Feeding your body certain foods may help keep your immune system strong.
If you’re looking for ways to prevent colds, the flu, and other infections, your first step should be a visit to your local grocery store. Plan your meals to include these 13 powerful immune system boosters.
1. Citrus fruits
Most people turn straight to vitamin C after they’ve caught a cold. That’s because it helps build up your immune system.
Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections.
Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. With such a variety to choose from, it’s easy to add a squeeze of this vitamin to any meal.
Popular citrus fruits include:
Because your body doesn’t produce or store it, you need daily vitamin C for continued health. If you opt for supplements, avoid taking more than 2,000 milligrams (mg) a day.
2. Red bell peppers
If you think citrus fruits have the most vitamin C of any fruit or vegetable, think again. Ounce for ounce, red bell peppers contain almost 3 times as much vitamin C (127 mg) as a Florida orange (45 mg). They’re also a rich source of beta carotene.
Broccoli is supercharged with vitamins and minerals. Packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber and many other antioxidants, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can put on your plate.
The key to keeping its power intact is to cook it as little as possible — or better yet, not at all. Steaming is the best way to keep more nutrients in the food.
Garlic is found in almost every cuisine in the world. It adds a little zing to food and it’s a must-have for your health.
Early civilizations recognized its value in fighting infections. Garlic may also slow down hardening of the arteries, and there’s weak evidence that it helps lower blood pressure.
Garlic’s immune-boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
Ginger is another ingredient many turn to after getting sick. Ginger may help decrease inflammation, which can help reduce a sore throat and inflammatory illnesses. Ginger may help with nausea as well.
While it’s used in many sweet desserts, ginger packs some heat in the form of gingerol, a relative of capsaicin.
Spinach made our list not just because it’s rich in vitamin C — it’s also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may both increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.
Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. However, light cooking makes it easier to absorb the vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid, an antinutrient.
Try to get plain yogurts rather than the kind that are flavored and loaded with sugar. You can sweeten plain yogurt yourself with healthy fruits and a drizzle of honey instead.
Yogurt can also be a great source of vitamin D, so try to select brands fortified with this vitamin. Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and is thought to boost our body’s natural defenses against diseases.
When it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, vitamin E tends to take a backseat to vitamin C. However, this powerful antioxidant is key to a healthy immune system.
It’s a fat-soluble vitamin, which means it requires the presence of fat to be absorbed properly. Nuts, such as almonds, are packed with the vitamin and also have healthy fats.
9. Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds are also incredibly high in selenium. Just 1 ounce contains nearly half the selenium that the average adult needs daily. A variety of studies, mostly performed on animals, have looked at its potential to combat viral infections such as swine flu (H1N1).
You may know turmeric as a key ingredient in many curries. This bright yellow, bitter spice has also been used for years as an anti-inflammatory in treating both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Research shows that high concentrations of curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive color, can help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage. Curcumin has promise as an immune booster (based on findings from animal studies) and an antiviral. More research is needed.
11. Green tea
In studies, EGCG has been shown to enhance immune function. The fermentation process black tea goes through destroys a lot of the EGCG. Green tea, on the other hand, is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG is preserved.
Green tea is also a good source of the amino acid L-theanine. L-theanine may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T cells.
Papaya is another fruit loaded with vitamin C. You can find double the daily recommended amount of vitamin C in a single medium fruit. Papayas also have a digestive enzyme called papain that has anti-inflammatory effects.
Vitamin C boosts the white blood cells to fight infection, while kiwi’s other nutrients keep the rest of your body functioning properly.