Immune Boosting Foods
Whilst our trip to Disney was totally magical and a crazy amount of fun, the 6am alarm calls, overwhelming crowds, jet lag and over night flight wasn’t exactly what you might call relaxing. Being thrown straight back into the chaos of school life and this FREEZING weather has left me feeling somewhat run down and totally exhausted. There are some pretty nasty bugs going round at the moment and I feel my body is in major need of armouring up! So I have compiled a list of my top 10 immune boosting foods to go along with a post I did last month about using key herbs and spices when trying to ward off a cold.
I think that one of the very first things people turn to when they feel a cold coming on is Vitamin C, and almost all citrus fruits are high in the antioxidant vitamin. It helps the body produce more white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections. But because your body doesn't produce or store it, you will need to consume it daily for the greatest protection. Consuming vitamin C also helps the body to absorb iron better, which also happens to be critical for normal immune-system function.
Very interestingly, red bell peppers contain over twice as much Vitamin C as citrus fruits, and although you don’t normally associate them to be a particularly immune boosting vegetable, they really are. Especially because they are also a rich source of beta carotene. This beta carotene gets converted to Vitamin A inside the body which is also crucial for the immune system, as well as keeping your eyes and skin healthy.
Whilst they aren’t the deep colours of the rainbow that we would normally associate with nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables, they are certainly not to be underestimated! Mushrooms are one of the few plant-based sources of Vitamin D, and contain over a dozen vitamins and minerals, particularly B vitamins. They are also surprisingly high in antioxidants like selenium and glutathione, which protect our cells from damage and reduce chronic disease and inflammation. The medicinal use of mushrooms has a very long tradition in the Asian countries that goes back hundreds of years, but is gaining more popularity here over recent years too, with some people even putting the powders in their morning coffees! As well as balancing the immune system, mushrooms are also showing some very promising results in protecting against cancer and inhibiting tumour formation.
And indeed all orange vegetables - like carrots, pumpkins and squash - get their vibrant colour from a type of immune boosting antioxidant called beta carotene, which gets converted to Vitamin A inside the body. This goes about mopping up the damaging free radicals, helps to bolster the immune system and is also important for eye health too. This is where the old wives tale comes from of ‘eating carrots makes you see in the dark’.
Broccoli belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family (as well as cabbage cauliflower and Brussels spouts) and is supercharged with a whole host of micronutrients. It is packed with the immune boosting vitamins A and C, as well as other potent antioxidants suchs as sulforaphane and glutathione, and is one of the very healthiest vegetables you can eat. But it is very important that you don’t overcook it, because in doing so, it loses most of its nutrients. Even better still – eat it raw!
Berries contain a powerful type of antioxidant called anthocyanins, which are responsible for their deep red, blue or purple colours. These anthocyanins play a role in fighting free radical damage, which can lead to aging and the formation of numerous diseases. Anthocyanins also provide protection from DNA damage, have anti-inflammatory effects and help boost the immune system.
It’s worth nothing that no every day fruit or vegetable packs a stronger antioxidant punch than blueberries, whichalso contain lots of fibre and of course, our immune boosting bestie - Vitamin C.
Oily fish, like salmon, sardines and mackerel; are a rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3sare part of the unsaturated fat group and are termed ‘essential’ because our bodies body cannot produce them itself, so we have to rely on our diets to get them. They form vital components of our cell walls and are important for both eye and heart health. But they also have the amazing benefit of supporting a healthy immune system, reducing inflammation & lowering blood pressure.
Shellfish isn’t exactly what springs to mind for most people when they thinking about immune boosting foods. Oranges? Yes. Lobster? Whaaaat?! But very interestingly, some types of shellfish are very rich in the mineral zinc, which is a key nutrient in helping our immune system to function properly.
You can also find zinc in meat, legumes, nuts and seeds; as well as dairy, eggs and wholegrains.
….and probiotic food in general, such as fermented miso, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut.
As we all know, the immune system is our bodies’ defense against infection and diseases. But astonishingly, over 70% of our bodies immune function is found in our gut. It is so important that we eat the right foods not just for the sheer enjoyment of it, but also to keep both our gut and immune system healthy. Probiotics help to stimulate the immune system and are often referred to as “friendly” or “good” bacteria.
Note – It is best to try to get plain unsweetened live yogurts rather than flavored ones that are loaded with sugar. And if they are fortified with Vitamin D – even better! Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and is thought to boost our body’s natural defences against diseases.
Green tea has more health benefits than it’s black tea sister due to its lack of processing, making it higher in protective polyphenols which enhance the immune system. The most active of the disease-fighting antioxidants are called EGCG and catechins. Some studies have shown that catechins have a potentantiviral effect on the influenza virus. So if you feel the sniffles a-comin’, pop the kettle on and enjoy!