Foods that help the immune system

We live in continuous contact with pathogenic microorganisms, or those potentially attempting to colonize us. We don't normally get sick, or only rarely, thanks to immune system which allows our body to defend itself from external aggressions, recognizing and eliminating pathogens, allergens or toxic agents. Having an immune system that works efficiently means enjoying greater protection and being exposed to a lower risk of developing diseases. This complex and integrated defense system needs sufficient energy, but also specific nutrients. An unbalanced, monotonous diet, too rich in calories, combined with poor physical activity, can make the immune response less efficient. In fact, those who fall ill more often are both malnourished subjects, due to caloric restriction, and obese subjects, in whom excess food intake induces a process of inflammation. In both cases, in the long run, you can have one compromise of the immune system.

This protects our body through two different mechanisms coordinated with each other:

  • nonspecific or innate immunity, present since birth, which constitutes the first line of defense against external agents, even before exposure to them. It makes use of structures and tissues such as the skin, the mucous membranes of the bronchi and intestine. The immune cells involved in this type of response act promptly but with limited specificity. They are macrophages, neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, mast cells, natural killer cells and dendritic cells;
  • specific or acquired immunity it has a generally delayed mechanism of action compared to cells of the innate immune system. it is activated when the body comes into contact with an antigen (virus, bacterium, vaccine) and only at that moment is the production of T and B lymphocytes induced. These cells remain in circulation for years and retain a memory of that specific antigen antigen, so that if the same pathogen comes into contact with our body, it recognizes it and quickly produces specific antibodies.

What is needed to strengthen the immune system

Correct behaviors should not be adopted only when needed, such as when we are faced with an attack by pathogens, but on a daily basis. A healthy lifestyle and a balanced and varied diet, followed all year round, they are the starting point for strengthening our defense barrier. In fact, both individual nutrients and diet can exert a decisive action on the immune response and inflammation. To be healthy, the body needs the right amount of energy, well distributed among the macronutrients (carbohydrates 50-60%, fats 20-25%, proteins 15-20%) and the right hydration. The effectiveness of the immune system is guaranteed by the role played by some nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, minerals and vitamins and by bioactive compounds such as fibre, polyphenols and probiotics.

The omega-3 fatty acids they can regulate cell membrane properties, such as membrane fluidity, and modulate both the immune response and inflammation. Among dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) we find:

I mineralswhich occupy a significant place in immune defense are:

  • il ferro, a key micronutrient, closely linked to immunity, involved in the proliferation and maturation of the immune cells of the specific system. Both animal and plant-based foods are rich in them. The main animal sources are red meat and liver, but also anchovies, anchovies, sea bass and clams. Among the vegetable sources we have lentils, beans, pumpkin seeds, dehydrated fruit such as prunes, raisins and apricots and nuts such as cashews and pistachios.
  • Lo zincan important element in supporting the immune system, is found mainly in anchovies, cuttlefish and squid, in whole grains such as millet and quinoa, in legumes such as beans, chickpeas and lentils, in dried fruit (almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pine nuts), in seeds of pumpkin and sunflower, in mushrooms and cocoa.
  • Il magnesium, an essential trace element to counteract the state of chronic inflammation, is abundant in lentils and beans, but also in walnuts, almonds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, green leafy vegetables. Bananas and chocolate are also excellent sources.
  • Il selenium, a powerful antioxidant, supports the functionality of the immune system. We make a good supply of them by introducing fresh tuna, clams, mussels, sole and prawns into the diet. Even offal is rich in it.
  • Il copper, important for the well-being of the immune system, has an antioxidant action protecting against the action of free radicals. We can find it in foods such as artichokes, dried fruit such as cashews, walnuts, and pistachios, but also in bitter cocoa.
  • Il manganese, an element that cannot be missing from our diet, as it acts as a coenzyme in various biological processes such as in free radical defense systems. Among the foods richest in manganese we have red and yellow peppers, yellow plums, whole grains (quinoa, rice, spelt, black rice) and dried fruit.

The vitamins that help support the function of our immune system are:

  • the vitamin A, essential to guarantee the integrity of the first defense barriers (skin and mucous membranes), we find it in some animal foods such as offal and in orange vegetables, carrots, pumpkin, tomatoes, apricots, peppers and green vegetables such as rocket, basil, spinach and radicchio.
  • The vitamin C, promotes the absorption of iron and protects against infections. We find it in grape juice, currants, citrus fruits, kiwis, strawberries but also in peppers, rocket, broccoli and spinach.
  • The vitamin D, is involved in the regulation of the immune system. The foods richest in this micronutrient are: cod liver oil, shrimp, egg yolk, tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines, milk and derivatives.
  • The Vitamin E, it is a fat-soluble antioxidant and has immunomodulatory effects. It is found in abundance in extra virgin olive oil, to be consumed raw, and in other vegetable oils (peanuts, corn, sunflower), in dried fruit (hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds), and in pumpkin seeds and whole grains.
  • I folates stimulate the formation of immune cells (white blood cells). We find them in chickpeas, broad beans and beans and in vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, spinach, artichokes and chard.

How do we support the immune system at the table?

The way to prevent disease is to meet the nutritional needs needed by the immune system. For this, we must choose seasonal fruit and vegetables, rich in fiber and antioxidants. They should preferably be eaten raw, because in this way the nutritional properties are preserved; however, cooking, especially if prolonged, could change its concentration and nutritional value.

Be careful with excess sugar and salt. If we want to strengthen the immune system, as a snack for adults and children, it is better to opt for fruit, dried fruit or yogurt.

The main meals should be built according to the model suggested by the Healthy Eating Plate, from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, which helps us build a healthy and balanced plate. Based on this scheme, half the plate is dedicated to vegetables and fruit, a quarter must be represented by whole grains. Refined ones are not recommended, as they can induce a state of inflammation due to the higher insulin response. The other quarter of the plate should be made up of healthy proteins such as white meats, legumes, eggs and fatty fish rich in omega 3.


Adequate intake of all nutrients and various food groups is a safe and effective strategy that leads to increased resistance to infections and, consequently, to a lower chance of getting sick.


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