Getting enough vitamins and minerals will support your immune system to help fight off colds, flu and other illnesses. The best way to get enough immune-boosting nutrients is to eat a wide variety of vegetables. Eating an assortment of nutrient-dense foods will provide the biggest immune boost because no single nutrient can cure or prevent illness.
A Mix of Minerals
According to Harvard Medical School, minerals such as zinc, copper, iron and selenium have the greatest effect on immune function. Zinc can be found in oysters, beef and crab. Copper and iron work together in the body to support the immune system. They can be found in oysters and other shellfish, beans, potatoes and organ meats. Satisfy your selenium needs with Brazil nuts, tuna and halibut. Consume mineral-rich red meat in moderation. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute recommends that you limit your intake to one or two servings per week to avoid excessive cholesterol intake.
Vitamins for Vitality
The best vitamins for immunity are vitamins A, E, C and the B complex vitamins, reports the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Vitamins C and E act as antioxidants that help protect cells from harmful free radicals. Scientists at the University of Copenhagen discovered that vitamin D plays a significant role in the activation of the immune system as well. A deficiency of any of these vitamins may led to decreased immunity and greater risk of disease. Remember that most nutrients work together, so being deficient in one or more nutrients may lead to a deficiency or malabsorption in another.
Food Sources, Not Supplements
Consuming a wide variety of nutrient-dense food is more effective than consuming a variety of supplements. To get enough vitamin C, choose citrus fruits, cantaloupe, broccoli and red peppers. For adequate vitamin E intake, try snacking on nuts and cooking with vegetable oils such as olive oil. You can find vitamin B-6 in tuna, turkey and bananas. If you take any medications that may affect nutrient absorption, however, or if you have a serious health condition, you should consult your health care provider or dietitian to ensure proper nutrient intake.
Daily Reference Intakes
For the best immune system support, your body needs to get enough of each nutrient. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, women should aim for at least 75 milligrams of vitamin C daily, and men need 90 milligrams daily. Women should get approximately 8 milligrams of zinc each day, and men should consume 11 milligrams. Men and women over the age of 14 years old need 15 milligrams of vitamin E daily, and everyone regardless of age and gender should consume 600 international units of vitamin D every day.
- National Institutes of Health: Fact Sheets
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Protect Your Health with Immune-Boosting Nutrition
- Harvard Health Publications: How to Boost Your Immune System
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Interactive DRI for Healthcare Professionals
- Science Daily: Vitamin D Crucial to Activating Immune Defenses
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin C