As people search for new -- or more -- ways to stay healthy, questions about the best foods for our bodies and immune systems abound. Does chicken soup actually fight a cold or flu? What vitamins strengthen my immune system? What should we really be eating to help or boost our immune systems, anyway?
Check out the following 10 foods that may help to supercharge your body and also boost your immune system.
10 Healthy Foods to Help Boost Your Immune System
- Citrus Fruits
One of the first things people turn to when they get sick is vitamin C, which is most commonly found in citrus fruits. This vitamin is thought to boost the body’s production of white blood cells, which are essential when it comes to fighting infections. Since your body can’t produce vitamin C or store it, it’s important to make sure you’re getting vitamin C each day for continued health. Citrus fruits rich in vitamin C include clementines, limes, lemons, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit. Papaya and kiwi are also fantastic choices. With such a variety, it’s easy to add a squeeze of vitamin C to any meal.
Looking for a vegetable that is packed with minerals and vitamins? Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins E, C, and A as well as fiber and other antioxidants, making it one of the healthiest foods you can eat. To get the most benefits from this powerfood, consume it raw. If you absolutely have to heat it, microwaving is the best method, followed by steaming, to retain its complex flavonoids -- powerful antioxidants with immune system and anti-inflammatory benefits -- according to a 2019 study. Boiling led to considerable loss of flavonoids and other nutrients.
- Red Bell Peppers
Believe it or not, there are foods that have even more vitamin C than citrus fruits! Although not as commonly consumed for viruses and colds as, say, oranges, red bell peppers contain double the amount of vitamin C as citrus when you compare them ounce for ounce. In addition to helping your immune system be its best, vitamin C is also known to make your skin glow. Red bell peppers are also rich in beta carotene, which is great for keeping your skin and eyes in tip-top shape.
Many people turn to ginger ale when they’re feeling under the weather, and there’s a reason why ginger is such a magical ingredient. This antioxidant is full of magnesium, calcium, zinc, and iron. It’s believed to combat nausea and fight off viral and bacterial infections such as sore throats, chest infections, colds, and the flu. It works by stimulating your body’s defensive responses in the digestive and upper respiratory mucosa. It’s also great to your gut, helping to lessen the not-so-pleasant side effects of constipation and digestion.
Did you know that garlic was first used for medicinal purposes before it became a staple in cooking? Not only does it add a little “oomph” to your cuisine, it’s also a must-have for your health. From fiber and selenium to manganese and vitamin B6 and C, garlic is loaded with immune-boosting compounds. It is a potent antifungal and antiviral agent, and eating it raw is key to wiping out most miscreants. Garlic may also slow down the rate at which your arteries harden and help lower blood pressure, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Another key food that can help to supercharge your immune system is yogurt. When shopping, look for Greek yogurt or other products that have live and active cultures as these are essential for stimulating your immune system and fighting diseases. Also try to get plain yogurt rather than pre-flavored products that are loaded with sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt with a splash of honey and a spoonful of healthy fruits instead. Some brands of yogurt are fortified with vitamin D, which can also help to boost your body’s natural defenses against illnesses.
Not only is spinach rich in vitamin C, but it’s also chock-full of antioxidants and beta carotene, which can boost your immune system’s infection-fighting ability. Similar to broccoli, spinach retains most of its superpowers when it’s cooked as little as possible, thus retaining its nutrients. However, lightly cooking spinach can allow nutrients such as vitamin A to be released. Also, cooked spinach is more compact, meaning that you can consume more in one sitting and, therefore, feed your body more of its nutrients overall.
When it comes to fighting off and preventing colds, vitamin E tends to take a backseat to vitamin C. However, vitamin E is essential to maintaining and regulating immune system function. Since it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, it needs fat to be properly absorbed. Nuts such as almonds are chock-full with vitamin E as well as healthy fats. Other excellent sources of vitamin E include dark leafy greens and avocados. Sunflower seeds are not only high in vitamin E but also full of vitamin B6, magnesium, and phosphorus.
Chicken soup is more than just a feel-good must-have when you’re sick. Not only does it help to relieve the symptoms of a cold, but it also helps you to get sick in the first place. Poultry, including turkey and chicken, is loaded with vitamin B6 -- a key player in many of your body’s chemical reactions. It’s also essential for the formation of new, healthy red blood cells. About 3 ounces of roasted chicken breast contain 29% of your daily recommended amount of B6! Broth or stock made by boiling chicken bones is loaded with chondroitin, gelatin, and other nutrients helpful for immunity and gut-healing. After all, there's a reason why it’s called “Grandma’s penicillin!”
Although not nearly as common for colds as chicken soup, there are several types of shellfish that are loaded with zinc -- making them excellent choices if you’re trying to boost your immune system. While zinc doesn’t get as much attention as other minerals and vitamins, it is an essential nutrient that our immune cells need to function. Zinc helps the body to make new enzymes and cells, increases the speed of healing wounds and muscles, and processes carbohydrates, proteins and fats in food. Varieties of zinc-rich shellfish include oysters, mussels, lobster, clams, and crab. Vegans, don’t worry! You can boost your intake of zinc through whole grains, nuts, and legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas.
Eating certain foods can help keep your immune system -- and body -- strong. If you’re looking for ways to prevent the flu or colds, or you’re just looking at ways to prepare your body for any viruses, your first step should be the farmer’s market or grocery store. Keep in mind that variety is key when it comes to staying healthy and eating a nutritional diet. Consuming just one of the above foods isn’t enough to prevent sickness or fight the flu, even if you consume it all day. Instead, mix up your diet, try to consume raw foods (properly cleaned and fresh) as much as possible, and pay attention to both the recommended daily intake and serving sizes so that you don’t get too little of a vitamin and too much of others.