5 Tips to Maintain a Healthy Immune System
5 Immune System Boosting Tips
The best time to make changes towards a healthier lifestyle is before major illness or any other health issues arise. Making lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding the use of tobacco, avoiding the use of illicit drugs, increasing physical activity levels can help prevent disease. For individuals who already have risk factors for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, dementia, etc. there is a greater need for preventative care and measures to improve the negative health outcomes individuals may be predisposed to.
Preventative strategies such as intaking an appropriate caloric balance and increasing one’s physical activity level to maintain a healthy body weight. Those who have already developed some of these chronic conditions might look for strategies to prevent exasperating their current conditions and developing other chronic illnesses. It is not simply about eating a “well balanced “diet, it is about determining what an individual’s nutritional status is based on their intake of various foods. Many factors must be considered such as an individual’s stage of life, their current health state, and what conditions they might already be predisposed to. If a person consumes adequate amounts and types of nutrients needed to support and optimize their current health situation. If a person’s intake is excessive or inadequate amount of nutrient it would be considered a nutrient imbalance. Nutrient imbalances can contribute to a compromised immune system, poor wound healing, and an overall decreased level of wellness.
The immune system plays a vital role in protecting your body from harmful substances. When you are feeling well, your immune system is doing its job and when you are feeling unwell your body has encountered some kind of germs that you were not equipped to combat. Eating well, sleeping well, and getting enough exercise can allow for a healthy immune system.
Nutrients that contribute to a healthy immune system are Vitamin C, D, and E, folate/folic acid, iron, selenium, and zinc.
Vitamin C increases production of white blood cells, which help fight off various infections in the body. Examples of foods containing Vitamin C are citrus fruits (lemon, limes, grapefruit, oranges, mandarins, clementine’s, and tangerines), guava, bell peppers, strawberry, broccoli, and tomato.
Vitamin E is a nutrient important for reproductive, brain, skin, and blood health, as well as vision. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant that helps to protect the body from free radical found in some foods, tobacco smoke, and sources of radiation. Free radicals are said to have a role in chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, etc. Vitamin E can be found in nuts & seeds, fruits & vegetables, and plant-based oils. Examples of foods that are high in Vitamin E are sunflower, soybean, and safflower oil, almonds, peanuts, beet greens, collard greens, spinach, pumpkin, red bell peppers
Vitamin A (retinol, retinoic acid) is a key nutrient for vision, reproductive health, cell division, and immunity. Like Vitamin E, Vitamin A is also considered an antioxidant and plays a role in protecting the body from free radicals. Vitamin A can be found in dairy products (cheese, yogurt, milk), eggs, liver, fish, carrots, broccoli, cantaloupe, tomatoes, orange and yellow vegetables, squash, and leafy green vegetables.
Vitamin D is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”, it is a nutrient that can be consumed, but is also a hormone that our bodies make. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that aids the body in bone building as it helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D is also known to have a role in controlling infections and reducing inflammation. Not many food sources contain vitamin D naturally, but foods are often fortified with the vitamin. Another one can get adequate vitamin D is to consider supplementation such as vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) or vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Because we live in Canada where the climate is predominantly cold for most of the year, most of us are deficient in vitamin D due to limited amount of sun exposure we receive. Food sources containing vitamin D are cod liver oil, salmon, swordfish, tuna fish, orange juice (fortified), dairy and plant-based milks (fortified), sardines, beef liver, egg yolks, fortified cereals.
Folate/ folic acid (or vitamin B9) is important in the formation of red blood cells and is key in pregnancy for fetal development. It is found naturally in some foods but can also be fortified into food or taken as a supplement. Folate can be found in darky leafy greens (spinach, romaine lettuce, Brussel sprouts, broccoli), beans and lentils, peanuts, sunflower seeds, whole grains, liver, seafood, and eggs. Food items that may be fortified with folic acid are cereals, breads, pastas, rice and other grain products.
Iron deficiency is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the world. Iron is stored in the body as ferritin (in the liver, spleen, muscle tissues, and bone marrow) and is delivered throughout the body by transferrin (protein that binds to iron). It is a component of hemoglobin which plays a role in transporting oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Iron is also key in brain development and growth. There are two different types of iron: heme iron and non-heme iron. Heme iron comes from animal-based sources (meat, poultry, and seafood) and non-heme iron comes from plant-based sources (nuts and seeds, legumes, and leafy greens). Heme sources of iron are beef, poultry, and seafood. Non-heme sources are fortified cereals, beans and lentils, spinach, enriched rice or bread.
Selenium is a trace mineral and is an essential part of the protein (selenoproteins) which are important in the creation of DNA and helps protect against cell damage and infection. A large majority of the selenium in the body is stored in the muscle tissues but the thyroid gland contains the highest amount of selenium. Selenium concentration in food product varies due to the amount of the mineral depending on the concentration of it in the soil. Protein sources such as animal products have large amounts of selenium. Nuts, seeds, whole grain breads, beans and lentils, and fortified cereals also contain selenium.
Zinc is a key trace mineral in DNA creation, cell growth, protein building, wound healing and is also essential for a healthy immune system. Because of its role in DNA creation and cell growth, zinc is important during growth periods and pregnancy. Sources of zinc include meats, poultry, seafood, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fortified cereals.
Most of the listed vitamins and minerals can be found in food sources that would contribute to a healthy, well-rounded diet. For those vitamins and minerals that may be more difficult to obtains adequate amounts of through dietary intake supplementation or consuming a greater amount of fortified food products can help with this. Prior to purchasing any form of supplementation please speak with you doctor or other members of your medical team to ensure that you are receiving the type and the amount best suited to your needs.
Check out our last blog post about how to help combat the cold weather slump! Learn about foods that keep your mind and body fueled. All our meals here at Nutrimeals feature fresh produce that can help you keep yourself and your loved ones happy, healthy, and well-fed to save some time and allow you to make the most of the nice weather! Living here in Alberta we are fortunate enough to have access to some great farmers markets here in town and in neighboring towns that offer access to nutritious and high-quality produce items such as cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, and zucchini to name a few. You can check out more about Nutrimeals here.
Cleveland Clinic. (2021, August 03). 8 vitamins for an immune system boost. Retrieved from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/eat-these-foods-to-boost-your-immune-system/
Folate (folic acid) – vitamin B9. (2019, July 02). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/folic-acid/
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, November 13). Vitamin A. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-a/art-20365945
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021, February 23). Folate (folic acid). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-folate/aart-20364625
Selenium. (2021, October 19). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/selenium/
Vitamin D. (2021, March 03). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-d/
Vitamin E. (2021, May 13). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-e/
Zinc. (2021, September 27). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/zinc/