How Healthy Eating Patterns Shape Your Immune System

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Alyssa O'Brien, RDN, LD

If there’s one thing to remember this winter and flu season, it’s that maintaining your everyday healthy eating pattern is more important for your immune system than trying to catch up after the sniffling starts. While the idea of boosting your immune system is somewhat of a misnomer, you can help it function most effectively by taking care of yourself. Maintaining a healthy diet keeps the immune system balanced and ready to fight against infection and viruses.

Since your immune system requires a healthy balance of real foods, these nutrients should be a top priority for your everyday eating pattern:

  1. PROTEIN – Protein is the building block of immune cells. A diet lacking in protein can seriously hamper your immune function. Most adults need at least 50 grams of quality protein per day, or a palm-sized portion per meal if that’s easier to visualize. Make an eating pattern out of incorporating quality protein for each meal, like eggs for breakfast, turkey chili for lunch, and crab cakes for dinner. Or try a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds, 'tis the season!
  2. ANTIOXIDANTS  – Make sure your meals have COLOR. As a rule of thumb, the more colorful foods are, the healthier they are – unless you’re eating a bag of Skittles. Deep rich colors indicate micronutrients and antioxidants, which your body needs for protection and recovery from illness. Studies have shown that antioxidants improve immune responses, so throw some purple cabbage, red bell pepper, and green beans in your grocery cart, will ya?! And when you get home, cook them up with lots of herbs or yellow turmeric for an extra flavor boost.

When you emphasize protein and colorful foods in your diet, chances are you will get plenty of micronutrients needed for proper immune function, like vitamins A, B6, E, and C, and Zinc. And the more veggies you eat, the more you might start to like (and crave!) them.

Finding balance between life and food can be tough, so start small. Implement one new food challenge each week and build up from there. For example, in week 1 you could start eating breakfast at home, in week 2 you could eat protein at breakfast, in week 3 add 1 cup of vegetables to your dinner meal, and then keep it going from there.

Beware, there is one crucial vitamin for immune function that is lacking in foods - vitamin D. Low levels increase your susceptibility to infection, so make sure to supplement every day during the winter months.

Here’s to staying healthy this winter with real foods!     

 

References:

  1. Nichols, H. (2018). Tips for a healthy immune system. Medical News Today. Retrieved from <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320721.php>
  2. Peng Li. Yu-Long Yin. Et al. 2007. Amino acids and immune function, viewed 25 Oct 2018, <https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/art...
  3. Hajian. S (2015). Positive effect of antioxidants on immune system. Immunopathol Persa. 2015;1(1):e02. Retrieved from http://www.immunopathol.com/
  4. Hewison. M. 2012. Vitamin D and immune function: an overview, viewed 25 Oct 2018, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21849106>