Foods That Boost the Immune System

Written by James Schend | Published on March 24, 2015
Medically Reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, MS, RD, LD, CDE on March 24, 2015

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 10 powerful immune system boosters and you may increase your family's chances of fending off those winter bugs before they get anyone sick.

1. Citrus

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. 

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 and 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 super-charged 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. Studies by the National Institute of Food Science and Technology have shown that garlic helps to lower cholesterol and may prevent hardening of 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. But 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 studies.

6. Spinach

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

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.

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. But 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 vitamin E. A half-cup serving 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. A recent study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology demonstrates that high concentrations of curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinct color, have been shown to help reduce inflammation and fever.

10. Green Tea

Both green and black teas are packed with flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Where green tea really shines 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.

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 getting the flu vaccine is right for you.

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