By Sheridan Wimmer on November 17, 2021
Tips for building up your immunity
We sometimes joke when we drop a piece of food on the ground and immediately pick it up to eat it that we’re “building our immune system.” While the five-second rule is mostly an old wives’ tale, there’s a lot of other ways we can build our immune system for it to help fight against infection or illness. And since it’s cold and flu season (not to mention COVID-19), we have more than enough reasons to pump up our immune systems.
Our immune systems have two lines of defense to cheer for: innate immunity and adaptive immunity.
First up, innate immunity is made up of the skin and mucous membranes, as well as chemical and cellular defenses. It reacts to all foreign invaders the same way.
When our innate immune system doesn’t hold the line against infections, our adaptive immune system is called in for back up.
The adaptive immune system is comprised of specialized blood cells and proteins that target the specific cause of infection. This system allows our bodies to become immune to specific illnesses once we’ve been exposed (like chickenpox).
We count on these two systems to keep us healthy, and reliable, peer-reviewed research tells us certain lifestyle choices can hurt or help our lines of defense. The most important ways to impact your immune system are through lifestyle choices and eating decisions.
“Our immune systems are highly complex,” Karen Hanson, a registered dietitian, says. “To help keep your immune system healthy, focus on an eating plan that includes a wide variety of foods, adequate sleep and stress management.”
These are important steps we all can focus on to help our bodies help themselves.
“Taking the best care of ourselves includes taking care to make great choices,” Hanson says. “When we include fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and dairy, we’re giving our immune system the micronutrients it needs.”
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the following nutrients play a role in the immune system and can be found in a variety of foods:
Beta carotene has been shown to increase immune cell numbers and activity. Beta carotene is found in plant foods such as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, mango, broccoli and tomatoes.
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps strengthen natural defenses. Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli.
Vitamin D quickly fights infections and produces antibodies. Vitamin D is found in fatty fish and eggs. Milk and 100-percent juices that are fortified with vitamin D also are sources of this important nutrient.
Zinc is a first-responder against infection Zinc tends to be better absorbed from animal sources like beef and seafood, but also is in vegetarian sources such as wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu.
Probiotics are a “good” bacteria that promote health. Probiotics can be found in cultured dairy products such as yogurt and in fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Protein plays an important role in the immune system, especially for healing and recovery. Protein can come from both animal and plant-based sources such as milk, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.
OTHER KEY IMMUNITY BUILDERS
We know exercise is good for a lot of reasons for joint health and muscle strength, stress management and lowering risk of heart disease — but it’s also a way to help us boost our immune system.
As little as 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day helps boost circulation, which helps boost our immunity.
It’s also recommended to get adequate sleep (7-8 hours per night is best), practice good hygiene (frequent hand washing) and find ways to cope with stress (meditation or listening to music).
With a balanced approach, you can help fight away illness and infection before they happen. Even if you decide to trust the five-second rule.