The Best Foods to Boost Your Immune System

July 21, 2020

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can lower your risk of illness, help you stay trim, and give you more energy. This includes selecting menus with nutritious foods for a healthy immune system, ones that add up to the right number of calories and eliminate unhealthy choices from your diet.

Some of the best foods to boost your immune system include fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins C and E, beta-carotene and zinc. You’ll also receive health benefits from maintaining a low-sugar, low-fat diet that incorporates whole grains and lean proteins. Healthy fats found in olive oil and salmon are also key to boosting your immune system and fighting off inflammation.

Healthy, Balanced Recipes

According to McLean’s Executive Chef Karen Pelletier, making sure your diet includes some of the best foods to boost your immune system is an important first step. But eating well is about more than just single items. In reality, it takes a bit of work to eat a healthy, balanced diet. While you’re planning the daily menu for yourself and your family, have fun, experiment with new recipes, and try to include the following elements into each day:

  • 3 ounces of meat – One serving is about the size of a deck of cards
  • 1 cup of pasta – One serving is about the size of a tightly closed fist
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter – One serving is about the size of a ping-pong ball
  • 2 cups of green leafy vegetables – One serving is about the size of two closed fists
  • 2 ounces of cheese – One serving is about the size of 2 dominoes
  • 1 cup of green vegetables – One serving is about the size of a tennis ball

To help get you started, here are a couple of Chef Karen’s favorite “go to” recipes for you to try!

Overnight No-Cook Oatmeal
4 servings

  • 2-1/2 cup skim milk
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3-1/2 cups rolled oats- old fashioned (not instant or quick-cooking)
  • 2 bananas, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped, unsalted pecans or walnuts

1. In a large, resealable container or bowl, add milk, honey and extract. Stir to combine, adding oats. Seal or cover; place in the refrigerator and let it sit overnight.
2. The next day, peel each banana. Halve each one lengthwise and slice. Divide sliced bananas and nuts over each oatmeal portion. Serve.
**Try adding some superfruits, such as blueberries, raspberries or cranberries.

Grilled Chicken and Greek Salad
4 servings

  • 2 cucumbers (seeded, diced)
  • 4 medium tomatoes (diced)
  • 1 medium red onion (diced)
  • 2 Tbsp. fat-free feta cheese (crumbled)
  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh mint or parsley
  • 2 limes (juiced)
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 4 oz. grilled chicken breast

1. Mix cucumber, tomatoes, onion, feta, and herbs in a bowl and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
2. In a small bowl, combine lime juice, oil and pepper; whisk well.
3. Pour over vegetable mixture, then top with grilled chicken breast and enjoy.

14 Foods for a Healthy Immune System

It’s true: You are what you eat. Your cells use everything you consume to repair, maintain and build your body. Some of the best foods to boost your immunity are loaded with nutrients called antioxidants. These nutrients can help prevent or slow cell damage caused by free radicals (unstable molecules that the body produces as a reaction to environmental and other pressures). These 14 foods are immune system boosters for seniors:

  • Broccoli: It has vitamins A and C, and the antioxidant glutathione, nutrients that can protect your body from the damage free radicals can cause.
  • Button Mushrooms: These give you the mineral selenium and the B vitamins riboflavin and niacin. Riboflavin and niacin play a role in a healthy immune system.
  • Chicken Soup: Homemade chicken soup really can ease your cold symptoms and may help you get well sooner. Plus, there’s a chemical in it called carnosine, which can protect your body from the flu virus.
  • Elderberry: This fruit is loaded with antioxidants, and it may help fight inflammation.
  • Garlic: Raw garlic can help beat skin infections, thanks to its ability to fight bacteria, viruses and fungi.
  • Ginger: This knobby root is also a good source of antioxidants.
  • Low-Fat Yogurt: Probiotics, found in yogurt and other fermented products, may ease the severity of colds. Look for labels that say, “live and active cultures.”
  • Oysters: They contain zinc, which helps create and activate white blood cells involved in the immune response and appears to have some virus-fighting powers. Zinc also helps your immune system heal wounds.
  • Pomegranate Juice: It may help your body fight bacteria and several kinds of viruses, including the flu.
  • Spinach: This “super food” contains folate, which your body uses to make new cells and repair DNA. Spinach also boasts fiber and antioxidants such as vitamin C.
  • Sweet Potato: Like carrots, sweet potatoes have beta-carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A. It helps remove damaging free radicals and bolster the immune system.
  • Tea: No matter which tea you choose — white, green or black — each delivers disease-fighting polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants seek out and destroy cell-damaging free radicals.
  • Watermelon: It contains a lot of an antioxidant called glutathione, which helps fight infections.
  • Wheat Germ: It’s a great way to get zinc, antioxidants, and B vitamins. Wheat germ also delivers a good mix of fiber, protein, and some healthy fat.

Other Ways to Boost Your Immune System

In addition to eating well, here are some other ways to give your immune system a boost:

  • Exercise: Regular physical activity promotes circulation and heart health, and relaxes the body and mind. 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise can be accomplished through activities including walking, bike riding, swimming, hiking, and yoga.
  • Reduce Stress: Stress has been linked to a number of illnesses, including stomach problems and heart disease. Whether it’s social stress, isolation or another form, stress can suppress our immune system, making us more susceptible to viruses. Exercising, laughing, spending time with friends, performing relaxation exercises, or making time to enjoy your hobbies are all ways to help reduce stress factors. Worry over COVID-19 has heightened stress in many individuals; if it becomes worrisome, consult your physician or talk it through with a trusted professional.
  • Sleep: Sleep is one of the best natural immune system boosters; it helps us respond better to stress and inflammation. Adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.
  • Wash Hands: Washing hands regularly for a minimum of 20 seconds scrubs away germs. Use hot soapy water or hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Stay Positive: A healthy outlook on life boosts endorphins, which make us feel good. In today’s challenging environment, this may be a harder task, but it’s important to plan “feel good” activities in your day, and ways to connect with others on a social level.
  • Try Some Superfoods: Foods like kale, broccoli, avocados, certain mushrooms, berries and others have shown to improve immune system performance. Some superfoods even boost cognitive function and help fight Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Multivitamins or Herbal Supplements: To figure out what would work best for you and your lifestyle, first consult with your physician.
  • Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can cause headaches and hinder your physical performance, attention span, mood, digestion, and heart and kidney function. These complications can increase your susceptibility to illness. As we get older, seniors tend to feel thirst less frequently than younger people. But older people still need at least 8-9 glasses of fluid a day to keep mucous membranes moist, which lowers the chances of flu or colds. Avoid alcoholic and caffeinated drinks. Soups, jello, and popsicles are all ways to increase fluid intake.

While none of these tips can promise to eliminate disease, including COVID- 19, they’re all important in doing your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle long-term.

Healthy Living Starts at Home

Having the support of others can make eating right and taking care of yourself easier. McLean is a senior living community of like-minded people who want to get the most out of life. As part of our wellness philosophy, we feature a menu of healthy, delicious meals and a calendar full of beneficial activities. If you’d like to learn more about the difference a move to our community can make in your life, contact us here.

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