Healthy at Home
Improve your immune system and boost productivity.
4 ways to strengthen your body’s natural defenses.
By Kelsey Gonzalez, RD, MDA
What are the most important factors in building a strong immune system? Adequate sleep, stress reduction and, most importantly, a healthy, balanced diet. More specifically, a diet rich in colorful fruits, vegetables, pre and probiotics and a variety of proteins. The vitamins and minerals found in these types of foods, as well as how your body utilizes them, will give your immune system the boost it needs.
1. Add more color to your diet.
Diets rich in colorful fruits and vegetables tend to be higher in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Nutrients such as beta-carotene (sweet potatoes, carrots), vitamin C (spinach, broccoli, strawberries, citrus fruits), vitamin D (mushrooms) and vitamin E (collard greens, pumpkin, red bell peppers) are all known to boost your immune system. Look for a rainbow of foods: reds, dark greens, oranges, yellows, and purples. Generally, the more colorful your plate is, the more nutrients your meal contains.
Here’s a great example from Left Coast Food + Juice in Chicago: the Santa Monica Shredded Salad. Packed with colorful beets, broccoli, carrots, onions, and greens, this salad is rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene and prebiotics, which pack a nutrition-punch that is sure to strengthen your immune system.
2. Include foods rich in pre and probiotics.
Prebiotics and probiotics play a crucial role in building the immune system. Foods rich in prebiotics include garlic, onions, asparagus and bananas, and foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, sauerkraut, or any fermented foods. Pre and probiotics help increase the “good” bacteria in the body and improve the balance of these microorganisms. What does this mean for the immune system? Pre and probiotics can decrease inflammation in the gut. The less inflammation in the body, the lower the risk for developing disease.
This Combo Bowl from Pixie Retreat Raw’r Laboratorie & Makery in Portland is an example of a meal packed with pre and probiotics as well as antioxidants for an extra immune boost:
3. Incorporate a variety of proteins in your diet.
Zinc (oysters, meat, legumes, nuts, seeds), vitamin D (salmon, sardines, meat, egg yolks, fortified milk), and selenium (pork, beef, turkey, chicken, shellfish, eggs, lentils) in particular, are crucial vitamins and minerals that can help boost the immune system. More specifically, zinc is responsible for the production of new immune system cells and selenium helps fight off illness for those with low levels of vitamin D who are more susceptible to developing an infection or illness.
4. Improve sleep and minimize stress.
Sleep is essential for health, and it’s especially important to remember while WFH when there are no longer clear boundaries between work and home life. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night, however, a recent study revealed more than a third of Americans do not get enough sleep on a regular basis. Inadequate sleep can lead to a weakened immune system, poor energy levels, fluctuations in body weight and an increased risk of developing chronic disease. How can we improve sleep? Adopt a consistent schedule and stick to it. Remove all electronic devices from the bedroom and avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
Managing stress levels is another crucial habit for strengthening the immune system. Schedule breaks in the day: Step outside, go for a quick walk (exercise, even 15 minutes per day, helps decrease stress and can improve sleep), call a friend, read a book or meditate. Taking a break away from the screen can help decrease stress, boost your mood and improve productivity — all while benefiting your overall health and immune system, too.
Feeling inspired now? Check out our Healthy Enough collection where you can find some immune-friendly dishes from restaurants picked by our in-house nutritionists.
For updates on more Healthy at Home content, follow us at @caviar.