Healthy Food Choices To Support Your Immune System
Our diets, and the lifestyle choices we make, can play a huge role in the maintenance of our immune system.
To help keep our immune system functioning effectively, we need to provide our body with the right vitamins and minerals and support it with good lifestyle choices.
We can get the nutrients we need from the foods we eat as well as extra support with supplementation, and in the case of vitamin D; sunlight!
So, what’s best to eat? We let you in on the food and supplement choices to support your immune system.
What Is The Immune System?
Our immune system is made up of a network of cells, tissues, and organs. These work together to help keep us healthy by attacking germs and other harmful substances.
Best Vitamins And Minerals To Support Your Immune System
Many of these helpful vitamins can be obtained from our diets and/or supplements. However, one key vitamin that contributes to a healthy immune system is vitamin D. We get the majority of our recommended daily intake of vit D through sunlight, as opposed to diet.
It is very tricky to get your daily recommendation of vitamin D through diet alone.
In the UK though, due to lack of sunlight throughout the autumn and winter months, the UK Department of Health and Social care encourages us to take a supplement containing 10μg of vitamin D a day between the months of October to March.
Other vitamins that help support your immune system include vitamin A and vitamin C. Vitamin A - also known as retinol - contributes to the normal function of the immune system. It is a fat-soluble vitamin, stored by the body, which means it isn’t necessary to have it every single day. The NHS do recommend however that men aged 19 to 64 get 700µg a day and women get 600µg a day.
As for vitamin C, the NHS state that adults aged between 19 and 64 should get 40mg of vitamin C every day.
Next up are B vitamins. Of the eight B vitamins, it is vitamins B6, B12 and B9 (Folic Acid) that help maintain a healthy immune system. As B vitamins are water soluble, our body does not store them. Therefore, we need an adequate amount each and every day, either through food and/or supplementation.
For vitamin B6, the NHS states that males aged 19 to 64 require 1.4mg per day whilst women need 1.2mg per day.
With Vitamin B9 -also known as folic acid - the NHS say that adults need 200μg each day. (While for pregnant women and those trying to conceive a daily supplement of 400μg folic acid is recommended)
Zinc, copper, and selenium are all minerals that contribute to the normal functioning of the immune system. All these can be obtained through food although supplements are very useful here if you feel that you may not be getting enough through your diet.
The NHS’ advice is that adults aged 19 to 64 need 1.2 milligrams (mg) of copper a day.
For selenium, men aged 19 to 64 years need 75 micrograms (μg) a day whilst women need 60μg a day.
With zinc, men aged 19 to 64 years need 9.5mg a day whereas women need a little less with 7mg a day.
Foods To Support Your Immune System
Ensuring you get the right vitamins and minerals into your diet is crucial to keep your immune function in tip top condition. Below are some of the key foods that contain vitamins D, C, A, B6, B12 and copper, selenium, and zinc.
Vitamin D Foods
Although it is hard to get adequate amounts of vitamin D from diet alone, there are some foods that do provide this crucial vitamin.
Vitamin D is measured in micrograms (µg).
- Fortified orange juice, 1 cup - 2.5µg
- Mushrooms, ½ cup - between 1.4 - 1.7µg
It’s worth noting that with some mushrooms, exposure to UV light (aka sunshine), can actually increase their levels of vitamin D.
Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines, provides a good amount of vitamin D, as do cod liver oil supplements.
- Cod liver oil, 1tsp - 11.3µg
- Cooked salmon, 85g, - 11.1µg
- Drained, canned sardines, 85g- 4.1µg
- Canned salmon, 85g -12.3µg
- Drained, canned tuna in oil, 85g, -5.7µg
- Whole milk, 1 cup -3.2µg
- Low/non-fat milks, 1 cup -2.9µg
- 1 large hard-boiled egg - 1.1µg
- Fortified cereals, ⅓ - ¼ cup - 0.2-2.5µg
Foods Rich In Vitamin C
The highest levels of vitamin C can be found in fruits and green vegetables, although do note that the amount of vitamin C present in the food may fluctuate depending on the cooking process. For example, some vitamin C can be lost when boiling vegetables.
Vitamin C is measured in milligrams (mg). All the below foods are per 100g.
- Guavas -228mg
- Dried chives - 660mg
- Kiwi per 100g - 93mg
- Bell peppers per 100g -128mg
- Strawberries per 100g - 59mg
- Orange per 100g - 53mg
- Papaya per 100g - 61mg
- Broccoli - 89mg
- Kale - 18mg
- Blackcurrants - 181mg
- Brussels sprouts, cooked - 62mg
- Florida grapefruit - 37mg
- Garlic - 31.2mg
- Cauliflower - 48.2mg
- Dried goji berries - 48.4mg
- Orange juice - 50mg
Foods High In Zinc, Selenium, And Copper
Zinc is found in very high quantities in oysters, with 74mg of zinc in 85g of oysters. However, oysters aren’t everyone’s type of food! Give these other foods a try...
- Lobster, cooked, 85g - 3.4mg
- Crab, Alaska king, cooked, 85g- 6.5mg
- Pumpkin seeds, dried, 28g - 2.2mg
- Breakfast cereal, fortified with 25% of the DV for zinc, 1 serving -2.8mg
- Pork chop, loin, cooked, 85g - 2.9mg
- Baked beans, canned, plain or vegetarian, ½ cup -2.9mg
- Chickpeas, cooked, ½ cup- 1.3mg
Copper, measured in micrograms, can be found in a wide variety of foods...
- Beef, liver, pan fried 75g - 12400μg
- Oysters, eastern, wild, cooked, 28g - 4850μg
- Baking chocolate, unsweetened, 28g - 938μg
- Potatoes, cooked, flesh and skin, 1 medium potato -675μg
- Mushrooms, shiitake, cooked, cut pieces, ½ cup -650μg
- Cashew nuts, dry roasted, 28g - 629μg
- Tofu, raw, firm, ½ cup -476μg
- Chickpeas, ½ cup -289μg
- Figs, dried, ½ cup -214μg
- Avocado, raw, ½ cup -219μg
- Sunflower seed kernels, toasted, ¼ cup- 615μg
Selenium is found in various foods although, Brazil nuts, seafoods, and organ meats are the richest food sources of selenium.
- Brazil nuts, (6–8 nuts) -544μg
- Tuna, yellowfin, cooked, dry heat, 85g -92μg
- Sardines, canned in oil, drained solids with bone, 85g- 45μg
- Egg, hard-boiled, 1 large -15μg
- Rice, brown, long-grain, cooked, 1 cup -19μg
- Bread, whole-wheat, 1 slice- 13μg
- Bread, whole-wheat, 1 slice -31μg
Vitamin A Foods
Include the below foods into your diet to ensure you get plenty of vitamin A.
You can also get vitamin A by including good sources of beta-carotene in your diet, as the body can convert this into retinol. The main sources of beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, yellow fruits, red peppers, and yellow, red and green vegetables.
- Beef liver, pan fried, 85g - 6582μg
- Sweet potato, baked in skin, 1 whole -1403μg
- Spinach, frozen, boiled, ½ cup- 573μg
- Carrots, raw, ½ cup -459μg
- Mangos, raw, 1 whole -112μg
- Peppers, sweet, red, raw, ½ cup -117μg
- Cantaloupe melon, raw, ½ cup -134μg
- Apricots, dried, 10 halves -63μg
- Egg, hard boiled, 1 large -75μg
- Broccoli, boiled, ½ cup - 60μg
Foods Rich In Vitamin B
Vitamin B12, measured in micrograms, is naturally found in animal products, including fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products, as well as fortified cereals.
- Cooked clams 85g- 84.1μg
- Beef liver, cooked, 85g - 70.7μg
- Trout, rainbow, wild, cooked, 85g - 5.4μg
- Milk, low-fat, 1 cup- 1.2μg
- Nutritional yeasts, fortified with 100% of the DV for vitamin B12, 1 serving- 2.4μg
- Egg, whole, hard boiled, 1 large - 0.6μg
Vitamin B6 on the other hand can be found in beef liver, other organ meats, as well as some fruit, potatoes and various starchy veg. Vitamin B6 is measured in milligrams.
- Chickpeas, canned, 1 cup -1.1mg
- Beef liver, pan fried, 85g -0.9mg
- Potatoes, boiled, 1 cup- 0.4mg
- Banana, 1 medium -0.4mg
- Raisins, seedless, ½ cup - 0.1mg
- Tuna, yellowfin, fresh, cooked, 85g -0.9mg
- Chicken breast, roasted, 85g - 0.5mg
- Watermelon, raw, 1 cup- 0.1mg
Vitamin B9 can be found in small amounts in many foods including broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas and liver.
- Lentils, cooked, 1 cup - 358.4μg
- Edamame, 1 cup - 482.1μg
- Lamb liver, cooked, 85g - 340μg
- chickpeas, cooked, 1 cup -282.1μg
- Spinach, cooked, 1 cup - 262.8μg
- Kidney beans, 1 cup -230.1μg
- Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup - 168.5μg
- Brussels sprouts, cooked, 1 cup -93.6μg
Best Supplements For Your Immune System
Taking supplements can help safeguard your intake of various vitamins and minerals, to make sure you are getting enough. Vitabiotics provides a range of supplements to meet your specific needs.
With vitamin B12, whilst it can be obtained through food, it is mostly found in animal products, so anyone following a vegan diet may struggle to meet their daily intake. The Vitabiotics Ultra Vitamin B Complex provides all of the eight essential B vitamins, including 50µg of B12.
To ensure healthy levels of vitamin C, the Vitabiotics Ultra Vitamin C tablets provide slow-release vitamin C along with 25mg of citrus bioflavonoids, for maximum absorption and effectiveness. Bioflavonoids are naturally present in vegetables and fruits.
An alternative to tablets, is the Vitabiotics Ultra Vitamin C Fizz (effervescent tablets) with added zinc, which contains 1000mg of vitamin C, as well as zinc for maximum efficacy. These are ideal for those who would like an alternative to tablets, and are great for post-exercise and hectic lifestyles, as well as the over 50s.
For extra strength vitamin D, try Vitabiotics Ultra Vitamin D 4000IU Maximum Strength which provides 100μg of vitamin D3, to help support the normal functioning of the immune system, as well as contributing to the maintenance of normal bones and teeth.
The 4000iu Maximum Strength is recommended for use under guidance of your health professional.
For those seeking comprehensive nutrient support and who prefer to take just one single tablet a day, Vitabiotics Immunace Extra Protection contains vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, as well as zinc and selenium. It also provides 25μg of vitamin D3 (the body’s preferred type of vitamin D), a higher level of vitamin D than found in Immunace Original. In addition it provides Lycopene extract and Resveratrol.
You may also enjoy reading - How To Support Your Immune System.