Recent years have created conditions of fear, re-thinking and many changes related to the public health. Many people have begun to reflect on what they eat, whether they are eating correctly at all, and have begun to appreciate nature and the freedom to walk around without restrictions.

Building and maintaining a strong immune system helps to protect against various viruses and diseases. Proper nutrition and lifestyle affect not only our physical condition but also our mental health.

Even when it’s not cold and flu season, keeping your immunity in good shape is a must. In addition to practicing healthy habits such as ensuring adequate sleep, daily exercise, building pleasant social contacts and stress relief strategies, you can re-charge your immune system by eating nutrient-rich foods.

The immune system consists of organs, cells, tissues and proteins. Together, they carry out bodily processes that fight against the pathogens, which are viruses, bacteria, and foreign bodies that cause infection or disease. The moment the immune system comes in contact with a pathogen, it triggers an immune response. The immune system releases antibodies that bind to the pathogens’ antigens and kill them.

Including specific foods in your diet can boost everyone’s immune response.

Here are some of the foods to add to your menu to boost your immune system:

  • Citrus fruits, blueberries and leafy greens

Vitamin C helps protect the body from oxidative stress, which supports the immune function. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between healthy antioxidants and harmful substances called free radicals in the body, studies show. As a type of antioxidant, vitamin C boosts immunity by supporting the cellular function, among other benefits.

According to the National Institutes of Health, foods with vitamin C include oranges, lemons, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli , leafy greens such as kale and peppers. To keep vitamin C in your foodstuff, enjoy these foods in their raw form whenever possible. Another extremely beneficial fruit are blueberries, which contain anthocyanin, which has antioxidant properties and help strengthen the immune system. Flavonoids play an essential role in the immune protection system of the respiratory tract. People who eat foods rich in flavonoids are less likely to get an upper respiratory tract infection or the common cold than those who don’t.

  • Spinach

Spinach can boost the immune system as it contains many essential nutrients and antioxidants including flavonoids, carotenoids, vitamin C and vitamin E. Vitamins C and E support the immune system, while flavonoids can help prevent the common cold in otherwise healthy people.***

  • Seafood

Omega-3 fatty acids , found in certain types of fish species – such as salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel – improve the functioning of immune cells.

Eating fish can increase the activity of white blood cells, which further strengthens the immune system. This is supported by a study that found this effect was not only significant, but also rapid – within a week following consumption.

  • Dark chocolate

Dark chocolate contains magnesium, which can boost antibodies and prevent various diseases. Many vitamins and minerals play a role in immune function, but magnesium especially stands out. Your immune system is made up of multiple components, including proteins such as antibodies, lymphocytes and macrophages, which all work together to fight off invaders such as viruses. Other foods high in magnesium are pumpkin seeds, spinach, avocados and brown rice. The sweetest surprise on this list is dark chocolate, with those with 70 to 85 percent cocoa coming in at about 65 milligrams (mg) of magnesium per ounce. That makes an ounce a good source of nutrients. Just be sure to enjoy this treat in moderation, as an ounce has 170 calories.

  • Nuts and seeds

For a filling snack that also benefits your immune system, reach for a handful of nuts or seeds. Not only do they contain magnesium, but they are rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that has been demonstrated to improve the body’s ability to fight bacteria and viruses.

Just one Brazil nut provides more than 100 percent of your daily needs for selenium, a mineral that can boost your immune system. Selenium plays a critical role in the immune response because it helps regulate immune cell function and reduces inflammation.

A small handful like sunflower seeds, almonds , walnuts can give you that vitamin E boost and they are a tasty addition to salads and other dishes.  You also should be very careful about the amount of nuts you consume. They are a healthy food, but they are high-calorie, so overdoing it can contribute to weight gain.

  • Garlic and onions

Garlic gets its distinctive smell from sulfur compounds and whether you love the aroma or not, it offers protective benefits for your health and immunity. This is because when garlic is crushed or chopped, it produces allicin, which has antiviral and antibacterial properties. In case you’re looking for a powerful immune boosting dinner, whip up some fresh pasta sauce with garlic and onions, plus tomatoes for added vitamin C.

  • Yoghurt

Yogurt is rich in probiotics , the good bacteria that support gut health. A huge part of the immune system is actually in the gastrointestinal tract. It is preferable to choose unsweetened yogurt. If you still don’t like this product – you can choose other fermented foods as an alternative. Studies prove that people who eat or drink fermented foods and drinks such as yogurt, kefir suffer from less inflammation.

Other options to strengthen the immune system:

  • avoiding smoking
  • regular exercise/sports
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • avoiding alcohol or drinking in moderation
  • sufficient and quality sleep
  • minimizing stress
  • maintaining good hygiene habits

Remember that the immune system is complex. A healthy lifestyle and balanced diet are just one of the ways to maintain immune health.

It is also essential to consider other lifestyle factors that can affect immune system health, such as exercise and limiting alcohol and cigarettes.

Drink more water, eat in moderation and keep enjoying life!