Need to give your immune system a boost? Here are 5 immune boosting foods to help protect you against colds, viruses, flus, and more.
When it comes to fighting off viruses and other forms of sickness, we all know that washing our hands and avoiding those who are sick are the two most important things we can do. But, those aren’t the only things.
As someone who is allergic to a ton of food, perhaps I am more convinced of the connection between what we eat and how it affects our bodies. After all, if I were to eat a peanut, I know for a fact I would end up in the hospital.
Experts and doctors around the world have been studying the effects of nutrition on health for decades. Here are five things that everyone can include in their diets to get their immune boosting properties.
Immune Boosting Specific Foods
So are there certain foods to eat that can help that have been scientifically proven? Yep, and here are five of the most easily accessible functional foods you can add to your diet to help boost your system.
Fruits, vegetables, teas, and spices contain water, sugar, proteins, and fiber, but also contain important things like vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and phyto-chemicals. There are thousands and thousands of different types of phyto-chemicals. These are biologically active substances in plants that promote wellness in the body.
For example, tomatoes contain over 10,000 different phyto-chemicals that are beneficial to the body.
So supplements are great if your diet is lacking in some areas, but it is impossible to put everything in a tomato into a tiny pill you can take every day. A whole foods diet consisting of real foods is the best thing to eat.
These phyto-chemicals are tiny bits of goodness that are anti-microbial, anti-cancer, anti-inflammation, and full of antioxidants.
Of all the foods available, here is a list of five of the most accessible foods that you should include in your diet.
So, turns out our grandmothers were right all along and an apple a day might just keep the doctor away. (Please indulge me in that saying, I mean, how else am I going to start off telling you how awesome apples actually are?)
Apples are full of a few different things that make them an amazingly accessible functional food to add to your grocery list each week. First, they are full of water-soluble flavonoids, which is one of the phyto-chemicals we talked about. In particular, there is a phyto-chemical called “Quercetin” that makes apples a must add to your grocery list. (4) (5)
Quercetin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Other foods do not come close to the levels of quercetin in apples. It helps with the immune response to counter viral infections. By helping to lower the c-reactive protein, a marker in the blood used to measure inflammation in the body, quercetin helps your body fight off degenerative diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, and the simple cold and flu.
It doesn’t matter what type or how you eat them, just make sure to eat them for their immune boosting super powers! Raw, applesauce, apple juice, sliced and served with sunflower seed butter, or even apple pie.
Looking for a good breakfast recipe that includes apples? Check out this Overnight Oat recipe for Apple Pie Oats.
While all forms of tea are beneficial, green tea holds the most immune boosting medicinal value. That’s due to the unique set of catechins that help with an anti-inflammatory response in the body and they are full of antioxidants. (6)
Green tea contains many phyto-chemicals that help to reduce the free radicals in the body.
Antioxidants are substances that help your body fight against free radicals. A free radical is a free floating oxygen molecule that isn't connected to anything, which means the oxygen cell is not helping the body. These free radicals cause damage in the body.
The antioxidants in foods help to remove those free radicals that are floating around by binding themselves to the free radicals and neutralizing their effects. These are then shed from the body harmlessly.
So what does all that mean? Anti-inflammatory responses help to reduce the inflammation in your body. A super simple way of thinking of it is inflammation = not good. Inflammation in the body is a precursor to a whole host of other diseases including diabetes, heart conditions, Alheizemers, cancer, and even depression.
So how much should you drink to get all the benefits of green tea? You only need about 2 cups of tea a day to make a difference in your life. Think somewhere in the vicinity of 10 - 12 oz of tea.
Ginger and Turmeric
Ginger and turmeric, both roots that are ground into spices, are two of the most well studied functional foods. They are cousins in the same family tree that originate in Southeast Asia. Both of them are full of phyto-chemical compounds, particularly the appropriately named “gingerol” and curcumin, that are used as powerful anti inflammatories. (7) (8)
Ginger is a powerful pain reliever and shares a ton of pharmacological properties with NSAIDs. Ginger provides the same relief as an ibuprofen pill but without the side effects.
This is because it inhibits the inflammatory response in the body. Again, no inflammation is a good thing! Ginger's immune boosting power comes from this anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Finally, it is soothing on the digestive tract, especially after big meals. Ginger aids in digestion and helps fight chronic illness like arthritis, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diseases of the lungs. (11)
Turmeric has a lot of benefits similar to ginger. Turmeric is full of the phyto-chemical curcumin. Curcumin is the component of the turmeric root that gives it the yellow color and is where it houses all the anti-inflammatory properties. (9) Turmeric also is full of antioxidants which help against free radicals.
Turmeric also has a few other benefits in that it is an antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, ingredient. It fights against pulmonary fibrosis and has an anti-protozoan effect on the body. Which means it helps you get rid of parasites.
Both of these are great cooking ingredients. Add either into anything like a stir fry, BBQ sauce, or cookies. You can also take these in tea. I sip on a cup of ginger turmeric tea every night and have noticed a reduction in my asthma attacks.
All berries are great for improving your immune system. In particular, this article is talking about blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. All of these should be readily available at grocery stores around the country. If you aren’t in an area that has access to fresh berries all year long, don’t worry. I’m in a small Midwestern town and still can get frozen berries which are just as effective as the fresh for their nutritional benefits.
Berries are a rich source of nutritional and bio active compounds, those phyto-chemicals. They are a potent source of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds, anti-microbial, and anticancer nutrients. (12) These all help the body combat stress, improve gut health, fight ageing, and of course, improve the immune system.
These berries are all dark berries in color, which does make a difference in how effective they are on the immune system. The dark color comes from flavonoids which are powerful antioxidants.
The blueberry in particular is filled with the most antioxidants out of almost all fruits and vegetables. Their main antioxidants are the flavonoids, and one called anthocyanin is thought to be the most beneficial of all the flavonoids.
Try to vary the different berries you incorporate into your diet to get the max benefit from all of them. Eat them fresh or frozen, raw or cooked, and at least 3 servings a day.
In the Northern hemisphere, we get to enjoy fresh citrus fruits in the winter, helping us to keep our immune systems working well even in the dark cold months. Some of the most popular are oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and mandarins.
No other fruit is more packed with vitamin c than the citrus fruits. One medium orange has all the vitamin c you need for one day. (13) That’s how powerful they are!
Citrus fruits in general are full of over 60 kinds of flavonoids that have various health benefits including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. (14)
These flavonoids have more than just immune boosting benefits for fighting off colds and flus, they also have been shown to prevent certain kinds of cancer. For example, a daily glass of grapefruit juice can help lower your risk of lung cancer. (15) Other studies have found that cancers such as esophageal, stomach, breast, and pancreatic cancer all have lowered risks after daily use of citrus fruits.
While fruit juice is good, your best bet for including citrus is to eat the entirety of the fruit. This includes all the white pithy parts so that you combine the fiber with the sugar so you won’t have a big spike in blood sugar. Second, drinking too much fruit juice can cause cavities.
So eat whole slices of citrus to get all their benefits.
What Doesn’t Work
This list of five things to help your immune system is nowhere near the number of things you can do to help, but it is a good place to get started. As for things that don’t work, beware of anything that sounds too good to be true. There is no one single thing that will boost your immune system and save you from any disease or illness, no matter what people may claim. Be smart. Stay safe.
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