Our immune systems are essential for keeping us healthy and protected against diseases, and what we eat plays a big role in that.
A healthy and balanced diet containing plenty of necessary nutrients and vitamins helps support our immune system, ensuring it can combat infections that we might face.
However, some foods can be more effective than others in supporting our immune health. In this guide, we take a look at the immune system, why it matters, how it works and what immune-boosting foods we can eat to help support it.
What is the immune system?
The immune system is a network of organs, cells and proteins that protect your body against infection and disease.
It is made up of two main parts: your innate immune system and your adaptive immune system.
Your innate immune system is your body’s protective barrier and the first line of defence against harmful substances, while your adaptive immune system is developed as your body gets exposed to foreign substances, such as pathogens.
When your body detects a foreign substance (known as antigens), your immune system attempts to identify and eject them from your body. It produces antibodies (also known as immunoglobulins) that attach to and then destroy these antigens.
Once these antibodies have been created, they remain in your body to protect it against similar threats. Building up lots of antibodies in the body helps us fight off disease in the future.
Factors affecting the immune system
Our immune system can be influenced by a number of factors which include:
- Age: as we get older, our immune system becomes less efficient, making it harder to fight off diseases
- Weight: obesity can make it harder for our immune system to function, in turn increasing the risk of developing inflammation
- Alcohol or smoking: excessive alcohol consumption or smoking can harm the immune system, impairing its ability to fight off disease
- Diet: a poor, unbalanced diet that lacks the necessary nutrients can impact the immune system’s production of antibodies
- Chronic diseases: autoimmune and immunodeficiency conditions can prevent the immune system from functioning as it should
- Lack of sleep: sleep is essential for helping our body heal. A lack of sleep prevents the release of proteins that help fight off infection.
- Stress: when the body is unable to physically or mentally manage life events or emotions
All of these factors can affect our immune health and cause us to be more prone to disease or infection.
There are, however, a number of ways to support your immune health:
- Consume a balanced diet that limits consumption of alcohol and processed foods
- Undertake physical activity to support mental and physical health
- Aim for a routine that promotes balance and sleep
Taking care of yourself — including both your physical and mental health — can help to support and improve immune system function.
10 immune-boosting foods
Our diets play an important role in supporting our immune wellbeing. Explore the list below to find a few examples of great immune-boosting foods you should include as part of a balanced and varied diet that limits saturated fats, salt, added sugars and processed foods.
Citrus fruits such as lemons, oranges or grapefruits are rich in vitamin C. This essential nutrient is known to help support the immune system by producing white blood cells, helping to fight off infections.
Red bell peppers
Like citrus fruits, red bell peppers contain vitamin C, which helps produce white blood cells to support our immune health.
As well as containing vitamin C, red bell peppers are also a great source of beta-carotene. This can also help boost your immune health, along with plenty of other health benefits.
Rich in vitamin C and packed with nutrients, broccoli is a good addition to an immune-boosting diet.
Broccoli contains beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and iron, as well as a number of helpful B vitamins. All these nutrients and vitamins can help support your immune system, so it’s worth including it in your diet where possible.
Ginger is often used to help manage colds and flu. But it may also help support our body’s ability to combat infections, reduce inflammation and manage nausea.
Garlic is a common food that is thought to have a range of health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and slowing the hardening of our arteries.
It also contains a compound known as allicin, which is thought to help support our immune systems too.
Rich in vitamin C and packed with antioxidants and beta-carotene, spinach is a great addition to an immune-positive diet. These nutrients may help support our body’s ability to fight off infections.
Spinach is best consumed with as little cooking as possible. Light cooking can help your body absorb the vitamins that spinach contains, preserving its nutritional value.
Almonds are a wonderful immune-supporting food. High in vitamin E, almonds contain antioxidants that can protect your body’s cells. They also contain iron and protein — important nutrients that help support a healthy, functioning immune system.
As well as being a tasty and convenient snack, sunflower seeds are also packed with nutrients. Zinc, selenium and vitamin E are found in sunflower seeds, which can all help boost our immune health and protect us from inflammation.
Turmeric is a warming spice used in food and drinks around the world. But it is also thought to contain a number of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties too.
Try mixing turmeric with a spoonful of honey with some fresh ginger for a quick immune-supporting boost.
Delicious and nutritious, kiwi fruits are a great source of vitamin K, potassium, fibre and folate. While these nutrients are all good for us, it is the vitamin C found in kiwi fruits that may help play a role in supporting our immune wellbeing.
As well as the foods listed above, it’s also worth considering nutritional supplements to help support your immune health.
Boost Optimum contains nutrients that help support immune health. This nutritional supplement is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, magnesium and iron — all vital nutrients that help our body function as it should.
A healthy immune system is essential for helping us stay fit, healthy and protected against infections. Follow a diet rich in the foods above to help support your immune wellbeing.
BOOST OPTIMUM is a delicious adult nutritional supplement that contains high quality protein, Probiotics and Prebiotics, Vitamins and Minerals to address nutritional needs of adults. BOOST Optimum may help improve your nutritional status and physical performance when combined with physical exercise in as early as 6 weeks*.
*P. Abizanda et al. / JAMDA 16 (2015) 439.e9-439.e16. The ACTIVNES Study