Last updated on September 21st, 2022 at 07:44 am
Immune system plays an important role in our body’s defense against infections. We have compiled a list of the best immunity boosting vitamins and minerals.
It’s already hard to stay motivated, active, and productive. Thankfully, there are tons of simple changes you can make to your diet to keep your immune system healthy and support your body in fighting off unwanted infections (which is especially important in the age of COVID-19).
Nutrition is important for all aspects of health, including immune health. Eating a well-balanced diet, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress in your life all help support your immune system. Some nutrients are especially important for your immune system. Here, we’re highlighting five critical nutrients you need in your diet for optimal immune health. Plus, learn foods to include to get these vitamins and minerals in your diet.
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4 Immunity Boosting Vitamins and Minerals
Quick Jump Table
One of the earliest signs of a mild vitamin A deficiency is a decreased ability to fight off infections, especially respiratory infections like COVID-19. Vitamin A also supports and strengthens vision, reproduction, bone growth, and immunity.
Vitamin A is an essential vitamin, so our bodies cannot make it on their own. For this reason, it’s super important to make sure your diet is full of this immune-boosting nutrient.
How Vitamin A Help To Boost Immunity?
Vitamin A strengthens both the innate and adaptive immune systems of the body. The innate immune response protects the skin, eyes, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, and reproductive organs. The adaptive immune system produces antibodies that attack foreign invaders (like the flu virus). Carotenoids (a type of vitamin A found in plant foods) are also powerful antioxidants that help the body fight inflammation. Like most nutrients for immune health, the best way to get your vitamin A is from food, rather than supplements.
Vitamin A supplementation is especially prone to causing toxicity, and over-supplementation can weaken the immune system. Food sources of vitamin A are safe and effective in meeting your daily needs. Plus, they’re delicious!
The best foods for vitamin A
There are two major dietary sources of vitamin A
- carotenoids (found in plant foods)
- retinoids (found in animal foods)
- Beef liver
- Cow’s milk (fortified with vitamin A)
- Sweet potatoes
- Greens: mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, beet greens
- Swiss chard
- Winter squash
Did you know this “vitamin” is technically not a vitamin at all? Instead, vitamin D functions more like a hormone in your body.
Though perhaps best known for its bone health benefits, vitamin D also plays a critical role in strengthening our innate and adaptive immune responses. The powerful vitamin signals the body to create immune-boosting compounds, like antimicrobial proteins responsible for protecting the body from getting sick.
The nutrient has gained extra attention lately because of its potential association with COVID-19 risk. More research is needed before we can say that low vitamin D levels definitively raise one’s risk of COVID-19 (or cause worse symptoms if one’s infected). That said, current studies suggest there seems to at least be an association between vitamin D deficiency and more severe COVID-19 outcomes.
How to get enough vitamin D?
Our bodies create vitamin D when we soak up UV rays from the sun. Unfortunately, there are very few food sources of vitamin D, and most people don’t get enough vitamin D from the sun to meet their needs, especially in the winter. Vitamin D deficiency is very common among breastfed infants, older adults, people with limited sun exposure, people with dark skin (melanin blocks vitamin D activation), people with fat malabsorption, and people who have a BMI greater than 30 (classified as obese) or who have undergone gastric bypass surgery.
If you have access to regular sunlight, the recommendation is to get 5 to 15 minutes of sun exposure 3 to 4 days per week. Exposure in the morning or late afternoon provides an excellent source of vitamin D and is less damaging to the skin.
If you fall into one category of people at greater risk for vitamin D deficiency or if you’ve been diagnosed with a deficiency, you’re a suitable candidate for a supplement. Vitamin D is among the very few nutrients that we recommend getting from supplements, especially if you get little sun exposure. Most adults need 15 mcg or 600 IUs daily, although some experts recommend more than that.
The best foods for vitamin D
Although there are very few foods for vitamin D, you can still optimize your vitamin D intake by adding some of these foods to your diet.
- Cod liver oil
- Vitamin D-fortified milk, yoghurt and nondairy milk
- Beef liver
- Egg yolks
- Mushrooms with UV fortification
Zinc is an essential mineral that must be consumed via the diet. It’s critical to consume zinc daily since the body cannot store the mineral. Zinc helps support brain function, maintain healthy hormone levels, synthesize DNA and proteins, and boosts the immune system. It also serves as a cofactor for some 300 enzymes in the body. Also, zinc deficiency is associated with delayed growth, sexual dysfunction, diarrhoea, and delayed wound healing.
How does zinc help to boost immunity?
Zinc supports the functioning of immune cells as neutrophils and macrophages. As a result, a zinc deficiency can lead to a higher risk of infections. You’ve probably seen zinc lozenges at your pharmacy. Though the research is conflicting, the nutrient is thought to potentially drives down the duration and severity of symptoms associated with the common cold by preventing the entry of the virus into cells and stopping it from multiplying in the body.
Zinc’s antiviral properties may help the body fight viral species similar to those that cause COVID-19, per emerging research. However, studies on zinc and viruses like the coronavirus are still in their infancy, and a great deal of further research in humans is still needed before we can make conclusions about the relationship between the two.
The best foods for zinc
- Pumpkin seeds
Vitamin C gets a lot of air time around immunity and for good reason. The essential vitamin may help fight colds, ramps up antioxidant activity in the body, and aids in the absorption of other nutrients, like iron. Vitamin C is also needed for collagen synthesis.
How can Vitamin C help to boost immunity?
Research shows that a high vitamin C intake is associated with decreased risk of common chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and certain neurological conditions. In fighting off infections, vitamin C’s immune-boosting powers are likely linked to its antioxidant properties. Vitamin C (which is an antioxidant itself) helps regenerate other antioxidants like vitamin E in the body, decreasing the number of harmful free radicals that can bolster infections.
The best foods for vitamin C
- Citrus fruits
- Bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
You may also interest in reading: Gluten-Free Diet
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