Our thought are focused on the coronavirus, and one of the things that we can do to help our body fight an illness is to boost our immune system. Our immune system functions throughout our body. It is composed of specialized cells that prevent or limit infection in our bodies. Immune cells recognize substances that enter our bodies and attempt to remove them if the substance appears to be harmful to us.
Consuming a healthy diet is one of the best strategies for having a healthy immune system. Research has shown some nutrients; including protein, and certain vitamins and minerals, have specific roles in immune health. If we lack any of these nutrients, our ability to fight infection can decrease.
Protein is found in every cell, tissue and organ in our bodies. When we don’t get enough protein, our bodies may produce less certain immune cells and increase our susceptibility to infections of the respiratory, gastrointestinal and urinary tract. Protein foods include chicken, beef, fish, pork, eggs, peanut butter, milk, beans, seeds and nuts. Adult women should get about 46 grams of protein per day. Men should get about 56 grams.
Vitamin A keeps skin and tissues of mouth, stomach, intestines and respiratory system healthy. These tissues serve as our first line of defense against infections. Good sources are carrots, apricots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, red bell peppers and eggs.
Vitamin C helps the formation of antibodies and the production of certain immune health. Food sources include citrus fruit, papaya, strawberries, kiwi, tomatoes, and foods such as cereals fortified with Vitamin C.
Vitamin E protects cell membranes in the body. For vitamin E you can eat sunflower seeds, almonds and oils such as sunflower and safflower oil.
Selenium deficiencies have been shown to decrease immune cells’ disease fighting power. It is a mineral found in the soil. You can get selenium for the animals and plants that we eat.
Vitamin D is important to fight off infection and disease. The best way to get vitamin D is to absorb it from the sun. Adults need 600 IU of Vitamin D each day. Good sources include milk, oily fish such as tuna, mushrooms, breads, orange juice and yogurt.
Vitamin B6 is important for immune cell growth. You can get it from tuna, turkey, beef, chicken, salmon, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds and bananas.
Iron deficiency has been associated with reduced immunity in human and animal studies. Our bodies absorb it better when it is paired with foods high in vitamin C. Food sources include: red meat, pork, poultry, beans, spinach, iron fortified breads, cereals and pastas.
Zinc deficiency can affect how certain immune cells function. Eat lean meat, poultry, seafood, milk, whole grain products, beans and nuts.
To have a healthy immune system, we need to focus on getting healthy overall. Here are a few lifestyle factors that can impact your immune system.
Exercise — Participate in regular physical activity. It allows your immune system to work properly.
Manage stress — Certain types of stress weaken the immune system and make it harder to fight infection.
Get enough sleep — Sleep deprivation can depress the immune system’s disease fighting power by reducing the production of T cells.
Limit alcohol — It is one substance that can suppress our immune system. If you drink, drink in moderation.
Take steps to fight infection — Wash hands often. Practice good food safety. Wash fruits and vegetables before eating. Thaw foods safely. Cook meat and seafood thoroughly and keep raw and cooked foods separate.
Source: North Dakota State University Extension Service
Kathy Smith is a Texas A&M AgriLife extension agent.