A strong, well-functioning immune system is the cornerstone of good health, fighting off disease and infections and allowing you to recover more quickly if you do get sick. And despite the claims you see on some food and supplement labels, there is no specific food or nutrient that has been clinically proven to “boost” the immune system all on its own. Rather, you need a variety of foods that provide a natural abundance of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (compounds found in plants that have disease-fighting properties); all those nutrients work together to keep your immune functions running smoothly. And it’s not all about food, either: studies show that regular exercise, even something as simple as a daily 30-minute walk, can improve immune functioning. Maintaining good sleep habits can help too.
The best nutritional strategy for keeping your immune system strong, then, is to have a well-nourished, well-rested body and move it regularly. Follow these tips from the nutrition experts at EatingWell to keep your system fully charged.
Your body needs vitamin C to build and maintain healthy skin—your body’s first line of defense in preventing disease and infection. The vitamin is also critical for producing white blood cells and antibodies that fight off infections, and it is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect cells from free-radical damage.
While vitamin C has long had a reputation for helping prevent the common cold and many people gulp megadoses when they feel cold symptoms coming on, clinical studies have shown no effect for vitamin C in cold prevention in normal situations. However, in a handful of studies the vitamin did appear to slightly reduce the duration of a cold, as well as the symptoms.
The best way to get enough vitamin C is by enjoying it in foods, not pills. It’s easy to do: just one large orange or a cup of orange juice will meet your daily needs. You’ll get more nutrition in the bargain: foods high in vitamin C tend to also be rich in other immune-protective compounds.
When you’re looking for vitamin C, think outside the orange crate. Cantaloupe, grapefruit, honeydew melon, kiwi, mangoes, papayas, raspberries, starfruit, strawberries and tangerines are all rich in the vitamin. In fact, each serving supplies at least 25 to 30 percent of recommended amounts of vitamin C for a day. And don’t forget that many vegetables, including broccoli and peppers, are terrific sources. Aim for at least six servings of fruits and vegetables a day, including at least one that is rich in vitamin C.