Nobody enjoys getting sick, and so there is naturally a great deal of interest in the steps a person can take to improve their immune system. Inevitably, this interest leads people to ask the question What can I eat to boost my immune health? The first thing that I would say in response to this question is that there is no single food, and especially no one supplement, that is particularly responsible for a stronger immune system.
Your immune system is essentially made up of the sum of your body’s cells, tissues and organs that combine together to play a role in defending the body from the invasion of foreign entities like bacteria and viruses.
From a nutritional perspective, a healthy, balanced diet fosters a healthy body which in turn fosters a healthy immune system.
With that being said, there are certainly some things you need to keep in mind in order to keep your immune system as strong as it can be.
- Prioritize Food Safety: Although you may not have thought about it in this way before, food poisoning is very much an immune-related condition. Improper hand washing and food handling (especially raw meat) can lead to bacterial infection and sickness. Be sure to wash your hands with soap before and after handling raw meat, and separate utensils and cutting boards that are to be used with meat.
- Hold off on supplements: Getting excessive amounts of vitamins and minerals in a pill form will not provide your immune system any extra benefit. That money is better spent purchasing whole foods like fruits and veggies, which will have a much greater contribution to your overall health. The same can be said for “miracle” herbal supplements that claim to provide extreme immune health benefits, there is no evidence that any such product does what it claims to do.
- Eat a balanced, healthy diet: Although it may not sound sexy, eating the right foods in the right amounts is the average person’s best course of action when it comes to a strong, healthy immune system. If you want to know what that looks like for you, you can start by taking a look at Canada’s Food Guide and my article on the 9 foods we need to balance our diets.
- Enjoy foods that contain probiotics: You may have heard that probiotics are good for you, but what are they? Well, probiotics are essentially healthy bacteria that can help improve the health of your digestive system, which happens to be a critical component of your overall and immune health. Some common foods that contain probiotics include; kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt and tempeh. I singled them out in today’s article because they are foods that could potentially be left out, even in a very balanced diet.
- Look beyond food: Food is an extraordinarily important component of your immune health, but so is keeping up to date with your vaccinations and physician’s visits, prioritizing sleep and keeping smoking and drinking to a minimum.
There you have it folks, my top tips for maintaining a healthy immune system. Eating well is a massive component of your immune health, but you shouldn’t believe the hype if you see specific foods or supplements being touted as the singular immune system solution.
A healthy, balanced diet is always your best course of action.
Andy De Santis RD MPH
Andy is a Toronto-based private practice dietitian with a master’s degree in public health nutrition. He is also a nutrition writer and blogger. You can learn more about him and his services at AndyTheRD.com.
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