Immune System Boosters
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Foods That Boost the Immune System

Immune system boosters

If you're looking for ways to prevent winter colds and the flu, your first step should be a visit to your local grocery store.

Feeding your body certain foods may help to keep your immune system running strong. Plan your meals to include the following 15 powerful immune system boosters. You may increase everyone’s chances of fending off those winter bugs before they get sick.

Eating just one of these foods constantly won’t be enough to help fight off the flu. Keep in mind that variety is key to proper nutrition. Pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intakes so that you don’t get too much of a single vitamin and too little of others.

1. Citrus fruits

Most people turn to vitamin C after they've caught a cold. But did you know it tops the chart of foods that keep your immune system running at 100 percent? Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells. These are key to fighting infections. 

Popular citrus fruits include:

  • grapefruit
  • oranges
  • tangerines
  • lemons
  • limes
  • clementines

Because your body doesn't produce or store it, daily intake of vitamin C is essential for continued health. Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. With such a variety to choose from, it's easy to add a squeeze of C to any meal.

2. Red bell peppers

Think citrus fruits have the most vitamin C of any fruit or vegetable? Think again. Ounce for ounce, red bell peppers have twice as much vitamin C, as well as being a rich source of beta carotene. Vitamin C may help maintain healthy skin, and beta carotene helps keep your eyes and skin healthy.

3. Broccoli

Broccoli is supercharged with an arsenal of vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as numerous antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your table. The key to keeping its power intact is to cook it as little as possible — or better yet, not at all!

4. Garlic

Garlic is found in almost every cuisine around the world. It adds a little zing to food and it's a must-have for your health. Early civilizations recognized its value for fighting infections. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, garlic may also help in lowering blood pressure and slowing down hardening of the arteries. Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.

5. Ginger

Ginger is another ingredient many turn to after they've caught a cold. However, like vitamin C, ginger may also help prevent that cold from taking hold in the first place. While it's used in many sweet desserts, ginger packs some heat in the form of gingerol, a relative of capsaicin. Capsaicin gives chili peppers their distinctive heat. Ginger may help decrease chronic pain and may possess cholesterol-lowering properties, according to recent animal studies.

6. Spinach

Spinach made our list not just because it's rich in vitamin C. It's also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may increase the infection-fighting capability of our immune systems. Similar to broccoli, spinach is best cooked as little as possible so that its nutrients are retained. Light cooking enhances its vitamin A and reduces oxalic acid.

7. Yogurt

When selecting yogurt, look for ones that have "live and active cultures" printed on the label. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, these cultures may stimulate your immune system to help fight diseases. Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D, so try to select brands fortified with vitamin D.

Vitamin D helps to regulate the immune system and is thought to potentially boost our body’s natural defenses against diseases.

8. Almonds

When it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, vitamin E tends to take a backseat to the more commonly mentioned vitamin C. However, vitamin E is key to a healthy immune system. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts, especially almonds, are packed with it. A half-cup serving, which is about 46 whole, shelled almonds, provides nearly 100 percent of the recommended daily amount.

9. Turmeric

A key ingredient in many curries, this bright yellow, bitter spice has been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Also, a recent study published in BBA Clinical demonstrates that high concentrations of curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinct color, have been shown to help reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.

10. Green tea

Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Where green tea really excels is in its levels of epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG, another powerful antioxidant. The fermentation process black tea goes through destroys a lot of the EGCG. Green tea, on the other hand, is steamed and not fermented, preserving EGCG. If that wasn't enough, it's also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T-cells.

11. Papaya

Papaya is another fruit loaded with vitamin C. You can find 224 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a single papaya. Papayas also have a digestive enzyme called papain that has anti-inflammatory effects within the body.

Papayas have decent amounts of potassium, B vitamins, and folate, all of which are beneficial to your overall health.

12. Kiwi

Like papayas, kiwis are naturally full of a ton of essential nutrients, including folate, potassium, vitamin K, and vitamin C. Vitamin C boosts white blood cells to fight infection, while kiwi’s other nutrients keep the rest of your body functioning properly.

Kiwis may also protect against respiratory problems, preventing common cold and flu complications such as coughing, wheezing, and asthma.

13. Poultry

When you’re sick, chicken soup is more than just a feel-good food with a placebo effect. It can also help protect you from getting sick in the first place.

Poultry, such as chicken and turkey, is high in vitamin B-6. One hundred grams of light turkey or chicken meat contains 40 to 50 percent of your daily recommended amount of B-6.

Vitamin B-6 is an important player in many of the chemical reactions that happen within the body. It’s also vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells. Stock or bone broth, which is produced by boiling chicken bones, contains gelatin, chondroitin, and other nutrients helpful for gut healing and immunity.

14. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, including phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin B-6. They’re also incredibly high in vitamin E, with 82 percent of the daily recommended amount in just a 1/4-cup serving.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and is important in regulating and maintaining immune system function.

Other foods with high amounts of vitamin E include avocados and dark leafy greens.

15. Shellfish

Shellfish isn’t what jumps to mind for many who are trying to boost their immune system, but some types of shellfish are packed with zinc.

Zinc doesn’t get as much attention as many other vitamins and minerals, but it’s an element that can heavily affect our immune system. Our bodies need zinc so that our immune cells can function as intended.

Varieties of shellfish that are high in zinc include:

  • crabs
  • clams
  • lobster
  • mussels

Keep in mind that you don’t want to have more than the daily recommended amount of zinc in your diet, as too much can actually inhibit the function of the immune system.

More ways to prevent the flu

Eating right is a great start, but there are other things you can do to protect your family and yourself from the flu, colds, and other illnesses. Start with these flu prevention basics and then read these seven tips for flu-proofing your home. Perhaps most importantly, read up on the flu vaccine and decide whether it’s right for you.

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