When it comes to research, there’s really not enough evidence to say that a specific food will improve the immune system for everyone. But there is some evidence that various micronutrient deficiencies like zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E do alter immune responses. So, what we can do is make sure our diet delivers plenty of those. Here are a few foods to help you with that.
Bell peppers are the king of vitamin C. It’s recommended to get around 100 mg of vitamin C a day. So, all you need is 37 g of bell peppers or roughly a quarter of an average-sized bell pepper to have your daily needs covered. Of course, you can choose pretty much any fresh fruits or vegetables you like to get enough vitamin C.
If you’re looking to stock up on vitamin A, then there’s no better food than the liver. There are 9,442 mg of vitamin A in just 100 g of beef liver, that’s 10x the daily recommended value! So, if you are willing to eat liver, it can also be chicken or any other animal liver, then one serving per two weeks should be about enough. If you want a plant alternative, then you will do best with sweet potatoes, winter squash or kale, just keep in mind that plants only contain beta-carotene, which has to be converted into vitamin A in the body and some people are genetically poorly equipped to do so.
Almonds are not only really tasty but they also carry 171 % of the daily recommended amount of vitamin E in 100 g, which means you only need about 58 g of almonds to cover your daily needs. Most other nuts and seeds are also very good sources of this vitamin. Just keep in mind that nuts and seeds, especially the roasted and salted varieties, are easy to overeat. So, try to keep your nut consumption as a part of a complete meal or introduce other slightly worse sources of vitamin E like salmon, cod, avocado, mango or kiwi.
Lentils are a great food for vitamin B9 or folate. Just one cup or roughly 200 g of cooked lentils contains 358 mg of folate, which is 90 % of the daily recommended amount. Of course, you don’t have to and shouldn’t stick to just one legume. You can try various types of beans, green peas, or chick-peas, they will all be a great source of B vitamins and many other valuable micronutrients.
Meat and fish
Pork, beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, tuna, oysters or lobster – you can pick pretty much any type of meat, fish or seafood and you will get your fill of the much-needed minerals that are zinc, selenium, iron, and copper. Aim for upwards of 100 g a day. If you’re looking for plant-based alternatives, then nuts and seeds are your best option.
Overall, try to keep your diet mostly focused on real, minimally processed foods because those usually carry the largest amounts of essential micronutrients. It’s OK to have some junk foods for comfort once in a while as long as they don’t trigger you to go totally off rails but remember that these foods are a missed opportunity to give your body the nutrients it needs for a strong immune system.