6 Immune Boosters That Really Work

  • Written By:Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN
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by Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN

Looking back on this past year, there’s one nutrition theme that remained consistently top of mind: Immunity. We all wanted to know how to stay healthy throughout the pandemic and while immunity-related Google searches soared it’s important to know what really works to keep yourself in tip-top shape, now and into the future.

Food First

You can’t outrun or out supplement an unhealthy diet. Sorry! So first things first, let’s focus on your plate. To naturally boost your immune system, fill up on whole foods and minimize processed foods and added sugars. At every meal fill at least half of your plate with plants—the juicy kinds—like fruits and vegetables! Then, add complex carbohydrates, from whole grains and potatoes to beans and sweet potatoes. Pair that with a clean protein, such as grass-fed beef to wild salmon, oysters to organic tempeh. Lastly, don’t forget healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, and seeds which help our bodies absorb all the wonderful nutrition right there on our plates.

Without adequate hydration, our bodies cannot efficiently eliminate toxins.

Hydrate to Elevate

It’s an old story but an important one. Without adequate hydration, our bodies cannot efficiently eliminate toxins. Water also helps transport oxygen to all the cells in your body and assists with lymph production which circulates white blood cells to fight off pathogens. How much water should you drink? I recommend aiming for 80 oz a day and that's from a variety of sources including water, unsweetened seltzers, herbal teas, decaf coffee, and of course the water in your food (think cucumber and celery).

Vitamin D

No matter how well you stack your plate you’ll never meet your vitamin D needs solely through food. That’s right, we get it mostly from the sun but with all of our time spent indoors these days, we aren’t even close to meeting our needs. While you can find it in small amounts in specific foods, this is where I recommend supplementation (usually between 2,000 - 5,000 iu/daily is enough for most people). My favorite brands include Pure Encapsulation, Now Foods, and for those of you who can’t swallow pills, try Thorne drops under your tongue!

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Zinc

Zinc plays an important role in immune cell function and inflammatory response, decreasing the duration of illnesses and lessening the risk for respiratory infection. The good news, you can get plenty of zinc from the foods you eat. Oysters are the most potent source but it’s also abundant in beef, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains, and fortified foods.

Elderberry

Rich in antioxidants, antifungal, antimicrobial, and antibacterial this berry has been shown to decrease duration of the common cold and flu as well as boost immunity when you start to feel the very first symptoms of illness. It also helps that it tastes great and you can make it yourself at home! My favorite product is the Elderberry Syrup by Further Foods that is low in sugar and naturally sweetened with spices like cardamom and cloves. Even my kids take this without a fight!

Adaptogens help our bodies manage stress, and are great for those who get sick often and during times of increased exposure to pathogens.

Adaptogens

A wellness buzzword these days and rightly so! Adaptogens help our bodies manage stress, are great for those who get sick often and during times of increased exposure to pathogens. Some of my favorites include ashwagandha, reishi, and holy basil, all of which support the immune system. To see the results, you’ll want to add them to your routine consistently. The easiest way to do this is by adding it to your coffee, smoothie, or oatmeal, sipping on an adaptogen-rich tea blend, and of course through supplementation. This winter I’ve been making adaptogen coffee every morning, you can find my recipe here!

With this list of immune-boosting foods, you can whip up a meal, create health practices and rituals, or simply up the dose of your favorite supplement. Keep these resources in your back pocket and revisit them whenever you need added support. The best advice I can leave you with though is to practice a healthy lifestyle full of whole foods, fruits and vegetables all year long, as that really is the magic bullet to staying and feeling well.

Amy Shapiro is the founder of Real Nutrition.

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