Eating healthy food for a better immune system

Have you been coughing, sneezing or sniffling? Maybe you woke up with a scratchy throat. It seems that once we start getting sick, it’s then that we concern ourselves with how well our immune system is working. People often reach for an Emergen-C tablet, but if you’re already sick, that’s not going to help you.

Immunity needs to be worked on day after day, year after year. Improving immunity doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s the sum of many healthy habits over the course of a lifetime. In this article, we’ll lay out several steps on how to boost your immune system. We even have a bonus tip to make you feel a little better right now!

Give your immune system a good foundation so that it can do what it does best: Protect you! Here are 5 tips to start boosting your immune system. Don’t forget to read our bonus at the end of the list!

Step 1: Build a diet for better immunity.

This one is easier said than done, however, with easy guidelines, you can start making your diet more immune boosting. When it comes to immunity, your body can get help from a nutritious diet that is rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. These guidelines align with many healthy eating initiatives that you may already know:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent the release of pro-inflammatory mechanisms that your body produces during times of stress, disease or illness. You can get omega-3s from fatty fish (salmon, trout), healthy oils (olive, canola, grapeseed), nuts, and seeds. Another option is to take a multivitamin that contains omega-3.
  • Antioxidants also inhibit the release of harmful substances that can work against immunity. Luckily, we get antioxidants from many different foods. Plus, you don’t have to eat exotic superfoods that are only found in the rainforest. Antioxidants are present in foods you find in the average grocery store! Get an antioxidant boost from fruits (blueberries, cranberries), vegetables (green leafies), nuts, sweet potatoes, beans and dark chocolate to name a few (1)
  • A diet rich in vitamins and minerals will keep your immune system running at its best. However, you don’t need to reach for a bunch of supplements to get enough vitamins and minerals! Make your diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fibrous starches (potatoes with skin), beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, lowfat dairy, plant-based protein (soy, nut butter) and lean proteins (chicken, eggs). The list is endless!

Step 2: Get enough vitamin C every day.

Vitamin C is a nutrient that helps with wound healing both inside and outside of your body. Wound healing is important for keeping infectious agents out of the body. If an infection can’t get into your body, then it can’t make you sick!

A common practice is to “load up” on vitamin C once you are sick or before an important event (like a trip), just to cover your bases. The problem with this practice is that vitamin C is water soluble, which means the body will use what it needs in the moment and then excrete the excess. One review studied how vitamin C affected cold symptoms when it was given after cold symptoms began. However, it showed no effect on improvement of the cold. On the flip side, regular supplementation did have some benefit to cold duration (2). So, if you want future colds to be shorter, it’s important that you give your body enough vitamin C every day, rather than mega doses once in a while.

You can get vitamin C in the average multivitamin. However, try to get most of your nutrition from foods. Here’s a list of some foods that contain good amounts of vitamin C:

  • Citrus
  • Bell peppers
  • Cantaloupe
  • Papaya
  • Turnips
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Potatoes
  • Kiwi
  • Strawberries
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes
  • Kale

Step 3: Get some good bacteria.

Not all bacteria are bad! Probiotics and prebiotics help our bodies grow good gut bacteria that we need for a healthy immune system. Research shows that probiotics improve gut health, and good gut health is linked to improved immunity (3). Learn more about probiotics and prebiotics in our essential guide for improving gut health.

Step 4: Protect yourself from the outside world.

You may be familiar with hand washing initiatives in public bathrooms. Or, maybe you’ve seen people wear medical masks on airplanes. There are various protection levels someone can choose to follow, but here are some easy ways to better protect yourself from germs:

  • Wash your hands often, especially before eating and after you use the bathroom. To keep away-from-home germs out of your home, wash your hands when you come home.
  • In a public restroom, use a paper towel to touch the door handle upon exiting.
  • Keep hand sanitizer handy. Hand sanitizer is great, however it does not replace proper hand washing with soap and water. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer. I always keep this big hand sanitizer in my car.

Step 5: Make sure your food is handled properly.

We can get sick if our food is not cooked, served or stored properly. Improper food handling can occur in your own home and when you go out to eat. So, make sure you know how your food is prepared. Here are some tips:

  • Try to always eat from restaurants or food vendors that practice safe food handling practices. This is particularly important in countries that lack food handling legislation or access to clean water and sanitation
  • At home, always refrigerate within 2 hours. If you bring home a restaurant doggie bag, refrigerate it within 2 hours
  • Cook foods to the proper temperature so that you can kill bacteria. For more information about proper food temperature, learn about the Fight BAC campaign.
  • If you are traveling with food or bringing food to work, use this super convenient all-in-one insulated lunch box.

BONUS: Try these quick tips to feel better now!

Even though your immunity cannot be improved overnight, you may still want some tips on how to feel a little better right now. Read the chart below for common symptoms and their feel-better remedies:

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