The right foods can help keep the immune system strong, and if you’re looking for ways to prevent winter colds and the flu, plan your meals to include these 14 powerful immune system boosters.
1. Citrus Fruits
Because it helps build up the immune system, most people turn to vitamin C, as it 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 and clementines.
Because the body does not produce or store vitamin C, one needs a daily dose for continued health. Since all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C, and with such a variety to choose from, it’s easy to add a squeeze of this vitamin to any meal.
2. Red Bell Peppers
Gram for gram, red bell peppers contain twice as much vitamin C as citrus, and they’re also a rich source of beta carotene. Besides boosting the immune system, vitamin C may help maintain healthy skin. Beta carotene helps keep the eyes and skin healthy.
Broccoli is a supercharged vegetable, packed vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, and E, as well as many other antioxidants and fiber. Broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables one can include in a healthy eating regime – just remember the key to keeping its power up is cooking it as little as possible — or better yet, not at all.
Garlic adds a little zing to food and it’s a must-have for health, it’s immune-boosting properties seeming to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative HealthTrusted Source, garlic may also help lower blood pressure and slow down hardening of the arteries.
Ginger is another popular ingredient many turn to when hit by the flu. Ginger may help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce a sore throat, and it may also help decrease nausea. Ginger may also help decrease chronic pain and may possess cholesterol-lowering properties.
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 ability of our immune systems. Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. However, light cooking enhances its vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid.
Look for yogurts that have “live and active cultures” printed on the label, like Greek yogurt. These cultures may stimulate the immune system to help fight diseases. Try to get plain yogurts rather than the kinds that are pre-flavoured with sugar. Plain yogurt can easily be sweetened with healthy fruits and a drizzle of honey.
Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D, so try to select brands fortified with vitamin D. Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and is thought to boost the body’s natural defences against diseases.
When it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, vitamin E is lesser known than vitamin C. However, vitamin E is key to a healthy immune system. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts, such as almonds, are packed with the vitamin and also have healthy fats. A half-cup serving, which is about 46 whole, shelled almonds, provides nearly 100 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin E.
We know turmeric as a key ingredient in many curries, but this bright yellow, bitter spice has also been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Also, high concentrations of curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive color, can help decrease 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, which has been shown to enhance immune function. The fermentation process black tea goes through destroys a lot of the EGCG though, but green tea, on the other hand, is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG is preserved.
Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine, which may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in the T-cells.
Papaya is another fruit loaded with vitamin C, and one 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. Papayas also have decent amounts of potassium, B vitamins, and folate, all of which are beneficial to one’s overall health.
Like papayas, kiwis are packed with 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 the body functioning properly.
13. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, including phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin B-6. They’re also very high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant.
Vitamin E is important in regulating and maintaining immune system function. Other foods with high amounts of vitamin E include avocados and dark leafy green vegetables.
Some types of shellfish are packed with zinc, a big booster for the immune system. Zinc doesn’t get as much attention as many other vitamins and minerals, but the body needs it so that immune cells can function as intended. Varieties of shellfish that are high in zinc include crab, clams, lobster and mussels.
Remember that it’s not recommended to have more than the daily recommended amount of zinc. For adult men, that’s 11 milligrams (mg), and for women, 8 mg. Too much zinc can actually inhibit immune system function.
As with most things, variety is the key to proper nutrition. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off the flu. Pay attention to serving sizes and recommended daily intake so that you don’t get too much of a single vitamin and too little of others.