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by Sue Cahaly October 19, 2020 3 min read

The immune system is one of the most important systems in the body when it comes to overall well being. To keep it running optimally, it requires a range of nutrients, including:

  • Three main macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and protein
  • Micronutrients: made up of essential vitamins and minerals

Because our body cannot produce essential nutrients on its own, it is up to us to fuel it on a daily basis with the right whole foods.

Read on to learn which foods will properly fuel your body and your defense system.

Eat Your Way to a Healthy Immune System

Micronutrients are vital to healthy development and staying well. They are known for their immune modulating and antioxidant properties, yet many people don't get enough because of poor dietary choices.

A study done by the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, showed that 31% of the population did not meet the recommended vitamin C requirements and 12% did not meet the recommended zinc levels — two key players when it comes to overall immune strength.

Vitamin C is probably best known as an antioxidant. There are a number of reactions that take place within your body causing free radicals, which can damage cells and tissues. As one of the most potent antioxidants, vitamin C helps prevent that damage by neutralizing the oxidative stress that occurs as a result of these chemical reactions.

Vitamin C also supports various processes in both the adaptive and innate immune system. In the innate response, vitamin C can help protect the epithelial cell barrier by enhancing the production of collagen, essential for healthy, firm skin. In the adaptive immune response, vitamin C stimulates B and T cell proliferation. It also plays a role in regulating inflammatory cytokine production and reducing histamine levels.

The colorful produce in your kitchen often holds the most vitaminC, including cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kale etc), papaya, berries and citrus fruits.

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

The above phrase is one you are likely familiar with — and in the case of building a strong immune system, it is quite accurate. That's because apples are high in quercetin, a flavonoid famous for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits.

Quercetin is the most abundant flavonoid, with its antioxidant properties playing an important role in helping the body to combat free radical damage. In addition, it may help balance inflammation and blood pressure. Other foods high in this nutrient include berries, cherries, grapes, onions and green tea.

Spicing Up Your Diet

Ginger is so much more than just a spice. In fact, it has been used for decades to modulate the body's inflammatory response. Ginger contains the substances gingerol and shogaol, both of which have been shown to decrease inflammatory cytokine production.

Another member of the ginger family is turmeric, which contains the component curcumin, also commonly known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin has been found to decrease the production of inflammatory cytokines such as IL-6 and IL-12. It is thought that this is due to curcumin's ability to interfere with the NF-κB signaling pathway.

Another spice, cayenne pepper, contains the compound capsaicin. Capsaicin has been shown to help with cell death as well as activate dendritic cells. This pepper also improves blood flow, which can lead to white blood cells arriving faster to a site of infection.

Listen to the Cabral Concept episode 1545: Top 15 Daily Foods To Boost Immunity

Immune-Boosting Honorable Mentions

Additional worthy contenders include iron and vitamin D.

Iron is used by various lymphocytes in the innate immune system response. It is required for immune cell proliferation and maturation in generating a response to possible harmful invasion. Plant-based sources rich in iron include spinach, swiss chard, turmeric and parsley.

Vitamin D has also been shown to modulate the immune system, as receptors can be found on B and T cells. Vitamin D is found in a limited number of whole foods, with shiitake mushrooms being a rich plant source, or through skin absorption from exposure to sunlight. Various studies have shown an increased level of deficiency in the winter season compared to the summer. Vitamin D deficiency is a common worldwide problem, with an estimated 1 billion people not meeting the recommended levels.

While food intake is only one piece of the healthy lifestyle puzzle, it is one of the most important. Making sure you are fueling your body with adequate amounts of essential nutrients will have a direct impact on your long term health and immune response.

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