ANDY DE SANTIS
Nutrition Goal Keeper
Andy is a private practice dietitian, author and social media content creator from Toronto, Canada where he graduated from the University of Toronto Dalla Lana School Of Public Health with a Master's in nutrition in 2015. Read More
As many of us in North America head into the darker and colder winter months ahead, it’s pretty much inevitable that immune support will become a topic of increasing interest.
Now obviously human immunity is a complex topic, but my goal with today’s article is to help you better understand the role nutrition and supplementation may play in supporting your own immune system.
Before we get to that though, let’s define a few basic terms to make sure we are on equal footing.
Immunity can be simply defined as our ability to defend the body from foreign substances, cells, and tissues and, of course, our immunity is shaped by our immune system.
The immune system is an interconnected network that includes a wide array of cells, tissues and organs all of which play a role in how the body defends itself.
But here’s a twist.
Not all bacteria is bad, in fact most scientists estimate a minimum of 70% of the human immune system is found in our digestive tract where trillions of helpful microorganisms exist.
And if the digestive tract plays a big role in immunity, it only makes sense that food and nutrition does too.
Let’s find out why!
Nutrition that Supports Normal Functioning Immunity
There are certain foods and nutrients that play a supporting role when it comes to immunity.
One such nutrient is Zinc, so let’s start there.
It’s possible that up to a third of Canadians in specific demographics may not be consuming enough zinc and it’s a real concern as it relates to immune support because zinc has been identified as a nutrient which contributes positively in this area.
So which foods contain the most zinc?
Let’s break it down by various food groups, keeping in mind that high fiber foods such as legumes, nuts, seeds and veggies may be extra useful for immune support.
- Meat – Various cuts of chicken, beef, pork and turkey.
- Seafood – Especially oysters but also crab, lobster, clams and octopus
- Legumes – Like lentils, chickpeas and black beans.
- Nuts/Seeds – Such as pumpkin seeds, cashews, pine nuts and sunflower seeds.
- Breakfast Grains – Including oatmeal and various fortified cereal products (check the label!)
- Dairy – Especially yogurt, milk and various types of cheese such as Swiss and parmesan.
- Soy – Especially tofu, tempeh and soybeans.
- Veggies – Like mushrooms, green peas, spinach, asparagus and broccoli.
So, as you can see here, you’ve got quite a bit to choose from and even those with dietary restrictions should be able to work towards consuming at least one serving per day of foods in at least 5 of these 8 groups – doing so will go a long way to ensuring optimal zinc status and immune support.
Vitamin C is an antioxidant and another essential nutrient known to play a key role in immune support.
Recent data suggests that nearly 1 in 3 Canadians do not consume adequate Vitamin C in their diet, with this number rising to >50% in smokers who require more Vitamin C than the average person.
The good news is that several commonly available foods deliver a big hit of Vitamin C.
- Bell Pepper
- Brussel Sprouts
Eating one Vitamin C rich fruit and vegetable per day will go a long way to ensuring adequate Vitamin C intake for most people and positively contributing to immune support in the process.
I think the sentiment is clear, and my best advice to those looking to support their immune and in the long-term is to rely on food first.
An otherwise healthy person with a strong diet, however, is not overwhelmingly likely to get a strong immune boosting effect from taking a probiotic supplement.
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