How to boost immune system to promote a healthy lifestyle

Your immune system is the foundation of good health and fighting off disease. While there is no one thing you can do to boost the immune system your lifestyle does make an impact. Research is still emerging for the full effects of lifestyle on the immune system, including your diet, exercise, and sleep habits. Including general healthy-living strategies is a good way to start giving your immune system the upper hand. You need a variety of foods that provide a natural abundance of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (compounds found in plants that have disease-fighting properties); all those nutrients work together to keep your immune functions running smoothly.

Listed below are foods that can help build up or “boost” your immune system and foods that break it down or “bust” it. 

Immune Boosting

* Phytochemicals are non-nutritive plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties. Plants produce these chemicals to protect themselves but recent research demonstrate that they can also protect humans against diseases. Some of the well-known phytochemicals are lycopene in tomatoes, isoflavones in soy and flavanoids in fruits.

* Omega-3 Fats are found in flaxseed oil, fish oil, chia seeds, walnuts, fish eggs, fatty fish, seafood, soybeans, and spinach.

* Antioxidants are substances that may prevent or delay certain types of cell damage. Antioxidants are found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. An example antioxidant is beta-carotene, which is found in any yellow/orange and green leafy vegetable. 

* Probiotics are the “good” bacteria naturally found in your gut, also known as live cultures in foods. These live cultures help change or repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora. This functional component may boost immunity and overall health, especially GI health. Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food components that are linked to promoting growth of probiotics.

* Vitamin and minerals are essential nutrients which perform hundreds of functions in your body. They are found in a variety of foods including fruits, vegetable, and whole grains.

Immune Busting

* Added sugar are sugars and syrups put in foods during preparation or processing, or added at the table. Common sources of added sugars include pop, sports drinks, desserts, cereals, etc.

* Refined starches have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are white flour, de-germed cornmeal, white bread, and white rice.

* Trans fat is naturally found in small amounts in some animal products such as meat, whole milk, and milk products. Trans fat can also be made from vegetable oils through a process call hydrogenation. Check the food label to find out if trans fat is in your food choices. Trans fat can often be found in many cakes, cookies, crackers, icings, stick margarines, and microwave popcorn.

* Saturated fats are most often found in animal products such as beef, pork, and chicken. Leaner animal products, such as chicken breast or pork loin, often have less saturated fat. Foods that contain more saturated fat are usually solid at room temperature and are sometimes called “solid” fat.

If you notice your diet is coming more from the Immune Busting section your immune system may be taking a hit, now might be the time to consider making nutritional changes.  Even one change is for the better, and will start you on the right track of improving your health.


UPHS-M has Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN) on staff who work in all capacities.  

* Inpatient RDNs who work with our inpatients for all nutritionally related issues.  

* Outpatient RDNs who work in the pediatric clinics (Pediatric Diabetes, Blue Prints 4 Health, Multi-Handicapped, Cardiology, Neuromuscular, and Hemophilia), the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, and who see outpatients for a variety of nutrition-related issues. Did you know that UPHS-M insurance covers 12 nutrition counseling visits per year for certain diagnoses?  

* Outpatient diabetes program.  

* Food and Nutrition Services. In celebration of National Nutrition Month, Food and Nutrition Services is offering a basket give-away drawing in the cafeteria, the week of March 11.  

If you have any questions or for more information, please feel free to call us at (906) 225-3221. 

References:  How to boost your immune system: Helpful ways to strengthen your immune system and fight off disease. Harvard Health Publishing. 2018

Healthy Immunity Diet Guidelines. Eating Well. 2018

What Foods Should You Eat to Improve Immunity and What Kinds of Foods Depress the Immune System. 2019

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