Eating certain foods will not only help increase your immunity but will give you all the benefits of having a strong immune system one of which is protecting you from cold and flu.
Apart from consuming immunity-boosting foods, you can choose to have a healthy lifestyle which is very important to naturally boost your immune system to keep you strong and healthy. (1)
Just like the other systems of your body, your immune system also depends on the foods you eat. Besides, a lot of evidence shows that nutrients like selenium, zinc, vitamin C, E, and iron help boost your immunity. (1).
Consequently, consuming foods that have high contents of these nutrients could help boost your immunity.
How Does Your Immune System Work?
This is the system in your body that helps you fight infections and diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, among other diseases- causing organisms.
Made up of cells, tissues, and proteins, it helps you fight infections by releasing antibodies to neutralize the pathogens or foreign bodies. (2)
What Are Immunity-Boosting Foods?
No doubt, eating certain foods helps boost your immune system. Here are 15 of such foods you should consider planning your meals with and stocking in your pantry.
Yogurt is a probiotic containing food and probiotics are good bacteria that help to balance your flora.
Although they are not nutrients, they aid food digestion and absorption of nutrients that help boost your immune system.
Also, yogurt contains nutrients like vitamins B6, magnesium, calcium, and potassium all of which are good for your health. (4).
The live bacteria in yogurt can activate the immune response in the gut, leading to an overall systemic immune response.
Consuming yogurt helps protect you against intestinal infections as well as carcinogens and research has shown that lactic acid bacteria found in yogurt can inhibit the growth of tumors in animals. (3).
Types of yogurts you could come across include Greek, kefir, frozen, Non-diary, and low-fat yogurt.
Garlic has been used for ages for curative and preventive health purposes. It has found use virtually all over the world as a food additive.
Garlic is a powerful immune booster that contains calcium, potassium and, sulfur which gives confers on its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic, and immunomodulatory properties. It also has blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering properties. (5).
Apart from consuming garlic in the raw form, dietary formulations exist like garlic oil capsules, garlic powder, and garlic extract.
Eating garlic can help decrease your cold and flu symptoms or protect you against it in the first place and consuming one clove two to three times a day is the minimum effective dose. (2).
Citrus fruits contain vitamin C which is a known immune booster that helps increase white blood cell production. It is however unfortunate that a lot of people consume more of these fruits only when they are already sick. (6).
It is very important to consume these fruits daily as they have high vitamin C content. Besides, the body does not store or produce it.
Citrus fruits include pomelo, tangerine, sweet lime, orange, lemon, Clementine, and grapefruit among others. (7).
Citrus fruits also contain the B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, flavonoids, copper, essential oils, and carotenoids which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory roles. (8).
Broccoli has a good Vitamin C content which makes it a potent antioxidant due to the presence of sulforaphane in it.
Consuming broccoli increases the level of cytokine and proteins in the blood which gives a good boost to your immune system. Broccoli has been shown to have anticancer properties. It also helps mountain optimum brain function and a healthy nervous system. (7).
The presence of Beta-carotene, zinc, and selenium in broccoli also contributes to making it a perfect immune booster. (6).
Furthermore, broccoli is high in fiber and when consumed, the gut flora feasts on it producing short-chain fatty acids in the process which increases the gut microbiota, improve your bowel health and ultimately your immune system.
Eating poultry like turkey and chicken helps protect you from getting colds and or helps you recover faster from it.
These foods have a high content of vitamin B6 which is very important in a series of reactions in the body. Also, it is needed for the formation of healthy red blood cells. (7).
When broth or stock from boiled chicken bones is consumed, it helps in gut healing, recovery from illness, and improving your immunity because of the presence of vital nutrients in it. (6).
Chicken soup decreases the mucus secretion associated with colds. It also contains proteins that help in boosting your immunity.
Ginger contains antioxidants that help mop up radicals and protects you against cancer, arthritis, and neurodegenerative disease among many others. (9)
Ginger has been shown to have antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory action and can be used as a food additive, consumed as tea or juice. It is also available in powder and capsules.
The active ingredients of ginger like gingerol, shogoal, and paradol possess anti-cancer properties, promote digestive system health and may prevent building up of plaque in the arteries thereby helping to boost the immune system. (10).
If you are looking to boost your immune system, then think of incorporating more shellfish into your diet, certain types of which are highly packed with zinc which is a very powerful immune booster that helps your immune cells function optimally.
However, note that overdose of zinc can decrease immune function so be careful not to exceed the recommended daily dose which is 8mg for women and 11mg for men. (7).
Shellfish that can give you a high amount of zinc are lobsters, crab, mussels, and oysters. They also contain healthy fats, lean protein, magnesium, B12, selenium and omega 3 which is particularly good for improving heart and brain functions. (11).
Shellfish is unarguably a powerful immune booster.
Watermelon contains vitamin A, C, B1, B5, B6, magnesium, potassium and glutathione which makes it a powerful immune booster.
Also, it contains lycopene in a higher quantity than any vegetable and it may help decrease the risk of heart disease, age-related eye problems, cancer and preventing or decreasing inflammation of the respiratory system. (13).
Lycopene is what gives the flesh of watermelon its characteristic red color and it is responsible for the wide range of the health benefits of watermelon.
Glutathione present in watermelon is not just a powerful anti-oxidant that helps you ward off infection but also, a study published in 2017 showed that taking 250mg of glutathione by middle-aged females whether in the oxidized or reduced form, has marked benefits on the skin and for anti-aging. (12).
Watermelon is good for rehydrating your body and it can be consumed as a smoothie, part of fruit salad or eaten just as it is.
Mushrooms are edible fungi that loaded with selenium and Vitamin B especially niacin and riboflavin. Though when thinking about immune-boosting foods, mushrooms may not be on a lot of people’s minds, it is indeed a worthy option.
Also, it is rich in a sugar molecule called polysaccharide which helps in boosting immune function, they are also enjoyed as part of many cuisines around the world.
Types of mushrooms include porcini, button, chanterelles, and oysters with other species not being consumed because they are dangerous and can cause death like the death cap mushroom.
Apart from boosting the immune system, mushrooms help protect the heart, have a potential cancer-preventive property and are a good source of vitamin D especially the button mushroom. (14)
The selenium content of mushroom helps it to support your immunity and help protect your cells and tissues against damage.
This green leafy vegetable is a powerful immune booster due to its high content of iron, vitamin E, vitamin A, magnesium, folate and fiber.
This immune-boosting ability of spinach comes from these nutrients that are vital to the repair of DNA, blood cell formation and cell division and these nutrients are best preserved when it is eaten raw or cooked under low heat and a short time. (6).
Spinach also contains zeaxanthin, quercetin and, lutein which are powerful antioxidants. It also helps in fighting cancer and the fiber content keeps you full which is also good for weight loss and diabetics. (15).
Consuming spinach helps boost your vision and you can take it in the form of juice, smoothie, and used as part of various dishes.
Green and black teas are both loaded with flavonoids which are a group of powerful antioxidants. Though black tea also has high levels of epigallocatechin gallate which is also a potent antioxidant, the fermentation processes its subjected to destroys this compound. (7).
Therefore, green tea which is not fermented has more of these nutrients and this makes it a good immune booster.
Also, polyphenols are present in green tea which are powerful antioxidants with immune-boosting activity.
The amino acid L- theanine also found in green tea helps in the production of T-cells in your body, a type of cell that helps you fight infections.
Green tea helps improve brain function, improves fat loss and lowers your risk of having cancer like prostate, colorectal and breast cancer. It also protects you against neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. (16)
It also has an antibacterial action and can help improve your dental health by lowering your risk of dental caries, tooth decay, and bad breath plus it helps I improving insulin sensitivity in diabetics.
Theobromine is an antioxidant that is contained in dark chocolate which helps prevent free radicals from harming your body thereby boosting your immune system.
Though dark chocolate is good immune-boosting food, consuming high quantities of it is not good as it has high calorie and saturated fat content. (17)
Dark chocolate is beneficial to the brain, heart and helps prevent cancer, it also has anti-inflammatory effects.
Dark chocolate has high levels of cacao which helps decrease stress levels, improve mood, immunity, and memory. The flavonoids also help support endocrine, cognitive, and cardiovascular function. (18).
Also, it has been found to help lower blood pressure, decrease your risk of developing diabetes and can help decrease menstrual cramps. It also boosts sex drive and good sleep which puts chocolate on the good side if you are looking to improve your general wellbeing. (17).
Turmeric is a spice that is yellow-orange and has been used for ages in sauces and curries. It is consumed as a tea and used as additives, supplements, and for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and other health benefits. (7).
Turmeric helps lower bad cholesterol which decreases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. People suffering from chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease find it very useful and it reduces arthritis and rheumatic pains.
Curcumin is the powerful antioxidant behind turmeric’s immune-boosting property and it has been shown to help reduce muscle damage due to exercise.
Also, turmeric is used as a therapy for immune conditions and its immunomodulatory effects make it capable of activating the T-cells making it very effective in fighting infections. (19).
Almonds are popular nuts that are high in vitamin E and Zinc which help keep your immune system strong. They are packed with fiber, protein and healthy fats which help keep you full, making it good for those trying to lose weight. (7).
Also, they are a perfectly healthy snack to add to yogurt and salads and can be used to make almond meal, milk or butter.
When eating almonds, do so in moderation as they are rich in calories and can predispose you to weight gain and consequently, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. (20)
The proteins and vitamin E content of almonds makes it a very good antioxidant with immune-boosting effects. It also contains iron and calcium which is good for the maintenance of strong bones and teeth.
Furthermore, Almonds are a good source of magnesium which are both good for the metabolism of cholesterol, amino acids, carbohydrates, and metabolic reactions in the body. (21)
As good as almonds may be, stay away from it if you are allergic to it.
Whole grains like oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat flour are packed with important nutrients like proteins, fibers, and antioxidants. They contain more nutrients than refined grains which is why consuming them helps boost your immune system. (22).
Also, Whole grains are rich in the B vitamins, iron, copper, magnesium and zinc that help keep your immune system active, reducing your risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
The fiber content is good for a healthy gut, lowering your risk of having colon cancer though this fiber content varies from one type of whole grain to another. (23)
What makes grains whole is that parts of the kernel like the germ, bran, and endosperm are intact and in other words, they are not processed.
Whole grains have traces of calcium, Vitamin C and Zinc, the last two of which are powerful antioxidants that are important in boosting your immune system. (24).
Other Ways To Boost Your Immune System
Having listed 15 out of the numerous immune-boosting foods, it should be noted that there are other ways of boosting your immune system to complement your use of immune-boosting foods.
These ways include:
Exercise helps to improve heart health, control body weight, lower blood pressure, and keeps protected from certain conditions.
It improves blood flow thereby promoting the free circulation of immune components through the body. (1).
Eat A Balanced Diet
A balanced diet provides your body with all the essential nutrients it needs to have an active immune system.
It has been observed that people who are malnourished and living in poor condition are more prone to infectious diseases.
However, it is not stated if that vulnerability to diseases is due to the poor nutrition on the immune system.
Avoid Too Much Alcohol And Smoking
Too much alcohol is bad for your health as it decreases your immunity and makes you prone to infections.
Smoke from a cigarette could cause your immune system to weaken over time which puts you at risk of infection and developing lung cancer later on in life.
Emotional stress is linked to heart disease, stomach upset, and hives among many other diseases.
But because it is difficult to measure stress as it varies from person to person it has been difficult for researchers to find out more about the effect of stress on your immune function.
The good news is that despite these challenges, researchers are still finding ways to make progress in this regard.
Get Enough Sleep
When you deprive yourself of adequate sleep, you are likely to have an increased level of cortisol and when these levels remain high for long, it suppresses your immune system which puts you at risk of various infections.
Take Supplements If Needed
If you are running low on phytochemicals, you are likely to suffer from one condition or the other in which case, if you are not able to get enough from your diet, you may be placed on supplements.
Taking Zinc supplements 24 hours after the start of a cold could reduce the duration of the cold.
Your immune system works to ward off foreign bodies, viruses, cleanse your body of damaged tissues, and to help destroy cancer cells.
Boosting your immune system does not end with you consuming only immune-boosting foods because you have to complement that with other things like exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, avoid smoking and above all maintaining a healthy and positive lifestyle.