When it comes to your immune system, the food you consume has a significant impact. That’s because your immune system depends a lot on what kind of nutrition your body gets from food. Though there’s no food equivalent to a magic bullet that guarantees you will never get sick, there are a variety of foods that are proven through research — and physicians — that can help boost your immunity.
The first step to fortifying your immune system is a balanced diet filled with healthy fats, lean meats, and fruits and vegetables. However, there are specific foods that you may want to place in your meal rotation more often than others because of their effectiveness.
Turmeric not only lends a gorgeous bright yellow color to food, but it has a history as an immune booster. Turmeric’s high curcumin content works as a strong antiviral and anti-inflammatory, helping the body fight viruses and heal.
19. Green Tea
Delicious green tea is known as a powerful antioxidant in studies. Unlike teas like black tea, which undergo a fermentation process that destroys tea’s most major antioxidants, green tea doesn’t need to ferment. This lack of fermentation allows green tea to maintain its high antioxidant content. Green tea also contains high levels of the amino acid L-theanine, which helps T cells fight germs.
Asparagus is a dietary prebiotic and contains a dietary fiber called oligosaccharides. Prebiotics improve the immune system by preventing inflammation. Asparagus also contains antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, zinc, and folate (vitamin B9) to fight off illnesses.
17. Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms, mostly grown in Japan, are known as medicinal mushrooms because of their immune-boosting effects and antioxidants. Within these mushrooms are also polysaccharides, terpenoids, sterols, and healthy lipids, all of which have immune-boosting and anticancer effects.
Broccoli might not be the favorite of most six-year-olds, but it should be on every person’s list of foods that keep you from getting sick. Broccoli contains polyphenols, which are important antioxidants that fortify the immune system. If possible, eat broccoli raw or cooked lightly. Fresh broccoli holds more of its nutrients than cooked broccoli.
Milk isn’t just good for calcium; it’s also an excellent source of selenium and zinc, both of which help immunity. Just one cup of milk contains 7% of zinc and 11% of selenium. A study in 2018 found that milk may help decrease asthma, allergies, and respiratory tract infections.
Garlic does more than keep vampires away; it also keeps you healthy. The healthy component in garlic comes from allicin, a sulfuric compound that keeps the immune system in top shape. So, add as much garlic as you’d like into your Caesar salad, because it’s good for you.
Yogurt, as long as it contains live cultures, works excellently as a probiotic. Along with probiotics, yogurt also contains magnesium, selenium, and zinc. These trace minerals enhance the immune system and keep harmful bacteria from making you sick.
12. Bell Peppers
If you were asked to come up with a food source that was high in vitamin C, you would probably not think of bell pepper. As unlikely as it sounds, bell peppers contain more vitamin C than oranges. Vitamin C is widely known for its ability to fight off cold and flu viruses and prevent cancer cells from growing.
Almonds are high in amino acids, which are essential for T-cells. T-cells are a vital part of the immune system, and they work to protect the body against harmful viruses and bacteria. Almonds and other nuts are packed with these healthy amino acids.
It’s no surprise that chicken soup is the go-to meal for sick people everywhere. Just the stock or broth alone a slew of immune-boosting ingredients like gelatin and chondroitin. The vegetables that are added to the soup also add helpful antioxidants to the mix. It’s the chicken, however, that does most of this dish’s magic. Poultry, in general, has high levels of vitamin B6. Not only does vitamin B6 keep you from getting an infection, but vitamin B6 has also been found to increase the immune response in people who were already sick.
The antioxidant, anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory qualities of ginger make it an excellent choice in soups and teas when someone is sick or having digestive issues. Regular consumption of ginger may also help to combat cancer and diabetes.
8. Citrus Fruit
Oranges, and other citrus fruits, are high in vitamin C. Vitamin C is a key enzyme needed to keep the body healthy and keep the immune system strong. It’s also a necessary vitamin for wound healing and combating inflammation. Vitamin C is so vital that a severe deficiency causes a condition called scurvy, which results in a weak immune system, tooth loss, slow wound healing, and bruising.
Although it’s not green like the others in the cruciferous vegetable family (broccoli, mustard greens, and cabbage), cauliflower is still packed with antioxidants and vitamins C. Cauliflower also contains glucosinolates, which help to protect the body from cell damage and harmful pathogens.
Blueberries contain a disease-preventing flavonoid and anthocyanin. A 2016 study found that flavonoids play a vital role in keeping the respiratory tract free of infections. The benefits of blueberries don’t stop there, however. Blueberries are also beneficial for heart health by reducing the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
5. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate isn’t just delicious, it’s also good for you. It’s not just any chocolate, however. Milk chocolate is high in fat and sugars, which negates any benefits chocolate might have. Dark chocolate, however, contains less fat and sugar and remains high in an antioxidant called theobromine.
Spinach, whether served as part of a salad or sauteed in a dish, helps to fortify the immune system through its high nutritional content:
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E
Eating spinach also helps to keep the skin radiant and helps keep blood pressure low.
Tomatoes have a very high vitamin C content and contain all the major carotenoids (alpha- and beta-carotene, lutein, and lycopene). Carotenoids, which are known to be essential for healthy eyesight, are shown to stimulate the immune system, reduce cancer risk, and slow aging.
2. Whole Grains
According to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, whole grains help decrease inflammation and manage digestive system bacteria. Much of the immune system is affected by the digestive system, so whole grains boost the body’s disease-fighting abilities. Incorporating whole grains into the diet can boost the immune system and also improve digestion.
The old saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” is pretty close to the truth. Apples are high phytochemical antioxidants that stimulate immunity and reduce the risk factors for many chronic diseases. Apples are also high in fiber, which lowers the risk for cardiovascular disease and decreases inflammation. Fresh apples are typically more preferable than apple juice, as juices are often high in sugar and low in nutrients.