms of the cold and flu. Smoking can also affect the immune system and weaken its ability to fight infections.
- Getting a flu shot: While the flu vaccine cannot guarantee that you will not contract the flu, it can reduce the severity of symptoms if you are exposed and lower the risk of hospitalization due to the flu.
Immune-Supporting Citrus Salad
Try this colorful salad at home for a yummy (and seasonal) boost of vitamin C. Consider serving with a lean protein source to increase your protein and zinc consumption for the day!
Immune-Supporting Citrus Salad
- ½ red onion, sliced
- 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
- 2 blood oranges, peeled, pithed and sliced into rounds
- 2 navel oranges, peeled, pithed and sliced into rounds
- 3 Tbsp. mint leaves, chopped
- 3 cups baby arugula
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Optional toppings: goat cheese, sliced almonds
Place orange rounds on large platter, or plate individually.
Sprinkle mint leaves and red onion over citrus.
Toss arugula in olive oil and apple cider vinegar; add salt and pepper to taste.
Add arugula to salad and garnish with goat cheese and almonds as desired.
Editor’s note: Hungry for more? Read about 3 additional immune-boosting foods!