We tend to use the word boost a lot when it comes to our immune system. But can we really boost our immunity to illness? And can we do it using food?
One thing we know for sure is that the average diet is deficient in many vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimal immune function. We also tend to eat a lot of highly processed foods which can cause inflammation throughout our body, creating unnecessary extra work for our immune system.
By eating a healthy diet we can reduce inflammation and replenish the missing nutrients to help our immune system to operate at its best. We can’t just eat one orange and expect it to stave off illness. But these essential nutrients can filter down to our immune system after just a few days of consistent healthy eating, helping it to start operating more effectively.
A variety of vitamins play a role in our immune system. Our body needs a ready supply of vitamins A, B2, B6, B12, C, D and E in order to have optimal immune function. Some minerals are essential too including, zinc, selenium, copper, folic acid and iron. There are also a number of antioxidants found in some foods which are also important if we want the very best from our immune system.
The healthiest way to get all these nutrients is through whole plant foods. The following list are just some of the highly nutritious foods that can help to optimise the performance of your immune system.
The high concentration of vitamin E in almonds can make them useful for our immune system. Many types of nuts are good sources of this vitamin, but almonds are one of the most densely packed. As with most foods eating a whole variant is important. The skin of the almond appears to contain a high density of beneficial ingredients and in one study eating skins was shown to reduce the severity of cold symptoms.
You probably already know that berries are good for you. Blueberries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants of any fruit or vegetable, which we know is great for our immune system. Some studies also suggest that elderberries even have antiviral properties and can help to inhibit influenza.
Red capsicum is one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C, though yellow and green capsicums aren’t too far behind. Each colour has its own unique nutritional balance of vitamin C alongside other helpful vitamins and nutrients. All three colours contain beta carotene which is an antioxidant. Antioxidants are shown to reduce inflammation, and less inflammation in our body means our immune system can focus on other threats. Most relatives to the capsicum like red chillies are also densely packed with vitamin C.
Another great source of vitamin C is citrus fruits. We all know oranges are full of vitamin C, but lemons, limes, and grapefruits are all good sources. Vitamin C has been researched for its effects on colds. If consumed regularly it can help reduce the duration and severity of the illness.
Garlic has long been used as a natural remedy, and it seems with good reason. It has been shown to boost production of white blood cells and T-cells, both of which are important components of our immune system. This helps to reduce the risk of colds and other infections.
Another plant with a medicinal history is ginger. It has been a traditional remedy for sickness and nausea. Gingerol, one of the active ingredients, has been shown to reduce inflammation, and reducing inflammation help keep our immune system focused on bigger issues.
Although filled with vitamin C, drinking glass after glass of sugary orange juice isn’t the right way to help your immune system. Drinking green tea on the other hand might be beneficial. It’s filled with antioxidants which we know can help reduce inflammation. Green tea also contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which has been shown to enhance immune function.
It seems quite boring to feature leafy greens in a list related to healthy eating. But you couldn’t leave these out (no pun intended). Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale as well as leaf vegetables like spinach are all loaded with vitamin C and countless other vitamins and antioxidants.
We are still learning about the medicinal properties of mushrooms but there are some studies to suggest that fungi can help to support a healthy immune system. Participants in one trial consumed shiitake mushrooms over four weeks and showed improved gut immunity and reduced inflammation. Mushrooms are particularly rich in B vitamins which are important for an optimal immune system.
Not many humans are eating algae yet, but perhaps we should be. You have probably heard of at least one type of edible algae though: spirulina. There is some limited evidence to suggest the antioxidants in spirulina can help with symptoms of sickness like stuffy nose and sneezing. Just one tablespoon of this algae contains a huge number of vitamins and minerals that can all help to reduce inflammation.
Just like ginger and garlic, turmeric has been used for a long time before we really started to consider its health benefits. Curcumin appears to be one of the beneficial components of turmeric. Studies have shown that it can help reduce inflammation which helps to protect our immune system.