Immune Boosting Foods
Everyone needs immune-boosting foods on the daily and whilst the common cold is doing the rounds at the moment, so far, thankfully, it hasn’t got me. Earlier this year, however, I did get struck down with the flu. Actual, proper flu. The actual real deal flu is very different from the common cold and wiped me out for 2 plus weeks. Protecting our immune system from any pathogens and disease is important year-round, so here are some of my top picks for immune-boosting foods.
Vitamin C is one of many nutrients that are important for immune health!
Whilst a well-balanced diet loaded with whole foods is the underlying key to having a healthy immune system, there are some specific foods that can help boost and support immune health.
When it comes to vitamin C, strawberries make an excellent choice to increase immune-boosting blood cells. The recommended daily intake of immune-boosting vitamin C is 45mg and just one cup of strawberries packs in 70mg! When consuming foods containing vitamin C approximately 70-90% of the vitamin C is absorbed. Cooking and storage can reduce the amount of vitamin C available. Other good food sources of vitamin C include; oranges, berries, papaya, capsicum, broccoli, asparagus and kale.
Ginger contains a number of bioactive compounds that boost immune health. Fresh ginger is rich in the compound gingerol and this is found in slightly lesser quantities in dry ginger, whereas shagaols, another compound are in high concentrations in dry ginger. The relevance of this to immune health is that both gingerol and shagoal are key to reducing pain, inflammation and fever, so whether you have fresh or dry ginger, both offer immune-boosting benefits. One of my favourite ways to sneak in some immune-boosting ginger is my Ultimate Healthy Hot Chocolate recipe.
Pineapple has a double hit for immune-boosting qualities and of course, its a good source of vitamin C, but it also contains a digestive enzyme called bromelain. Bromelain is a protein-digesting enzyme increasing nutrient absorption and boosting immune function by regulating the immune and inflammatory response. Bromelain is also useful to reduce mucus, so if you do catch a cold, it will come in handy. Immune-boosting bromelain is found throughout pineapples but is found in larger quantities in the core.
Known largely for its anti-inflammatory qualities, turmeric also has many immune-boosting qualities. Curcumin, a compound in turmeric has been well researched for its therapeutic benefit and whilst there is a lot of research to support its ability to support immune health through increased production of immune cells, the majority of research has been conducted in animals and more human research is needed to support these theories. In the meantime, every little helps and turmeric is the perfect spice to incorporate into your diet.
Probably not the first food you think of when it comes to immune-boosting foods but their importance stems from their role in maintaining optimal gut health. The immune system begins in the gut and oats are a prebiotic food. Their role as a prebiotic food produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) through fermentation in the gut and SCFAs play a key role in protecting against any invading pathogens, ultimately enhancing our immune system. Other sources of prebiotic foods include; garlic, leeks, onions, asparagus and unripe bananas.
As mentioned above, garlic is a prebiotic food that has a beneficial effect on immune health via the gut. Garlic contains an important compound, alliin, found in both fresh and dried garlic and this is a primary player in how garlic supports the immune system by stimulating immune essential cells such as lymphocytes (white blood cells) and natural killer cells. Similarly to turmeric, a lot of research has been conducted in animal models rather than humans, but again, garlic is a really beneficial nutrient to incorporate into the diet.
Pineapple is in season throughout the winter months and not only are a good source of vitamin C increasing immune support, but they feature an enzyme called bromelain. Bromelain is found throughout pineapples but in larger quantities in its core. It increases absorption and digestion of nutrients stimulating immune response as well as reducing mucus, which if you do catch a cold will come in handy!
Sweet potatoes are a really good source of carotenoids, in particular, beta-carotene, a compound that gives sweet potato its orange colour and converts to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A activates the immune system and boosts production of white blood cells. Vitamin A is also found in animal products such as liver, eggs or tuna as well as other brightly coloured vegetables containing carotenoids; carrots, pumpkin, paprika, papaya and tomatoes.
So technically sunshine isn’t a food, but vitamin D is also found in some foods; shitake mushrooms, liver, eggs, salmon and cheese and it is an immune booster. One of the best ways to boost vitamin D is just some simple sunshine and it is created in the body when we are exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D plays an important role in immune system response and research shows that those with lower levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to infection.
If your immune system needs a boost, these key nutrients and foods are the perfect way to keep your immune system in check. Help keep your immune health strong by having a balanced diet including plenty of whole foods, variety of colour (ie. eat the rainbow), cook with garlic, ginger, herbs and spices and always stay hydrated and drink plenty of water. If you find that you are frequently becoming sick and your immune system isn't working optimally, I recommend going to visit your doctor for some advice in the first instance.
In the meantime, here are some immune-boosting recipes to give you a head start;
Amy Savage is a qualified Nutritionist with a Bachelor of Health Science in Nutritional & Dietetic Medicine and is available for consultations online and in Sydney CBD. Email email@example.com for further details.
Learn more about immune function via the NHS immune system guides.