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How Does Your Diet Affect Your Immune System?

How Can Your Diet Impact Your Immune System? Drawing Conclusions Between Food and Health

Surely you’ve recognized a difference in your energy and how you feel depending on what you eat. When you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet and getting some physical exercise, you feel the benefits of increased energy, fewer aches and pains, and more drive.

And when you get into the ruts of filling up on junk food or consuming too much sugar, your body feels that, too. You may notice that you feel fatigued and get sick more often when you’re not paying attention to your diet.

Is there a link between diet and immune system health?

In this guide, we’ll discuss the potential connection between your immune system and diet, including food that may boost immunity and foods to avoid that may weaken your immunity.

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Understanding the Potential Link Between Diet and Your Immune System

How Does Your Diet Affect Your Immune System?

The immune system works to protect the body from antigens and pathogens, like bacteria, germs, viruses, and toxins. To remain healthy, a person’s immune system needs to function optimally.

There are many outside factors that may affect our immune system, including:

  • Medications

  • Illnesses

  • Smoking

  • Excessive drinking

  • Lifestyle choices

There is also research that shows that diet may also affect how our immune system functions. A diet rich in nutrients is necessary in order for our bodies to produce immune cells and antibodies that function properly.

Diet alone is not the only consideration in our general health — including our immune health. Our health and well-being must be addressed holistically, taking into account the hundreds of factors that play a part in physical, emotional, and mental health.

Good Bitters’ products and coaching services are designed to provide holistic care to promote harmony and a balanced life.

Diet and Your Immune System – How Are The Two Connected?

Immune cells are designed to effectively respond to pathogens and resolve negative responses caused by those pathogens to avoid inflammation.

In order for our immune cells (and our immune system, in general) to function well, research points to two diet-related factors that may impact immune function:

The gut is the location where antimicrobial proteins are produced, and thus, a location of heavy immune activity. Of course, what we eat will determine the kinds of microbes that live in our gut. Diets high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may support the most beneficial microbes.

Prebiotics play an important role in feeding our good gut bacteria, while probiotic foods contribute live helpful bacteria. Therefore, a diet that contains prebiotics and probiotics may improve gut health, and in turn, may support a healthy immune system.

Our bodies need a variety of vitamins and minerals to function well, but for optimal immune function, the following nutrients are generally regarded as key players:

  • Vitamin D

  • Zinc

  • Vitamin C

  • Selenium

  • Iron

  • Protein

To help the immune system, these nutrients:

  • Work as antioxidants to protect cells

  • Encourage growth and activity of immune cells

  • Produce antibodies

These essential nutrients are most often found in nutrient-dense, whole foods and less often in diets high in ultra-processed foods.

A bunch of healthy food in a pile.

Healthy Diet and Immune System: 10 Foods That May Support Your Immune Health

Immune system design and function are extremely complex and are affected by a combination of factors — diet being only one of those factors.

Certainly, one particular food or nutrient can’t be pinpointed to be the deciding factor in how the immune system functions. However, a balanced diet that includes a variety of vitamins and minerals may provide the necessary nutrients to help the body fight disease and infection.

Though not a comprehensive list, the following foods may be recommended to include in your diet due to the rich nutrients they provide that may positively affect immune system function.

#1: Berries

Berries are high in antioxidants and are rich in:

  • Potassium

  • Magnesium

  • Fiber

  • Vitamin C

  • Vitamin K

  • Prebiotics

With so many types of berries to choose from — strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries, just to name a few — you’ll have no trouble finding creative ways to add these to your diet.

Try berries in smoothies or yogurt, or enjoy them as a lower-sugar dessert alternative.

#2: Leafy Greens

Leafy greens are another food we can find in an abundant variety. Consider adding spinach, kale, and collard greens to your menu and enjoy the benefits that come along with high levels of:

  • Vitamin C

  • Antioxidants

  • Beta carotene

These important nutrients may help fight infection and may also be beneficial for your gut, brain, and heart.

#3: Fish Oil

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to increase white blood cell activity, which is important in fighting infection.

Fish oil can be found in supplements, but the following fish also contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Salmon

  • Tuna

  • Mackerel

Not only may fish oil help your immune system, but it’s also good for your brain and heart.

#4: Poultry

Have you ever wondered why your grandmother always fixed a big pot of chicken soup to take to the neighbors who had the flu?

Poultry is high in vitamin B-6 and zinc, both of which may help with the immune system. Vitamin B-6 may reduce inflammation and is necessary to create new red blood cells, while zinc helps in the production of white blood cells.

#5: Yogurt

As discussed above, probiotics help provide the good bacteria our intestines need. Yogurt contains live and active cultures and vitamin D, which may support the immune system and help fight infection and disease.

For optimal health, look for yogurt without sugar. You can always add some berries or honey to sweeten it naturally. Another way to add yogurt to your diet is to use it as a topping or dip in place of sour cream.

#6: Bright Vegetables

Who doesn’t love a plate full of colorful vegetables? Not only do they complement a beautiful meal, bright vegetables like red peppers contain loads of vitamin C, and carrots are rich in beta-carotene.

With so many ways to cook vegetables — roasting, steaming, or grilling — you’ll easily be able to add them to your meals. And don’t forget about eating them raw, either as part of a salad or as a healthy snack.

#7: Citrus Fruits

Vitamin C may help fight infection by increasing your white blood cells. You can find high amounts of vitamin C in citrus fruits like:

  • Oranges

  • Tangerines

  • Grapefruits

  • Lemons

  • Limes

And like some of the other foods we’ve mentioned, there are so many ways to creatively add these fruits to your diet:

  • Eat them whole.

  • Squeeze the juice into water.

  • Squeeze the juice onto your food.

  • Add citrus fruit juices to marinades.

  • Add fruits to salads.

#8: Spices

You likely use spices in your cooking, mainly because you like the savory flavors it brings to your dishes. But some of the spices you use may also have some immune system-supporting properties, including:

  • Turmeric

  • Ginger

  • Garlic

  • Cinnamon

#9: Nuts and Seeds

Many nuts and seeds contain the following nutrients that may help support immunity:

  • Vitamin B-6

  • Magnesium

  • Phosphorus

  • Selenium

  • Zinc

  • Potassium

Try eating a handful as a snack or adding some of the following to a salad:

  • Almonds

  • Walnuts

  • Sunflower seeds

  • Cashews

  • Pistachios

  • Pumpkin seeds

  • Flax seeds

  • Chia seeds

#10: Olive Oil

Olive oil is considered a healthy fat that’s good for the brain and heart. It may also help your immune system by aiding in the reduction of inflammation in the body.

You can easily add olive oil to your diet by cooking with it, adding it to salads, and using it in the place of vegetable oil in recipes.

A plate of healthy food with vegetables all over the table.

Poor Diet and Immune System: 4 Foods That Could Hinder Your Immune Health

The main foods that may weaken the immune system can be summarized in two words — sugar and carbohydrates.

Sugar and carbs (which are processed by the body as sugar) may suppress the immune system by:

  • Harming gut function

  • Creating gut bacteria imbalances

  • Affecting white blood cell function

  • Not providing essential nutrients

#1: Foods and Drinks High in Sugar

Foods like cakes, sweets, and cookies are full of sugar.

Many drinks are also high in sugar, and sodas may be the worst. A 12-ounce can may contain up to 45 grams of sugar — that’s like 18 packets of sugar.

And don’t be fooled by fruit juices and electrolyte drinks. Though they may not have the same amounts of sugar that a can of soda does, they are still lacking in essential nutrients.

The bottom line is that these foods and drinks have lots of calories but few nutrients.

As far as drinks go, your best bet is to stick with water.

#2: Processed Foods

Processed foods, which have often been chemically processed, have refined and artificial ingredients that just aren’t good for our bodies.

Many processed foods are also high in:

  • Sugar

  • High-fructose corn syrup

  • Artificial ingredients

  • Trans fats

  • Processed oils

Like high-sugar foods and drinks, processed foods are filled with empty calories and are also low in nutrients and fiber.

#3: Refined Carbohydrates

Refined carbs can lead to quick spikes in insulin levels and blood sugar, which makes you just want more in a few hours.

Instead of refined carbs, like some cereal, bread, and pasta, choose:

  • Rye

  • Quinoa

  • Faro

  • Brown rice

  • Oatmeal

  • Unflavored popcorn

#4: Alcohol

Alcohol gets in the way of immune cells being able to do their jobs by affecting:

  • The gastrointestinal tract – Alcohol can change the amount of helpful bacteria in the gut.

  • Antibodies – Drinking too much alcohol can lead to fewer T cells and B cells, which results in fewer antibodies to fight off invaders.

Drawing Indirect Connections Between Diet and Immune System Health

In addition to the lists of foods to enjoy or avoid for good immune function, two indirect connections between diet and immune system health are interesting to examine:

  1. Eating protein in the morningEating protein in the morning can help you feel full longer and lead to less snacking on those empty-calorie carbs mentioned above. Eating protein-rich foods, like eggs, may increase antioxidants and provide essential nutrients helpful in sustaining a healthy immune system.

  2. Eating before going to bed – When you eat too close to bedtime, your body has to work hard to digest food when it should be focusing on getting restful sleep. When you sleep, your body releases proteins called cytokines which help promote sleep. If you’re sleep deprived because of eating too close to bedtime, it can lead to a reduction of cytokines and other infection-fighting antibodies, indirectly affecting the immune system.

A green tree

Good Bitters: A Holistic Approach to Supplementing Your Wellness Journey and Improving Immune Health

Are sugar cravings your weakness? Do you reach for the cookies before the carrots? Are you lacking balance?

Good Bitters is committed to creating products — like our Kalm Drops — to help balance sugar cravings, which may lead to:

  • An improved diet

  • A healthy gut

  • Inner balance; and

  • A healthy mind

Our Kalm Drops contain a unique balance of sweet and bitter found in the silk tassel plant. We all know that life is a mixture of both bitter and sweet. Embracing both can lead to a state of balance and happiness.

Take advantage of our products, coaching, and workshops to lead a balanced, connected, and healthy life.

The content in this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Disclaimer: The information on this website is taken from traditional wisdom and modern research/databases and is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to act as medical advice or to replace medical treatment. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The statements and information on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA. Please consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider for your individual needs.

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