9 vitamins for immune system support, according to an RD

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Your immune system really has no rest days. Whether you’re battling a cold or recovering from an infection, it always kicks into high gear. But believe it or not, nutrition has a major impact on your immunity, and there are simple (and delicious) ways to keep your immune system in top shape. Enter: vitamins for immune system support.

“Nutrients in our diet, including vitamins, minerals and macronutrients like proteins, fats and carbohydrates, are necessary for immune cell production and overall immune health,” says Stacey SimonRDN, of Best nutritional coaching.

There is no such thing as an “immune diet,” but consuming a variety of vitamins and minerals can help prevent nutrient deficiencies that can lead to declining immune function. “Rather than picking cherries or adding nutrients here and there, an overall balanced diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and whole grains can help us eat adequate amounts. specific nutrients to prevent deficiencies and keep our immune systems strong,” says Simon.

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Now you might be thinking, What about supplements? While there’s definitely a time and place for them, like if you’re pregnant, suffering from nutritional deficiencies, or recovering from illness or surgery, Simon always recommends food first. . “Think of supplements as a tool to fill in the gaps in a wholesome, nutritious diet,” she says.

Because supplements are not regulated by the FDA and too much of a nutrient can be harmful, always talk to your doctor before using it. “Unless you’re lacking in a nutrient, it’s often not necessary to supplement with a mega dose,” notes Simon. “In fact, the body absorbs and uses nutrients from food more efficiently.”

And while nutrition plays a role in immune health, other factors also come into play. Things like sleep, stress, certain medications, autoimmune diseases, and genetics also affect your immune function. “We have to make sure we maintain our defense on all those fronts,” Simon said.

If you want to keep your immune health in tip-top shape, try incorporating these 10 essential vitamins and nutrients into your diet.

Meet the expert: Stacey Simon, RDN, is a nutritionist with over nine years of clinical experience. She particularly focuses on the management of chronic diseases and maintaining the general well-being of the elderly.

1. Protein

    Protein is often associated with building muscle and feeling full between meals, but it also plays a major role in wound healing, recovery, and cell building, Simon says. “Amino acids, or the building blocks of proteins, help keep the immune system functioning by helping to produce immune cells.”

    Plus, many protein sources offer a lot of benefits for your immune system because they contain a ton of other essential vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients, adds Simon. It’s a win-win!

    “I suggest always going for whole or fresh foods first, so you can get real sources of protein,” she says. If you’re looking for high-protein on-the-go snacks, look for something that’s as close to the real deal as possible and doesn’t contain a bunch of additives and artificial colors. Pro Tip: If you read the ingredient list and aren’t sure what it is, it’s probably best to stay away.

    Here are some examples of protein-rich whole foods.

    • Eggs
    • Chicken
    • Turkey
    • Fish
    • lean beef
    • Plain Greek yogurt

    2. Vitamin C

      You’ve probably heard that vitamin C is important for immune function and shorten the duration of a pesky cold, but it does much more. Vitamin C also plays a huge role in wound healing, which plays an important role in maintaining your immune system by keeping your skin barrier intact, says Simon.

      It is also a powerful antioxidant that reduces inflammation in the body, thereby decreasing our risk of developing disease and feeling sick.

      Although orange juice may seem like the ultimate source of vitamin C, Simon also recommends eating the following foods to refuel.

      • Tomatoes
      • Potatoes
      • Cantaloupe
      • Red peppers
      • Grapefruit

      3. Vitamin D

        Vitamin D improves immune cell function by reducing inflammation in the body and lowering the risk of infection, Simon says. But here’s the thing, the best source isn’t actually food, it’s sunlight. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it can dissolve in fats and oils and be stored in fatty tissue and the liver. To help maintain healthy levels, aim for at least 15 minutes of sun exposure per day, according to Harvard Health.

        If you live in a colder climate or cannot get regular sun exposure, it is important to supplement with food. “Vitamin D is one area where you don’t necessarily feel deficient, even if you’re slightly deficient, but it’s one of those things that’s good to supplement with food to fill the gap. “, explains Simon.

        Foods rich in vitamin D are as follows.

        • Salmon
        • Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
        • Enriched cereals
        • Dairy or vegetable milk fortified with vitamin D
        • Tuna
        • Sardines
        • Egg yolks

        4. Vitamin E

          Vitamin E is another fat-soluble vitamin with powerful antioxidant properties to help support immune cell production. “Vitamin E helps support the growth of T cells, or white blood cells that play a major role in immune function,” Simon says. “When we think of cells in the body that defend and fight pathogens, vitamin E helps support the growth of these defensive T cells.”

          Add these vitamin E foods to your plate to help boost immune health.

          • Eggs
          • Nuts
          • Sun-flower seeds
          • Red peppers
          • Spinach
          • kale
          • Rocket

          5. Zinc

            Consider zinc an immunity superstar. Not only does it play a major role in wound healing, but it also aids in the development of immune cells by influencing the growth of T cells, Simon explains. And while some studies show that zinc can help shorten the duration of a cold, there is no need to overdo your zinc intake. “Most people are able to keep their zinc levels within a healthy range by eating a normal, balanced diet,” says Simon.

            You’ll find zinc in many foods you probably already eat, such as the following.

            • Oysters
            • Red meat
            • Seafood
            • Beans
            • Nuts
            • Enriched cereals
            • Chicken

            6. The iron

              “We often think that iron plays a huge role in our energy levels and how our body feels, but it also strengthens those immune cells, allowing them to reach full maturity so they can go and do their job,” says Simon.

              Iron is also a major component of hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body), so heavy bleeding can cause your iron levels to drop. Because of this, to research suggests that it’s especially important for menstruating women to maintain iron levels and eat iron-rich foods.

              Try incorporating the following iron-rich foods into your diet.

              • Beans
              • Lenses
              • Chicken
              • lean beef
              • Oysters
              • Enriched cereals

              seven. Selenium

                Selenium acts as a powerful antioxidant that can help reduce inflammation in the body, and studies show that it promotes heart health, optimizes immune function and may even help prevent cancer. While a generally balanced diet is generally adequate for your daily selenium intake, low levels of selenium have been shown to reduce immune function.

                Stock up on some of the following selenium-rich foods.

                • Brazil nuts (Fun fact: Eating a Brazil nut a day can help you meet your daily needs, says Simon.)
                • Salmon
                • lean beef
                • Chicken
                • Turkey
                • Tuna
                • Shrimp
                • Mushrooms

                8. Copper

                  Inflammation is a sign that your body is working overtime to heal or repair itself, but copper plays a huge role in minimizing its effects by neutralizing free radicals, Simon says. To research shows that free radicals are unstable atoms in the body that can damage cells and cause disease, but copper has antimicrobial properties to reduce their presence and ultimately calm inflammation.

                  However, maintaining healthy copper levels is a bit of a balancing act, as too little copper can suppress your immune function, but too much copper can be dangerous and lead to cell death. But there’s no need to complicate it too much because copper toxicity is rare, points out Simon. “Simply eating a balanced diet is a good way to make sure we’re getting enough copper and staying within that healthy range,” she says.

                  Focus on a varied diet by eating some of the following foods.

                  • Unsweetened baker’s chocolate
                  • Nuts
                  • Sun-flower seeds
                  • Potatoes (with skin)
                  • shiitake mushrooms
                  • Oysters

                  9. Probiotics

                    You’ve probably heard that probiotics are the good bacteria in your digestive system, but they also play a role in immune health, says Simon. Studies have shown that probiotics promote natural antibodies in the body by stimulating the production of immune cells and fighting infection. Some research even suggests that probiotics can prevent respiratory tract infections such as a cold or the flu and reduce urinary tract infections in women.

                    Foods rich in probiotics are as follows.

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