The first thing that typically comes to mind when thinking about citrus fruits is Vitamin C. Vitamin C is known to help when you are sick due to the way it boosts your white blood cells, which fight infections. Vitamin C also supports your body's barriers against pathogens. A vitamin C deficiency has been shown to result in impaired immunity and higher susceptibility to infections. Citrus fruits also have many other goodies, including Vitamin A, potassium, folate, and citrus bioflavonoids. Bioflavanoids work hand in hand with vitamin C supporting a healthy immune system and combating inflammation.
Fun fact: red bell peppers have twice as much vitamin C as an orange!
Mushrooms are able to help our body in a few different ways. They have been found to boost the production of cytokines in the body, which are tiny proteins that stimulate our immune response. Another major factor is that mushrooms contain zinc. Zinc is a lesser-known but powerful immune boosting mineral which helps fight off disease. Animal foods have a large availability of zinc (beef and lamb), so if you follow a plant-based diet, look to pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, and lentils for more!
Spinach is known as a superfood because of the large amounts of folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K*, magnesium, and iron. These nutrients are big players in boosting your immune function, helping the body in fighting off infection. Spinach and other greens such as kale and swiss chard also help your body in repairing cell damage!
We know vampires hate garlic, but why? Is it the bad breath? Or is it that vampires are created by a blood infection? Either way, before modern antibiotics back in the vampire days, garlic was the best way to cure infections. Allicin, a component of garlic, has been proven to be both antibacterial and antiviral. It was found that garlic inhibits viral penetration and proliferation in cell cultures! Unfortunately, cooking garlic can decrease the strength of this effect, so have your breath mints handy!
Probiotics are beneficial types of bacteria that help fight off the bad guys and give your immune system a boost! When your gut is happy, this helps to keep other pathogens from entering the bloodstream and making you sick. Yogurt is also packed with vitamins and protein. Be sure to check out the labels – some brands of flavored yogurts contain more added sugar than a candy bar! For those sensitive to milk, there are dairy-free alternatives such as almond or coconut yogurt. There are also many ways to supplement with probiotics.
Salmon is an incredible health food due to the levels of healthy fats, but alongside those Omega-3’s, salmon is important in immune boosting due to the amount of selenium. Selenium plays an important role in the health of your immune system while lowering oxidative stress. It also has to be present for your body to have glutathione – a key player in cellular defense! A deficiency in selenium has been shown to lead to a slower immune response. Other sources of selenium include brazil nuts, tuna, eggs, and sunflower seeds.
Cayenne pepper, cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger are antimicrobial machines. These spices actually help fight off germs that you encounter. They also are very powerful in protecting your cells from damage by free-radicals! Cooking with these spices or even adding some to your morning tea or coffee is a naturally beneficial way to ward off infections and heal damaged tissue.
There are many tasty ways to take in super-powered vitamins and minerals through whole foods. While real foods are beneficial to boosting your immune system, sugary and processed foods have been shown to curb your immune cells. Stay tuned for healthy recipes, call your doctor if you have symptoms of an illness, and remember to wash your hands!
Refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for accurate information regarding disease and illness.
Consult with your physician if you wish to begin utilizing supplements, as there may be some interactions with prescription medications.
*Whole foods are great to consume, consult with your physician regarding leafy greens if you are on a blood thinning medication as the vitamin K may interact with this.
Vitamin C and Immune Function, Carr,A. Nutrients 2017 Nov;9(11)
Immune Modulation From Five Major Mushrooms; Application to Integrative Oncology, Guggenheim, A. Imtegrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal.
Glutamine Synthetase in Spinach Leaves: Immunological Studies and Immunocytochemical Localization., Hirel, B. Plant Physiology.
Antiviral Activity of Garlic Extract on Influenza Virus, Mehrbod P. Iranian Journal of Virology 2009;3(1)
The Influence of Selenium on Immune Responses, Hoffmann,P. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.