Best Nutritional Practices for a Strong Immune System
By Pierce Adams, CSCS, BreakThrough Physical Therapy
A Look at Viruses & Immunity
As we all brace ourselves for the true impact of the coronavirus, we need to make sure we do everything possible to keep ourselves healthy and germ-free. In the most fundamental sense, the pathogen is anything that can produce disease, and can also be referred to as a germ. Pathogens come in several different forms, such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi, and can be transmitted in several different ways, such as direct contact with something or someone that is infected, breathing it in through the air, and coming into contact with the infected bodily fluids.
Outside of washing your hands 100 times each day and wiping down everything that you can, another great way to increase your odds of staying virus-free (anytime), is to build a stronger immune system with a balanced whole food diet. Usually, when we think about making a change to our diet, it’s because we want to improve our body composition, or we’re looking to build more muscle as we look to add more lean muscle mass. While those goals are great, we shouldn’t only think about our vanity when it comes to eating a balanced diet. I agree, we should always strive to look and feel the best we can and a lot of times, we get confirmation of this when we look in the mirror, but one of the most important reasons to eat a balanced whole food diet is to make sure you’re getting all of the appropriate micronutrients that are vital to your immune health.
Important Foods that Boost Immune Health
Red Bell Peppers
For people trying to avoid the sugar in fruit, red bell peppers can be an excellent alternative source of vitamin C. Stir-frying or roasting both preserve the nutrient content of red bell peppers, better than steaming or boiling. Eat your veggies!
Unsalted almonds are one of the best foods to have around your house or office for a quick, vitamin rich, immune-boosting snack. Loaded with vitamin E, protein and healthy fat, almonds are a great option for when you’re on the go!
Dark Leafy Greens
Dark, leafy greens are good sources of beta carotene, which is associated with reducing inflammation and increasing disease-fighting cells, which in turn, helps support your immunity. Since beta carotene converts to the fat-soluble vitamin A, it’s a great idea to pair dark, leafy greens with a healthy fat, like nuts, for best absorption.
When we think of boosting our immune system, we forget about the power of animal protein. There are many opinions surrounding animal protein and whether it’s good or bad for you. Animal protein is rich in vitamin B12 and vitamin B6, which are key vitamins to the formation of red and white blood cells and strengthening your immune system. There are also two very powerful minerals found in animal protein that will provide immune support—zinc and iron. These proteins will also provide the amino acids needed to support neurotransmitters that keep your stress and anxiety levels low. Should you eat it? Yes, but you only need a couple ounces per day to see some of the positive benefits!
Most people turn straight to vitamin C after they start feeling like they’re coming down with something. It’s my opinion that vitamin C is one of the best ways to improve immune function because of its ability to produce white blood cells, which are key players in fighting off illnesses. One thing to also think about with vitamin C is that your body doesn’t produce or store it, so adding a daily dose is necessary. Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. Since there is a variety of foods to choose from that offer this powerful micronutrient, it’s easy to add a squeeze of it to any meal. If you wait until you start feeling sick, it might be a little too late. Start incorporating vitamin C into your diet today!
Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber and many other antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate. The key to keeping its power intact is to cook it as little as possible. Some evidence has shown that steaming it is the best way to keep more nutrients in the food.
Blueberries contain a type of flavonoid called anthocyanin, which has antioxidant properties that can help boost a person’s immune system. Some research has shown that flavonoids play an essential role in the respiratory tract’s immune defense system. Researchers have found that people who ate foods rich in flavonoids were less likely to get an upper respiratory tract infection, or common cold, than those who did not.
Garlic contains compounds that naturally act to destroy bacteria and infection, which helps to support your immune system. Consuming garlic may help reduce the risk of becoming sick and staying ill. Outside of keeping your immune system strong, garlic is a great way to spice up a dish. Try adding it to your steamed veggies or roasted chicken to make it savory.
Always remember that when you eat a whole food diet, the variety of foods you eat will be very important. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off the flu or other infections, even if you eat it constantly. Pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake so you don’t get too much of a single vitamin and too little of others. Eating a balanced diet that consists of adequate protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals will help support your body’s immune system.
Pierce Adams is a certified personal trainer at BreakThrough Physical Therapy. To connect with Pierce, call 919-388-0111 or email him at [email protected].