Good health and good nutrition go hand in hand. In fact, for seniors who want to boost their immune systems, a good diet of foods, herbs and spices rich in certain vitamins and minerals can help defend against infection and illness. Plus, these nutrients can help reduce the length and severity of colds and can lessen damage from or slow the progression of respiratory infections, rheumatoid arthritis and vision-related conditions. Here are six of the biggest immune boosters for seniors.
Fruits and VegetablesOf all the foods that will help improve your immune system, you’ll get the most benefits from a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. The stars in this category – blueberries, broccoli, avocados and kale – deliver high levels of vitamin C, antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, all of which reduce swelling and help repair cell damage.
Boost your immune system daily by eating fruit or vegetables at every meal. Include whole fruit at breakfast, a salad at lunch and steamed veggies for dinner. At snack time, have some almonds and an apple. And while you’re at the grocery store, make sure you add these to your cart:
- Leafy lettuce
- Bell peppers
Lean ProteinA strong, healthy body experiences shorter and less severe infections and illnesses. Your body requires protein to help its immune system function. You can support your immune system by eating a variety of lean protein – foods like turkey, skinless chicken, lean cuts of beef, oysters, tuna, salmon and soy. As an added plus, the omega-3 fatty acid in fish – especially salmon – boosts brain function and promotes cardiovascular wellness.
Because even lean meats can contain saturated fat, be sure to monitor intake. The National Academy of Medicine recommends at least 50 grams of protein per day for a 140-pound person and about 70 grams per day for a 200-pound person.
Whole GrainsWhole grains provide B and E vitamins that aren’t commonly found in fruits and vegetables. The Whole Grains Council suggests that adults need at least three servings of these whole grains per day. The good news is, there’s a lot of variety in this category and you can enjoy a serving at every meal. Try oatmeal with fresh blueberries for breakfast. Toss an ounce of sunflower seeds on your salad at lunchtime. Top a serving of quinoa with your seared salmon at dinner.
Make sure to include these whole grains on your grocery list:
- Sunflower seeds
- Bread or pasta made from whole wheat flour
- Whole grain cereals
- Brown rice
Herbs, Spices and SupplementsHerbs and spices do more than add zest to your meal. They can help also help your body combat infection and illness. For instance, the nutrients in turmeric and ginger can help your body repair damaged cells and strengthen your ability to think, heal and function. Oregano helps support the body’s natural resistance and cinnamon is high in immune-boosting antioxidants.
Traditionally, many herbal remedies have been used to help reduce the duration and severity of illnesses. Antiviral characteristics found in echinacea tea can help fight the flu and aid in maintaining proper blood sugar levels. Ginseng has been shown to improve brain function and aid in healing skin cells for people with eczema. Probiotics have been proven to aid in the treatment of pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses for seniors 70 and older. Just remember that before adding herbal supplements to your diet, discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor.
FluidsSeniors need to stay hydrated. Experts recommend at least eight glasses of water per day to keep mucous membranes moist and lower the chance of flu or colds. Herbal tea and broth-based soups count toward seniors’ daily fluid intake.
If you’re ready to try something new, consider kefir (milk with added yeast and lactic acid colonies) or fermented drinks like kombucha (a fizzy tea). These can be effective in promoting digestive health, fighting infection, reducing allergy symptoms and improving bone health.
VitaminsWhen thinking of how to boost the immune system in the elderly, we may immediately reach for vitamin supplements. The Cleveland Clinic notes that the three vitamins with the biggest benefits to the immune system are vitamins C, B6 and E. While the best immune booster for seniors is to get nutrients directly from fruits, vegetables, lean meats, oily fish and nuts, many seniors prefer to take vitamin supplements. It’s a good way to fill in any gaps, if you don’t like vegetables, for example.
Discuss the benefits of vitamin supplements with your doctor. Ask about any possible side effects or interactions with medications or foods, proper dosage, any brand recommendations, and the possible risks and benefits of a particular supplement.
How Seniors Strengthen Their Immune SystemThink of the elderly immune system not as a single body process, but rather a network of systems working together to promote well-being. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand that diet alone won’t cure every ache, pain, symptom or condition. To truly strengthen your body’s immune system, it’s best to pair a healthy diet with a healthy lifestyle. So, take a proactive approach to your health. Get regular exercise, work to reduce stress in your life, don’t smoke, and drink alcohol in moderation. Combined, these measures will help you prevent illnesses such as pneumonia and feel your best.