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Immune Boosting Foods to Keep You Healthy
03/08/2021
Linda May-Zhang, PhD

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Now more than ever, keeping your immune system in shape is important in staying healthy. One of the best ways is to maintain a nutritious diet. Certain nutrients in foods are scientifically shown to help support the immune system. Here are 8 immune-boosting nutrient rich foods to include in your everyday diet.

Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits (such as oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, limes) are rich sources of vitamin C, an essential micronutrient. Because vitamin C is not made by the body nor stored, it is important to consume rich sources of vitamin C every day. Vitamin C helps support both innate and adaptive immunity and also acts as an antioxidant to help fight free radicals. Citrus fruits also contain flavonoids, plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, that provide additional immune support. Try our Immune Support Tropical Smoothie, a delicious option that incorporates many of these foods in a tasty treat.

Shellfish

You probably don’t immediately think of shellfish as an immune booster but certain types of shellfish like oysters, mussels, crab and lobster are loaded with zinc. Zinc is another essential micronutrient that the body does not make. Zinc helps our cells function normally and also helps the immune system fight off pathogens. Selenium is another immune boosting micronutrient in shellfish with antioxidant properties. One 3.5 ounce serving of oysters provides 600% of the reference daily intake (RDI) of zinc and 91% of the RDI of selenium.

Chicken Soup

Chicken soup is good for the soul and body but how? Chicken, along with turkey, are high in vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is vital in supporting biochemical reactions of the immune system. Chicken is a rich source of protein, which provides amino acids used by the body to produce antibodies. If you drink soup stock made from chicken bones, your immune system gets an extra boost. Soup stock made from boiling bones contain gelatin, chondroitin and other nutrients that help your gut and immune system. Finally, chicken soup with veggies provides even more immune boosting nutrition to keep you healthy!

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts like almonds are an excellent source of vitamin E, which along with vitamin C, keeps your immune system strong. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that plays a role in T-cell differentiation. Sunflower seeds are also a rich source of Vitamin E, along with other nutrients including magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium. Magnesium plays an important role in supporting innate and adaptive immunity. A fourth cup of sunflower seeds contain 85% of the RDI of vitamin E, and ~30% of the RDI of magnesium, vitamin B6 and selenium.

Yogurt

Consuming yogurt, especially if it contains probiotics, on a regular basis may strengthen your immune system. Vitamin D-fortified yogurts may give extra support. Vitamin D helps regulate the immune system and is thought to boost your body’s natural defense system against illness. Yogurt may also contain other immune-supporting nutrients, including magnesium, selenium and zinc. If you are going to incorporate yogurt into your daily diet, try to avoid those that are full of sugar. If you’re not a fan of plain yogurt, you may try adding a drizzle of honey or stevia to suit your taste.

Spinach and Other Greens

Spinach and other greens like kale and collard greens are packed with important vitamins and micronutrients that provide immune support. The nutrient profile is impressive, with one cup of spinach providing 987% of the RDI for vitamin K, 37% of the RDI for magnesium and 24% of the RDI for vitamin C. Vitamin K is considered a powerhouse nutrient that plays a role in many important functions, such as in bone health, blood clotting, sugar balance, and maintaining proper immune function. Incorporating greens in your daily diet not only helps your immune system but also helps in many other functions of your body.

Garlic

Garlic has been hailed as an elixir of health by people around the world for thousands of years. Despite its pungent odor and taste, garlic is the bulb of a plant in the sweet-smelling lily family. Garlic is considered an immune boosting superstar. How? Garlic contains an organic sulfur compound called allicin which is responsible for its distinctive smell. Allicin is quickly converted to sulfur-containing compounds which are thought to give garlic its health-boosting properties. These sulfur compounds are shown to boost the response of immune cells which help you fight off illness.

Tea

Tea is considered another elixir of health by people around the world for a good reason. Tea contains antioxidants, flavonoids, catechins and other compounds that help support various areas of health.Green tea is particularly high in catechins, which possess anti-viral properties as well as l-theanine, which is a compound that creates feelings of calm and also strengthens immune responses. Most teas, with the exception of herbal teas, contain varying amounts of caffeine. If you are caffeine sensitive, you may consider limiting your consumption of caffeinated teas and consider herbal teas like ginger, chamomile, peppermint, or rooibos.

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Dr. Linda May-Zhang has over 10 years of research experience in nutrition, chronic diseases and pharmacology. She has published over 20 peer-reviewed academic papers in scientific journals. She is also a science writer with a passion for educating the lay public.

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