How to Build a Stronger Foundation for Your Immune System
You are not alone if you feel overwhelmed by the abundance of information you must sort through to make better lifestyle decisions for you and your family.
The past year has been particularly stressful and confusing for all of us. It can be difficult to figure out the best ways to stay safe and well during a global pandemic, or the steps to take after receiving a serious disease diagnosis.
Whether you are interested in fortifying your body against chronic disease, fighting cancers, or protecting yourself against the coronavirus, it is important that you nurture and strengthen your immune system with a healthy diet. The right foods can help you ward off disease — and recover and rebound quickly if you do get sick.
It’s all about building the strongest foundation for your immune system. A healthy immune system can make the difference between life and death – and a healthy immune system can’t be built on junk, fast, sugary, fried, and convenience foods.
To strengthen our immunity, we must get the foods right.
The fundamentals of fortifying your body come down to these three objectives:
- Consume nutrient-dense foods to arm your body with disease-fighting agents.
- Create a healthy daily routine that keeps those defenses strong.
- Eliminate stress to keep your healthy routine intact.
Let’s explore the strong dietary and lifestyle habits that can help you ward off disease.
Step 1: Arm your immune system with nutrient-dense foods
You must start here. The mantra of healthy eating will build a strong foundation for your immune system, and eating the rainbow will fortify your body with a wide range of nutrients that keep you healthy.
By taking the “whole foods, plant-based” mantra to heart, you’ll empower your immune system with the vital disease-fighting nutrients it needs. Whole foods in their pure unprocessed forms will help you avoid harmful additives and toxic ingredients. A plant-based diet will help nourish, heal, protect, and repair your entire body. When you make whole plant-based foods the centerpiece of your diet, your food automatically becomes micro-nutrient dense. It becomes medicine. You’ll flood your body with more of what it needs to stay healthy: vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. You’ll also consume less of what you don’t need: excess calories, saturated fats, and cholesterol. All these unwanted elements promote disease.
In the fight against disease, rainbow foods are your disease assassins and sharp shooters.
Think of it as a spectrum of protection: Each color in the spectrum of fruits, vegetables, plants, and legumes provides a different health benefit. For example, green foods boost immunity while reducing cancer risk, repairing DNA, healing tissues, detoxifying the body and providing energy. Orange and yellow foods are proven to strengthen immunity, reduce heart disease, repair cells and improve vision. By eating a range of colors in your diet, you’ll give your body a vigilant team of immunity boosters.
Optimize your internal army of disease fighters
Within that rainbow of nutrient-dense foods, there are special forces of nutrients and compounds that strengthen your immune system. Vitamin C is a big immunity booster, and citrus fruits, dark greens such as collard greens and broccoli, and orange produce such as cantaloupe, mango, and papaya are great sources of vitamin C. Vitamin D is another nutrient that is important for your immune system. Certain mushrooms, fish oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, herring, and mackerel are all rich in vitamin D. Your body can also make vitamin D from regular sun exposure. In addition to those sharp shooters, you’ll need to ensure the walls of your immunity fortress are as strong as they can be. That’s where protein comes in. Healthy protein sources such as beans, legumes, unsalted and unroasted nuts, hemp seeds, lean meats, and fish keep your bones and muscles strong, help your body repair tissue, elevate your energy levels, and support immune antibodies.
Focus on fresh… or even frozen:
You should consume as much raw and cooked produce as possible. You can buy a bunch now, eat what you can and freeze the rest. In fact, some pre-packaged frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious – if not more nutritious – as fresh produce. That’s because they’re frozen when they’re perfectly ripe, which locks in all the nutrients at their optimal levels. Frozen produce is just one of many non-perishable options you can stock up on during your next grocery run…
Sharp-shooters with shelf life
Keep your pantry stocked with dried and canned legumes, fruit cups packed in their own juice, dried fruit (mangoes, apricots and raisins), unroasted/unsalted nuts and seeds, quality protein powders, supplements made from real plants (not chemicals), and powdered or bottled super foods such as maca, cacao, spirulina, goji berry, acai, coconut, moringa, and hemp seeds.
If you eat meat, focus on quality and size
Immune antibodies are made from protein. As I covered in my post about the mantra of healthy eating, eating a large amount of produce every day doesn’t mean you have to go vegan. If you do choose to consume animal products, select higher quality meats and seafoods that do not contain antibiotics or added growth hormones. You should also limit your portions of meat to around the size of a deck of cards per serving. For an added step, purchase from suppliers that keep strict records of where their animal products are sourced and how animals are fed and cared for. Eat high-quality protein throughout the day: Clean and lean meats and seafoods or plant-based protein powders.
Step 2: Stick to a Healthy Daily Routine
Once you’ve calibrated your diet to boost your immunity, it’s important to maintain good habits that will strengthen your defenses even further.
Drink at least 64 ounces of water or herbal tea per day
It is important to maintain this habit to stay hydrated and flush out toxins. It also helps you avoid drinking empty calories or excess calories. Focus on water and herbal teas rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Get 7 to 9 hours of rest each night
The ideal amount of sleep needed varies by age, but healthy adults need 7 to 9 hours of rest each night. Proper sleep is an important part of functioning at your best. Sleeping is healing: It helps with cell regeneration, anti-aging, and pain management. In addition, our bodies produce cytokines, a type of protein, when we sleep. Cytokines target infections and inflammation, and they help regulate your immune system. To put myself in a stress-free state of mind as I drift off to sleep, I like to use an overnight meditation app.
Maintain physical activity
To maintain strong bodies, it is important to both eat right and stay active. This will prevent stiff joints and weight gain. Physical activity also lowers stress and strengthens the immune system. At home, find free workout classes to take online or sign up for a digital workout service available from your cable provider or favorite streaming service. It is also healthy to go on long walks, a hike, or simply play outside.
Eat healthy, but eat well.
It can be difficult to remain dedicated to a healthy diet during stressful times, especially when unhealthy options are increasingly available for delivery to our doorsteps. It’s important to avoid stress eating and to remain vigilant about making healthy choices. I have some great tips on how to maintain healthy eating habits in all circumstances in my post about making a healthy eating plan that sticks.
Step 3: Do Your Best to Eliminate Stress
Stress and unhealthy dietary habits are a diabolical duo that work together to compromise our immune systems. When we’re worried about our own health or the health of our loved ones, it can create emotions that present additional health challenges. Anxiety can cause our eating habits to spiral out of control as we try to find ways to cope with life’s pressures.
There are several ways to eliminate stress, and part of the fun is finding the right fit for you. You might try signing up for a meditation class, or you may even use a relaxation app like Insight Timer. You can go on a hike or a walking meditation. Try yoga, cooking, dancing, or spending time with friends. Find your very own happy place, and return to that place as often as necessary when things feel stressful.
I want you to feel empowered, not defeated. You may find that you feel calmer and more confident when you are engaged in activities that give you a sense of agency and control.