which foods boost the immune system | McPeak Market

Romaine Lettuce Vitamin C

Feeling the force of cold and flu season? Besides hitting up the local pharmacy for over-the-counter remedies — or going to the doctor for a prescription — more and more people are turning to vitamins that boost the immune system for cold and flu home self-care.

People are learning how to naturally boost the immune system in their personal routines and there are many ways to do so. Not only do supplements from whole foods, like vitamins from acerola cherries help, but the foods that contain them may be especially helpful, too.

Boosting the immune system can also help with far more than colds and flu. While these natural remedies may help the immune system do a better job fighting illness, they cannot cure colds and flu.

On the other hand, studies do show that people turn to them and rely on them regularly. They may also help reduce symptoms, and could cut down on how long you’re sick altogether, too!

Benefits of a strong immune system

Using natural immune boosters, including immune boosting vitamins, can have a cascade of beneficial effects on the body. Supporting the body during cold and flu season is only one of these— as the benefits of a strong immune system are not that simple.

natural immune | Immune Cells

A computer generated look inside a blood vessel at its red blood cells and immune cells.

Natural immune boosting works because it helps empower immunity cells. These include T helpers, antibodies, white blood cells, proteins, and more. These cells may also help reduce chronic inflammation, boost energy, increase mental function, improve gut health, detoxify the body, even reduce the effects of aging, while helping the body fight other types of infections, too.

In fact, many vitamins that support the immune system do so because our immune systems require them to be healthy and function well. No, immune vitamins will not help in the same way as boosted immunity from vaccines! Nor do they work like antibiotics.

Vitamins and other natural remedies are nutritive. This means they do not cure or work like a vaccine, or directly and completely destroy a bug like an antibiotic. Immune boosting vitamins simply “feed” the immune system what it needs to be healthy and strong.

Out of all the nutrients we know of, which vitamins that boost the immune system are best? While a great many may help besides the ones mentioned in this article, both research and health professionals alike mostly agree the vitamin C, vitamin D, and the micronutrient mineral zinc are considered some of the most beneficial.

Vitamin C – Cold and flu protector

Almost everyone knows (or maybe has used) vitamin C for immunity. This nutrient is quite the classic immune fighter!

Getting adequate vitamin C, or even taking a little extra right around the turn of a cold or flu, can ensure that your immune system is in tip-top shape to weather the storm. This is because vitamin C works like an antioxidant— because it is an antioxidant!

Vitamin C protects tissues from pathogen invasion, increases production of immune cells, and much more according to research, all as part if its immune supporting nutrient role. The vitamin can also help ramp up the body’s ability to uptake other nutrients that are somewhat connected to healthier immunity and inflammation (such as iron and magnesium).

Vitamin C is good for lots more besides immunity, too. It is integral to good skin health, tissue health, hair health, and supporting the body’s natural ability to produce collagen, a protein that helps reduce the effects of aging.

Vitamin D – The sunshine vitamin

vitamins that boost the immune system | The Sunshine VitaminVitamin C is considered the posterchild for immune health. Meanwhile, taking vitamin D to boost immunity is catching on with a lot of people as it is used for improving immune health more and more.

Vitamin D is called the “sunshine vitamin.” That’s because the best way to get enough is to go outside and get a little sun exposure! The vitamin itself is an antioxidant, but also works like a hormone and a neurotransmitter to improve mood along with immunity and other functions. Because we experience less sunshine in the winter, too (high time for colds and flus), it’s critical to make sure you get enough during this time of year.

Is vitamin D from the sun? Not exactly. Your skin produces it when it is exposed to the sun’s rays, though. While you do get a lot of natural vitamin D from your diet, sun exposure (roughly 15 minutes a day) is an equal if not better way to make sure you’re getting enough. Of note, vitamin D is good for teeth, bone, and muscle health in the body as well.

All about Zinc – the immunity mineral

It takes a diversity of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to keep a strong immune system. But, by far, zinc may be the most essential immune mineral of all: studies show that without enough zinc, peoples’ immune systems showed signs of dysfunction and even failure!

Zinc for immune system health seems to relate to immunity cells. Without enough zinc, cells like T helpers have lower function to fight off inflammation or pathogens. This means higher susceptibility to colds and flu, worse symptoms, and a longer time being sick than you need to be.

Zinc also helps with healthier metabolism, speeding the healing of wounds, and much more.

Foods to boost the immune system

foods to boost the immune system | Oyster Mushrooms

Credit: Adrian White | Oyster Mushrooms

Knowing which vitamins (and minerals) are the best choices is the first step to learning how to naturally boost the immune system at home. The next step is: where do you find these vitamins and minerals? What are the best sources?

While supplements can cover some of the gaps, nothing beats whole food sources of immune boosting vitamins and minerals. That includes vitamin D, C, zinc, and many others too, including basic antioxidants for immune boosting.

Foods rich in vitamin C:

  • Acerola cherry
  • Amla (Indian gooseberry)
  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Blueberries
  • Broccoli
  • Cherries
  • Guava
  • Kale
  • Kohlrabi
  • Lemon
  • Lettuce
  • Lime
  • Oranges
  • Pineapple
  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • …and more

Foods rich in vitamin D (plants and mushrooms):

  • Algae
  • Kelp
  • King trumpet mushroom
  • Lion’s mane
  • Maitake
  • Nori
  • Oyster mushrooms
  • Seaweeds
  • Shiitake

Foods rich in zinc:

Are there foods that are rich in all three? There aren’t many, though the most reliable source of all three is no doubt mushrooms!

Delicious adaptogenic mushrooms that are well-known for boosting the immune system— like shiitake, lion’s mane, and maitake especially— are considerable sources of zinc and vitamin D (more difficult to find in a plant-based diet!) and they do contain some vitamin C. More common culinary types like crimini, button mushrooms, and portobellos may contain very trace amounts too.

Vitamins are a huge building block for a stronger, healthier immune system. Along with other antioxidants that help boost the immune system (though vitamin C, D, and zinc are each antioxidants too), the greatest arsenal against colds and flu doesn’t strictly have to be cough, cold, and flu medicines from your doctor or pharmacy.

It can also include taking excellent care of your immune system to begin with, too, using natural vitamins and immune boosting herbal (and mushroom!) remedies.

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