During the current global health crisis, it is wise to remember the old adage, "the best defense is a good offense." Living healthy is a significant key to supporting the immune system - your offense. That means getting regular exercise, doing what you can to relieve stress, washing your hands well and often, getting enough rest and relaxation, and eating a diet based on whole foods. Although there isn’t one true food or supplement that can guarantee the prevention of a common cold, flu or coronavirus, there are many immune-boosting foods you can eat to support your body’s defenses.
Foods for the Immune System
Below are some of the best immune-boosting foods to focus on when drawing up your grocery list. The idea is to prioritize a healthy diet with a range of whole foods, but these immune-boosting options are especially rich in certain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that have been shown to bolster your body’s immunity.
- Red bell peppers
- Sweet potatoes
Leafy greens like spinach, kale, broccoli, and red bell peppers are full of vitamins A, C, and E, fiber, and antioxidants that your body needs to thrive.
Button mushrooms provide B vitamins and selenium. Research has shown that low levels of selenium can make you more susceptible to the flu, and the B vitamins riboflavin and niacin are important for healthy immune function.
Spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes are also rich in beta carotene, which may support the immune system’s ability to fight infection.
Consider adding any of these immune-boosting veggies to salads, stir-fries, side dishes, or putting raw kale or spinach in your smoothies.
- Acai berries
- Dried tart cherries
All citrus fruits mentioned above are high in vitamin C, which is crucial for a healthy immune system. Many also contain potassium, folate, vitamin K, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients that make them key immune-boosting foods.
Benefits from vitamin C have been seen in people with too-low levels. You can consume up to around 200 mg of vitamin C per day to help with immune support before additional vitamin C gets excreted from the body.
Elderberry is an ancient remedy for immune support, as it is full of antioxidants that may help fight inflammation and other invaders. Acai berries are also rich in anthocyanins, which are compounds with antioxidant effects. In addition, dried tart cherries have been studied for their effect on respiratory inflammation, stress, and immunity.
Enjoy these fruits by themselves, in granola, with yogurt, in salads, or as any other healthy dish.
Meats and Proteins for Boosting the Immune System
Chicken noodle soup is a traditional cold remedy that you might associate with your grandmother, but it’s actually partially backed by science. Chicken, beef, and turkey contain carnosine, a chemical that might help protect your body from the flu virus.
Shellfish like oysters, clams, and crab are high in zinc, which helps your body create and activate white blood cells to support proper immune functioning. Sardines also provide the essential nutrient and antioxidant selenium.
If you don’t eat meat or want a meat-free option, beans are a good source of plant-based protein while also providing fiber, selenium, zinc, and thiamine to support your body’s fight against infection.
Dairy for the Immune System
Fermented products like yogurt are full of probiotics, which support your gut health and may help reduce the severity of colds. Just make sure you choose yogurt that:
- Contains “live and active cultures”
- Is unsweetened (to avoid added sugars)
- Has been fortified with vitamin D
Low vitamin D levels have been linked with a higher chance of getting the flu or colds.
To make yogurt more exciting, stir in some of the fruits mentioned above and/or low-sugar granola with some nuts and seeds.
Immune-Boosting Nuts and Seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Brazil nuts
Just about ¼ cup of sunflower seeds gives you half of your daily recommended amount of vitamin E, and the same amount of almonds provides just slightly less. Vitamin E is essential for healthy immunity.
About ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds provides around 20% of your daily recommended intake for zinc. Brazil nuts are a fantastic source of selenium, providing 1,000% of your daily intake with just six to eight nuts! (For this reason, you should be careful not to consume too many.) Lastly, walnuts are a good plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, copper, folate, vitamin B, and vitamin E that support immunity and can help fight inflammation.
Nuts and seeds are great enjoyed alone, in a mix with dried fruit, or sprinkled on salads, cereal, or in yogurt.
Herbs and Spices for the Immune System
Adding fresh herbs and spices to your meals can also act as immune-boosting foods. Turmeric contains curcumin, which is a strong anti-inflammatory compound that has been shown to support immune activity.
Ginger and garlic have also been shown to contain components to help fight inflammation, which is vital for good health.
Other Immune Boosters
- Green tea
- Wheat germ
Although they don’t fit easily into the other categories, consuming the above immune-boosting foods can also help your body.
Green tea contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants, as well as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). Miso is a gut-healthy fermented soy paste that can be added to soups or sauces to support your overall health. Wheat germ is the nutrient-rich part of the wheat plant that provides B vitamins, zinc, fiber, and other antioxidants for immune support.
The Bottom Line
Consider adding some of these immune-boosting foods to your diet, especially during the current health situation. The more whole, natural foods you can add to your routine, the better it is for your immune and overall health. Plus, you’ll feel great, too!
Related: MNP Immune Health Formulas