We all know it’s important to get a variety of micronutrients in our diet, yet when it comes to prioritizing for our immune systems, how do we know where to start? Watch or read below for you need to know to keep yours in tip top shape!
About the immune system
Your immune system functions to protect your body against infection and disease and consists of two parts: the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system is the body’s first line of defense and stops diseases from entering the body via skin, mucous secretions of the respiratory tract and microflora of the gastrointestinal tract. The adaptive immune system acts a second line of defense, and involves antigen-specific responses and immunological memory of pathogenic organisms.
10 micronutrients for a healthy immune system
What you eat affects both of these systems, and an inadequate intake of selected micronutrients can lead to immune deficiency. We’ve put together a list of our top tips to help you prevent this deficiency – check them out below!
1) Vitamin A, C and E
Vitamin A, C, and E help to maintain the structure and function of the mucus cells lining the respiratory and digestive tract, acting as a barrier against infections. Vitamin A, C and E can be found in colorful fruits and vegetables especially those with purple, blue, red, orange and yellow hues.
TIP: Aim for 3-4 servings of fruit and 4-5 servings of vegetables per day
2) Vitamin D
Vitamin D works with T cells, the body’s natural killer cells, to fight off infection and disease. There are only a few food sources of vitamin D such as milk, fortified rice or soy beverage, and canned tuna and salmon, so it can be very difficult to get enough vitamin D through diet alone.
TIP: Take a vitamin D supplement daily in the form of pills or drops; speak with your doctor or dietitian to determine the proper dosage!
This mineral is critical for the normal development and functioning of immune cells. Zinc is not stored in the body, therefore regular intake is important for maintaining the integrity of the immune system. The best sources of zinc are seafood, meat, seeds, dairy products, and cooked dried beans, peas and lentils.
Selenium is an antioxidant that helps protect the body. Selenium is also vital in the production of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, which helps detoxify the body. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, walnuts, tuna, beef, poultry, fortified breads and other grain products.
TIP: Choose Brazil nuts or walnuts as an afternoon snack. Pair nuts with a fruit for an energy boosting combination
Copper is a critical component of the immune system, but the exact mechanism in which copper works is not yet known. Recent scientific studies have shown that copper deficiency results in an increased susceptibility to infection. Copper is found in seafood, nuts, seeds, wheat bran cereals, and whole grains.
TIP: Choose whole grains such as “Silver Hills” sprouted whole grain breads instead of whole wheat or multigrain breads
6) B Vitamins
B vitamins include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, biotin and pantothenic acid. The B vitamins work collectively and individually in every cell to perform many different jobs. Deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to impaired immune response. B vitamins are found in a variety of different foods ranging from whole grains, dairy products, green leafy vegetables, meats and alternatives.
TIP: Ensure you eat a well balance diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Meet with your dietitian to have your diet reviewed to ensure your diet is rich in B vitamins!
Probiotics are friendly, live organisms which can be ingested. It’s a good idea to include probiotics in your diet to boost the good micro-organisms in your gut, improve digestion, vitamin absorption and immunity. Look for yogurts with added probiotics and eat other fermented, probiotic rich foods, such as sauerkraut, kefir, and miso. It is especially important to consume probiotics after a round of antibiotics. Speak with your Dietitian to determine the right type of probiotic for you.
TIP: Add kefir to your breakfast cereal or smoothie instead of milk, or try this recipe for kefir overnight oats!
Sufficient iron is critical to healthy immune functions, and a deficiency has been shown to impair the immune system. Iron-rich foods include meat, fish, poultry, beans, lentils, peas, enriched whole grains, nuts, some fruit and vegetables.
TIP: Try adding hemp hearts to your breakfast smoothie or oatmeal for an iron rich delicious crunch.
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential in reducing inflammation and having a healthy immune system. Find these healthy fats in walnuts, chia, hemp and flax seeds, canola oil, and fatty fish.
TIP: Aim for 2 servings of fatty fish per week… fish Friday anyone? Try these simple salmon patties!
Foods have many different nutrients in them and the compounds work simultaneously together. Supplements do not have the same mix and can often be found in toxic dosages. Chances are if you eat a balanced and varied diet you will be able to get what you need from your diet.
TIP: To be sure that you are on track, book an appointment with your dietitian!
Are you interested in learning more about eating for a healthy lifestyle? Check out Copeman’s definitive guide to Healthy Eating Habits