Paying a visit to the grocery store soon? How about adding an item or two to your shopping list and doing your immune system a big favour? That’s right! If you enjoy certain foods, you can effectively support your body’s natural defences in keeping viruses, bacteria and other harmful substances away. To help you quickly pick the right stuff, we’ve created the ultimate list of foods that enhance the immune system. All you have to do is choose your favourites then relax and enjoy the fact you’ve just made it a bit more difficult for the microbes to get the better of you!
Are there foods that support your immune system?
If you’ve read our previous article on the top 5 natural ways to boost your immune system, then you already know what we’re about to tell you. But it’s important to stress it again for everyone to know: Trying to hack your organism’s natural “security system” to boost its performance would actually do you more harm than good. What we mean by “boosting” is simply helping your body to use its full potential when defending you from intruders.
This also makes the answer to the question clear: there are actually no foods that will enhance your immune system. However, there are many foods that will help it function without issues, thus enabling it to use its full potential and keep you healthy. Let’s take a look at which items you should bring home to maximise your chances of keeping ill-health and diseases away.
Best fruits to strengthen your immune system
Don’t want to catch a cold? Have some blueberries! A study conducted a few years ago actually proved that certain substances in these delicious berries help to defend our respiratory tract from infections. These are called bioflavonoids, compounds that are the products of the plant’s metabolism and are known for their antioxidant properties.
More berries among the best foods for your immune system? You’ve got it! The fruits of the black elderberry bush have long been used in syrups and lozenges as their extracts have anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in flavonoids, substances known for protecting our lungs. This is why elderberry syrup is a popular medicine for colds, flu or sinus infections.
With some studies even suggesting that elderberry-based remedies could reduce the duration of a flu infection, there is speculation that the plant could help in the fight against COVID-19. But before you start stocking up on elderberries, thinking the mighty coronavirus will be too scared to come near you, remember that for now these is merely speculation. So please continue to follow social distancing rules and wash your hands regularly.
If someone asked you what foods boost your immune system, citrus fruits would probably be pretty high on your list. As everyone knows, they are rich in vitamin C, a hero in the battles against coughing, fever and a runny nose.
But what is so special about vitamin C that every child knows its importance? Well, for starters, it helps our immune system to function properly. It is believed that by increasing the production of white blood cells, it enhances the body’s ability to fight off infections.
Almost all popular citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit and clementines, include plenty of vitamin C, which makes it easy to squeeze a dose of health into a wide variety of meals or drinks. And since your body doesn’t produce or store vitamin C, you should make sure you regularly stock up on its natural sources.
Delicious and healthy, papaya is certainly one of the best foods for strengthening your immune system. Just like its citrus cousins, it is a perfect source of vitamin C while also containing vitamin A. Both of these nutrients are vital for the proper functioning of our body’s natural defence system, preventing colds, flu and various types of infections.
Like papayas, kiwis are also full of vitamin C and other essential nutrients, like vitamin K, potassium and folate. Can you imagine that just one cup of this delicious fruit contains almost three times as much vitamin C as the daily requirement? Go and throw it in a smoothie or a fruit salad!
While immunity benefits of citruses and kiwis aren’t exactly exciting news for many, we bet you’ll be surprised to find out that one of your favourite summer refreshments is also a greater booster for your immune system. Watermelons are an amazing source of vitamins A, B6 and C, as well as potassium. All these nutrients are vital for keeping your body strong in the fight against harmful invaders. Watermelon also provides glutathione, another important antioxidant that keeps you safe from the effects of peroxides, heavy metals and free radicals, molecules that can damage your cells and thus cause you to fall ill.
Next on the list of foods for a strong immune system are tomatoes and no matter what sort you go for they’re all true immunity superstars. Just like the more traditional fruits, they’re a treasure trove of vitamin C. They also fuel us with other vital antioxidants, such as beta-carotene (that our body converts into vitamin A, which is essential for your eyesight and healthy skin) and vitamin E (protecting the cells from damage).
Oh, and before you go and stock up on ketchup or make a delicious Bolognese sauce, a word of advice: to really benefit from all their nutritional goodness, it’s best to eat both raw and cooked tomatoes. That’s because by cooking them you’ll lose almost a third of their vitamin C content. But don’t despair if you like your tomatoes turned into sauce, roasted or fried, because things it’s a little more complex than that!
Research actually shows that cooking tomatoes greatly increases their levels of a compound called lycopene, which gives these delicious fruits their red colour. Lycopene is a very strong antioxidant. This means that a delicious Bolognese sauce will also benefit your immunity. Just don’t forget to put sliced tomatoes in a sandwich or fresh salad from time to time for a great extra dose of vitamin C.
Which vegetables support your immune system?
Red bell peppers
We know these are good for you, but we often forget just how good they really are when it comes to “immunity-boosting” diets. Red bell peppers are an alternative to fruit sources of vitamins, enabling you to fuel up on vitamin C while avoiding the sugar of such sweet delights. But it doesn’t stop there. If you thought that no food can compare to citruses when it comes to the amount of vitamin C, then we’ve got news for you…
Take the same amount of a red bell pepper and an orange and the former will provide you with three times as much vitamin C as the latter! What’s more, it will also contain beta-carotene!
You might enjoy red bell peppers raw, but if this isn’t your thing, experts recommend stir-frying or roasting instead of cooking them in other ways. This way, you’ll preserve the most of their nutritional value.
The list of immunity superheroes continues with another strong contender for the best all-rounder – broccoli. High in vitamins A, C and E, antioxidants, as well as fibre (great for overcoming slow digestion!), this vegetable is one of the best choices for strengthening your immune system.
If you haven’t used broccoli as a snack or side dish, then you’ve been missing! Just be careful you don’t overcook this nutrient powerhouse. Instead, gently steam it so that it softens up and is ready to eat. And if you don’t mind going a little hardcore, enjoy it raw.
People have used raw garlic to fight off viruses, bacteria and fungi for millennia. Although researchers need to do some more work before definitively proving that it can help prevent colds or flu, it’s definitely a great home remedy for people feeling under the weather. Due to its antiviral properties, garlic will reduce the symptoms of a cold and therefore help you to get back on your feet sooner.
These fragrant bulbs are also packed with antioxidants that can successfully fight the free radicals associated with cardiovascular issues and other more severe health problems.
No list of foods to improve the immune system would be complete without spinach! Rich in fibre, vitamins A and C, magnesium and folate (which helps our cells to work properly and form red blood cells), it provides all the nutrients needed to keep our immune function in top condition.
Just like in the case of broccoli, you’ll get the best out of spinach if you eat it raw, so why not put it in a sandwich, it’s great!. If you have to cook it, do it lightly to preserve as many nutrients as you can.
And because we really care about you, here’s a pro tip. If you want to be healthy and strong like Popeye, grab some baby spinach before you leave the grocery store. Young spinach leaves contain much less oxalic acid than older ones, and this is an organic substance that can interfere with the absorption of essential nutrients, like calcium and iron. Oxalic acid binds with calcium, making it unavailable for use by the body.
Just like carrots, sweet potatoes are an amazing source of beta-carotene, which your body turns into vitamin A to fight free radicals. This way, it not only helps your immune system do its job effectively, but also slows down the aging process, keeping your skin healthy and protecting it from UV radiation.
Want more amazing facts? How about the fact that with only one medium-sized sweet potato you can get enough vitamin A for the whole day, and almost one third of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C? And the best part is that such a portion only has 100 calories while being free of cholesterol and fat! Strengthening your immune system without worrying about your weight – now that’s what we call a win-win situation!
Fish and meat for a proper “immunity boost”
Was there a dish your grandma or your mom made when you caught a cold? We bet many of you have a similar answer: chicken soup! And those wise women knew what they were doing, even if they didn’t know the science behind it.
Yes, chicken soup actually belongs to the scientifically proven list of foods that will boost your immune system. It will ease the symptoms of a cold or flu, and help you get back to fighting fit much faster. Its secret lies in ingredients that halt the production of mucus, a process which is stimulated by white blood cells when our upper respiratory tract is attacked by a cold virus. Experts even claim that a particular substance, called carnosine is responsible for protecting your body from the flu.
And if there’s no one around you to prepare the soup while you’re too weak to put your culinary skills to the test, we’ve got some great news for you! There’s evidence that canned alternatives have almost the same effect as soup made from scratch! But don’t cheat too often! Canned foods are often packed with salt or flavour enhancers. By preparing your own meals, you can control exactly what goes into your body and how much of a particular ingredient you want to use. Believe us, your immune system likes home-cooked food much better!
Oily fish like tuna or salmon boast high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which, besides a multitude of other health benefits, are also known for their benefits in the fight against autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakenly thinks that healthy cells are actually invading your organism and attacks them. Omega-3 fatty acids help to lower the risk of such issues or reduce their symptoms.
The ocean has quite a few superfoods, and one of the treasures we absolutely can’t miss in this article is oysters. Packed with selenium, iron, vitamins A and C, plenty of protein as well as zinc, they provide the body with a rich dose of nutrients that are essential in keeping the immune system working at its best.
When talking about immunity, vitamins and minerals usually get the most attention, but there are also some often unsung heroes that deserve to be mentioned. One of these is zinc, as it ensures that our immune cells can function properly. Besides oysters, we can also find it in crabs, lobsters and mussels. Just be careful as too much zinc will actually hurt your immune system, with the recommended daily amount being around 10 mg.
Other foods that enhance the immune system
Rich in antioxidant compounds, ginger root is known for its formidable anti-inflammatory as well as immunity-boosting potential. By quenching free radicals that are the result of both metabolic processes and infections, it can effectively protect the organism from neurological disorders, cancer, cardiovascular issues and many other serious health conditions. Ginger is also a great home remedy for a sore throat or nausea.
If you aren’t a fan of vegetable stir-fries, you can grate some ginger and steep it in hot water to make a delicious tea. You can even add it to soups or use it for a spicy twist with your favourite dessert.
Who would think that indulging in dark chocolate could actually boost our immune system by protecting us from the effects of free radicals? Besides zinc, it contains many antioxidants that make this possible.
Resveratrol contributes to the production of serotonin, the hormone that makes us happy, and fighting stress is crucial for a strong immune system. Catechin triggers the release of hormones that actually make the brain work better. What’s more, an antioxidant known as theobromine, which is found in cacao, can suppress coughing!
But before you rush to your snack drawer, however, let’s establish some rules. 1. While dark chocolate definitely belongs to the list of foods that boost the immune system, milk chocolate does not, as it’s a lot more processed. 2. Due to being high in calories and saturated fat, dark chocolate should be eaten in moderation. 3. While diabetics can enjoy it too, they should indulge in no more than 10 g per week!
Rich in vitamin E, almonds are a snack that can also help keep your immune system in top shape and even fight off a cold. It’s true that its antiviral powers are not as great as those of vitamin C, but researchers are close to proving that vitamin E can also play a role in combating colds.
Another rich source of vitamin E, sunflower seeds are the perfect addition to your morning cereal bowl or dinner salad. Just sprinkle them over your meal and enjoy some extra crunch as well as an improved immunity system.
If asked what foods support the immune system, not many would think of eggs. But hey, we all make mistakes. Eggs, particularly the yolks, are an incredible source of vitamin D, another crucial element in regulating as well as strengthening your immune system response by preventing infections of the upper respiratory tract.
And because we love you, here’s a quick cooking tip. Scramble some eggs or prepare an omelette with the addition of roasted or grilled mushrooms. These are high in zinc, selenium and B vitamins, which will give your immune system an even greater boost.
Pick your favourite foods for a strong immune system and do your body a favour!
So, did we include all your favourite foods to boost your immune system, or did we leave a few out? Either way, the next time you’re buying groceries think of what you can do to help your body defend itself to the best of its abilities. If all you need is to treat yourself to a delicious veggie snack or an awesome lunch, then that’s all the more reason to do it!