Diet and Immune Function
While a diet high in ultra-processed foods, added sugar, and excessive calories may lead to immune dysfunction, dietary patterns rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods are beneficial for immune function.
The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, and other healthy foods. Research has shown that it can reduce disease risk, lower markers of inflammation, and beneficially modulate gut bacteria.
Diets high in fiber, such as the Mediterranean diet, promote the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)Trusted Source, including acetate, propionate, and butyrate. SCFAs are end products of bacterial fermentation in the gut and have health benefits.
SCFAs act locally and systemically to modulate the immune response. They maintain the health of and improve the immune defensive function of the intestinal epithelium. This is an important part of the immune system that serves as a barrier against microorganisms. It also reduces the production of inflammatory proteins from immune cells.
Diets high in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish contain high levels of nutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin D, B6, B12, copper, folate, iron, and selenium. The immune system needs these nutrients to function optimally.
Experts know that vegetarian-based diets reduce markers of chronic inflammation, such as CRP, fibrinogen, and IL-6. This might be partly due to the array of nutrients and nonnutritive components found in fruits and vegetables strengthening the immune system response.
Foods rich in healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, protein, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds help reduce systemic inflammation, promote healthy gut bacteria balance, reduce oxidative stress and cellular damage, and improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. All of these activities are essential for healthy immune function,
Additionally, studies show that supplementing the diet with nutrients including vitamin D, zinc, and vitamin C may help optimize immune function and reduce infection risk.
To support immune function, a person should concentrate on following a balanced dietary pattern rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods, especially plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds. People should avoid or limit ultra-processed foods high in refined grains and added
The bottom line
It is essential to follow a healthy diet to ensure good immune function.
Studies show that while certain dietary patterns may lead to impaired immune function, other dietary patterns promote optimal immune function.
A dietary pattern low in ultra-processed foods and rich in whole, nutrient-dense foods, such as vegetables, fruits, fish, and legumes, protects against chronic disease risk and supports a healthy immune response.
Following a healthy dietary pattern and leading a lifestyle that includes stress reduction techniques, restful sleep, daily physical activity, and other healthy habits is the best way to support the immune system and reduce disease risk.