Immune-Boosting Foods For Every Age Group
Summer isn’t typically a time of year that people associate with getting sick. But the reality is that you can come down with a nasty cold or the flu anytime your immune system becomes compromised. This can happen when you’re stressed out, have a hectic schedule, or traveling often.
While you don’t always have control over these factors, there is one important thing you can do: feed your body nutritious, immunity-boosting foods. Read on to learn how you can keep your immune system going strong, no matter what life throws at you!
Why Some Foods Boost Your Immunity
For your immune system to run at peak performance, your body needs a significant amount of essential vitamins and minerals. The best way to achieve this is by eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods.
But there is a category of “superfoods” — whole foods that offer maximum nutritional benefits with minimal calories — that are particularly great for boosting immunity.
Most superfoods carry an abundance of the following essential building blocks for a strong immune system:
- Antioxidants: Help neutralize free radicals in the body that are closely linked to numerous diseases and conditions
- Essential Fatty Acids: Healthy, “good” fats that are essential for maintaining optimal health. They’re divided into two groups, Omega-3s and Omega-6s, and are considered essential because the body cannot not produce them on its own
- Vitamin A: Critical for normal vision, reproduction, and the immune system
- Vitamin C: Helps white blood cells function and is crucial to growth, development, and and repairing tissues
- Vitamin K: Supports strong bones, prevents blood clots and excessive bleeding
- B Vitamins: The eight B vitamins are a vital part of good health, responsible for red blood cell growth, healthy appetite, high energy levels, proper brain and nerve function, and muscle tone
- Carotenoids: A plant-based nutrient that creates bright red, yellow, and orange pigments in fruits and veggies, which are potent antioxidants
- Iron: Essential component of hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body
- Magnesium: Relays signals between the brain and body, supports nerve function, maintains a steady heartbeat, and regulates muscle contractions
- Potassium: A crucial electrolyte that has benefits similar to magnesium, such as maintaining a steady heartbeat, nervous system health, and regulating fluid levels in the body
- Calcium: Nearly all of the calcium in the body is in the bones and teeth. Calcium is absolutely imperative for skeletal health, bone growth, and combating osteoporosis
The Best Immunity-Boosting Foods For All Ages
The list of immunity-boosting foods is long, and nearly everyone can benefit from any superfood, regardless of age. However, each age group has its own specific immune-boosting needs for growth and development, maintenance, or staying healthy while aging.
Babies & Children
Try these palatable, easy-to-digest superfoods that help kids’ mental and physical development, while keeping their immune systems churning away:
- Whole-fat plain yogurt: Loaded with probiotics, the good bacteria that helps your child fend off harmful bacteria in the digestive system, and also vitamin D for strong bones
- Sweet potatoes: Packed with carotene and Vitamin A for developing keen eyesight
- Avocado: Has vitamins E, B6, and Omega-3s, which builds resistance to viruses
- Brown rice: High in magnesium, promoting healthy nervous system function
- Blueberries: Superior source of antioxidants and Vitamin C, which can prevent and shorten colds
Calcium and iron are two essential nutrients for teens. They help develop strong bones and keep their energy levels high. Here are some great immunity-boosting meals and snacks that are higher in calories to suit teens’ fast metabolisms, but are still rich in healthy nutrients:
- Granola and skim milk: Taking it up a notch from plain old cereal, granola has more iron and the skim milk provides calcium without saturated fat
- Frozen yogurt with walnuts: Many teens have a sweet tooth, so swap out the cookies and ice cream for frozen yogurt (high in calcium) with walnuts, for iron and Omega-3s
- Hummus and veggies: Hummus contains lots of calcium and magnesium. Bonus: Dip red, orange, or yellow bell peppers into the creamy snack for a major carotenoid boost
- Nut Butters: Nut butters are very satiating and have the Omega-3s and iron teens need for great health
- Whole wheat pasta and fresh tomato sauce: Whole wheat pasta provides twice the iron of regular pasta and gives teens the energy they need. Fresh tomato sauce is low in calories, full of vitamins C and E, and brimming with calcium to ward off illness
Like teens, women also need increased calcium and iron to prevent illness and stay strong as they age. But oftentimes, they also need lower-calorie foods that deliver these same critical benefits:
- Parmesan cheese: Parmesan has nearly twice the amount of calcium than other cheeses, and less saturated fat
- Lentils: Low-calorie lentils contain 30 percent of women’s daily iron needs per cooked cup
- Apples: Rich in quercetin, an antioxidant that can bolster your body’s overall cold, flu, and disease-fighting abilities, especially in women
- Dark chocolate: Women’s levels of cortisol — the stress hormone — typically run higher than men’s. Consistently spiked levels of cortisol can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, and stroke. Dark cocoa has powerful antioxidants that curb cortisol production.
- Mushrooms: In medical studies, a protein in mushrooms called aromatase has been associated with decreased risk of breast cancer
Men’s immunity boosters are centered upon Omega-3s for heart health, and strong antioxidants for reproductive health. They also need immunity-boosting foods that are high in protein so they’ll retain muscle mass as they age:
- Turkey: Skinless roasted turkey breast is very high in B vitamins and zinc, both of which are known to boost sperm production and possibly reduce risk of prostate cancer
- Tomato sauce: Lycopene in tomatoes reduces the risk of prostate cancer and digestive tract cancers, as well as increases immunity to common colds
- Watermelon: This juicy fruit produces regenerative proteins in the body that build muscle and repair mitochondria, two important factors that keep men healthy and fit as they age
- Fatty fish: Men are twice as likely as women to have heart attacks. Omega-3-heavy fish like sardines, salmon, and albacore tuna increase immunity to heart disease by clearing out dangerous plaque buildup in arteries
- Almonds: Almonds are loaded with healthy fats, protein, and Vitamin E — great for men’s heart health and digestive system
While this age group has the highest risk of illness, many seniors enjoy healthy, active lifestyles when they eat a diet based on immunity-boosting superfoods. These choices in particular protect seniors’ organs, bones, and fight off common colds and viruses:
- Broccoli: Broccoli pretty much does it all. Since it’s high in fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, B9, and K, it’s fantastic for maintaining strong vision, red blood cells, immune system, bones, tissues, and much more
- Green Tea: Reduces risk of certain cancers such as bladder, prostate, and blood. Improves brain function, promotes healthy gums, and can reduce inflammation among arthritis patients
- Pomegranate: Pomegranates contain mighty antioxidants that reduce the risk of stroke, arthritis, high blood pressure, and diabetes. It can also cure menopausal hot flashes, digestive irritation, and viral infections like the flu
- Red Wine: One five-ounce glass per day can have incredible immunity-boosting benefits, like raising good (HDL) cholesterol, improving blood-clotting ability, and lowering the risk of tooth and gum decay
- Cinnamon: This thousands-year-old spice helps lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and has numerous anti-inflammatory properties. It can also regulate blood sugar and enhance visual-motor responses and attention, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia
No matter what health-related information you’re looking for, Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups’ articles has it all. Visit our extensive online resource library for guidance on how to stay fit and immune to illness.