Even with a vaccine in sight, COVID-19 remains widespread, making immune health a top priority both during flu season and beyond. What it’s easy to forget, however, is that your viral resistance and immune health are both closely linked to your nutrition.
One of the easiest ways to boost immune system, combat viruses and improve your overall health is by leaning into nutrient-rich foods that help boost your immunity naturally. By consuming the proper nutrients, you’re providing your body and immune system with the support it needs to fight infection. This includes micronutrients – or vitamins and minerals – which are essential for brain function, energy production and more.
Below are a few of the essential nutrients and micronutrients you need in order to build your viral resistance.
Even if you’ve never heard of selenium before, don’t fret. Like other antioxidants, this nutrient helps protect your cells and keep inflammation at bay: two key prerequisites for fending off viruses. It has also been linked to lowered risk of heart disease and several types of cancer.
Note that the amount of selenium in plant-based foods is directly correlated with the selenium levels found in the soil, so selenium content can vary greatly based on where the crop was farmed.
- Selenium-rich foods include: Fish and seafood (primarily oysters, halibut, tuna and sardines), nuts (especially brazil nuts), eggs, sunflower seeds and mushrooms.
Vitamin C is another key ingredient in building your body’s defense against disease and viral infection by supporting white blood cell growth and aiding iron absorption. This powerful antioxidant can also help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and age-related eye diseases.
Though vitamin C can be found in many different foods, it’s hard to consume the recommended amount of vitamin C through food alone, which is why many opt for supplements.
- Foods rich with vitamin C include: Bell peppers, brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach, kale, citrus fruits, cantaloupe, kiwi, mango and papaya.
According to studies conducted by the CDC, approximately 42 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient. However, this key nutrient plays an important role in activating your body’s immune response, giving it the ability to combat respiratory infection and other illnesses. It also has been shown to help prevent depression.
Though basking in the sun might seem like the easiest way to absorb the vitamin D you need, it’s not realistic for everyone (particularly in the dark, winter months). A combination of consuming vitamin D-rich foods or taking dietary supplements and participating in outdoor activities, such as walking and gardening, are a few ways to up your vitamin D intake.
- Foods rich with vitamin D include: Fish (salmon, herring, sardines and tuna), egg yolks, mushrooms, cod liver oil and fortified foods (milk, soy milk, orange juice, cereal and oatmeal).
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin and antioxidant that plays a regulatory role in your body, protecting it from unwanted bacteria and viruses. It not only protects your cells from damaging free radicals and widens blood vessels, but also supports communication between cells in order to carry out other important functions.
Luckily, vitamin E deficiency is rare and there’s little harm in consuming vitamin E-rich foods to make sure you’re getting enough of this crucial immune booster. However, it's a good idea to consult with a medical professional before taking it in supplement form.
- Foods rich with vitamin E include: Sunflower seeds, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, beets, collard greens, spinach, pumpkin and many oils (including safflower, sunflower, soybean and wheat germ).
Protein and Amino Acids
Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, which perform various important roles in your body, including tissue production, nutrient absorption and more. Not only does your protein intake influence your body’s ability to fight inflammation, viruses and infection, but also directly affects the development of antibodies – your body’s best line of defense against foreign invaders.
Though essential, there are a lot of conflicting opinions about how much protein your body actually needs, so make sure to consult with your doctor before upping your protein intake.
- Protein-rich foods include: Lean meats (pork tenderloin, poultry, lean beef), fish and seafood, eggs, dairy products, beans, nuts, oats, lentils and soy.
Zinc is a key nutrient that helps facilitate your body’s ability to form both protein and DNA – a couple of essential functions. It also supports your immune cells, aids antibody production and helps wounds heal.
Managing zinc levels is especially important for children and pregnant women, as it aids in early development. It also can support eye health, potentially reducing the risk of macular degeneration and other age-related eye diseases.
- Zinc-rich foods include: Seafood (especially oysters), red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains and dairy products.