Since the onset of COVID-19, I’ve been using diet and nutrition to naturally boost my immune system. I am incredibly grateful that integrating immune system booster foods into my diet has kept illness away and even helped my energy and mood. Many of my friends and family keep asking me about the best foods that help boost your immune system. Let’s discuss how to boost your immune system with food by integrating these ten culinary staples.
Top 10 Foods That Help Boost Your Immune System
I used to live a life of convenience, and it led me down a path of anxiety, skin problems, and belly fat. None of that is conducive to a healthy immune system.
So, spoiler alert, friends. Nutrition-dense foods that help boost your immune system are minimally processed. In fact, most of them are raw foods. Yeah, you might even have to wash, cut, and peel some of them up yourself.
One thing I’ve learned is that nothing in life worth having is easy. That includes your health and a good meal. Once I learned to love cooking (and in my ways, myself), I no longer perceive eating healthy as a challenge but as a welcomed opportunity. I find swallowing microwave food far more challenging these days!
So, first things first. Let’s discuss some of the best foods that boost your immune system and then some ways you can integrate them into your wellness plan.
Let’s start with a given here. Fruits are synonymous with coughs, colds, and flus. You walk down the pharmacy aisles, and there are orange-flavored effervescent tablets, grape-flavored cough suppressants, and elderberry-flavored cough drops.
Do you notice the common word in each item? “Flavored!” Most of these products have never seen a fruit, let alone be made with one!
Instead of getting an artificial fruit-flavored pharmaceutical, try the real thing out for size. Raw fruits are teeming with antioxidants that help boost your immune system.
When COVID-19 first started spreading, grocery stores had trouble keeping orange juice in stock. Not only is orange juice laden with refined sugar, but it’s also just one fruit.
The mainstream media made a big fuss over Vitamin C being the key to a healthy immune system. However, Vitamin C is just one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of vitamins, minerals, and compounds that keep our immune system trucking along. Actually, pigment-based molecules are crucial to a robust immune system.
Each color of the rainbow denotes different classes of compounds that have their unique set of antioxidants:
- Red – Lutein, Lycopene, Anthocyanins
- Orange and Yellow – Carotenoids, Betalains
- Green – Chlorophyll
- Blue, Indigo, and Violet – Anthocyanins
- White – Flavonoids
Color is a spectrum, and that is never more apparent than when you look at antioxidants found in pigment-based molecules. There is an overlap in pigment-based molecules in almost every food. However, some foods have more of one particular compound than another.
For example, tomatoes have more lycopene than tangerines, making these fruits appear redder. However, some tomato varieties have less lycopene and more carotenoids, such as the Kentucky beefsteak.
A Kentucky beefsteak is still a tomato but has similar antioxidants from pigments as a tangerine. To get a complete spectrum of nutrients, pay just as close attention to color as you do to the food variety.
2. Red Peppers
As I mentioned, Vitamin C was one of the hot topics making the COVID-19 media rounds. Oranges have always been front and center as the poster child for Vitamin C. However, it has nothing in comparison to red peppers. Red peppers have almost three times the Vitamin C of an orange.
Also, red peppers have capsaicin. This compound might look familiar. It’s a common heating agent in topical rubs for sore joints and muscles.
Research shows that capsaicin has powerful anti-inflammatory capabilities. Chronic inflammation is undeniably linked to a weakened immune system. That’s because our immune system cells start the inflammation in the first place.
Inflammation exhausts our resources AND destroys these healthy cells in the process. All of this leaves our immune system susceptible to a viral attack.
That’s why red peppers are some of the best immune booster foods! Try adding some chili powder to your soup stock. Have a midday snack of red pepper slices with hummus. Start your day with lemon water with a dash of cayenne. A little red pepper goes a long way for immune health.
Alright, this one will probably be everybody’s least favorite. My mamma was right. You need to eat your greens!
Leafy greens are among the best immune boosting foods out there. They are laden with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A, E, C, and K.
Green foods that help boost your immune system include:
- Alfalfa Sprouts
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Mustard Greens
Don’t buy iceberg lettuce, and consider that on the same level as kale. Just look at the color; it’s more white than green. Most of this salad staple is just water. You want actual green-colored leaves on your plate.
Perhaps even more importantly, leafy greens are an excellent source of fiber. Our probiotic bacteria consume this fiber as a means of energy. These bacteria then replenish our body with digestive enzymes and short-chain fatty acids that improve our digestive system.
The relationship between us and our gut bacteria is important. That’s because our gut bacteria work closely with our immune system. In fact, up to 80% of our immune system cells live in our gut.
Eating greens doesn’t mean salads 24/7. You can easily ditch the bun in favor of a Swiss chard wrap, throw some spinach into pasta sauce, or roast some kale chips for a healthy snack.
4. Garlic and Onions
Garlic and onions are culinary staples to repel viruses. Onion, garlic, chives, and other members of the allium family have potent antiviral capabilities.
These roots are rich in the mineral quercetin. Quercetin has natural antihistamine properties. It can be useful in preventing allergens from causing immune responses. So, instead of dishing out serious dough on over-the-counter allergy meds, throw some extra garlic and onion into your pizza dough.
Also, quercetin has shown promise in fighting off the spread of influenza A. Mature influenza A consists of two subunits, HA1 and HA2. Studies show that quercetin heavily influences the HA2 subunit.
HA1 is a dynamic subunit that changes with the season. This subunit is the target of most flu vaccines. Meanwhile, HA2 is more constant. It’s the brains of the operation that decides the game plan for the virus.
The HA2 subunit is responsible for viral-cell fusion. It essentially kickstarts the spread of the infection. Therefore, garlic and onion can be useful in preventative care during the flu season.
5. Ginger and Turmeric
We have two more culinary staples, this time from the Middle East and Asia. Ginger and turmeric are two of the best immune boosting foods. They also brighten up many curries, soups, and lattes.
Ginger has unique compounds known as gingerols. These aromatic chemicals have substantial anti-inflammatory benefits. Studies show that gingerols influence the Cyclooxygenase (COX) pathway.
COX is a neural pathway associated with inflammation and pain perception and is the target of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The difference is that eating foods that boost your immune system won’t have the negative long-term effects of pharmaceuticals.
Furthermore, turmeric has unique compounds that exhibit similar effects to gingerols. Turmeric compounds are known as curcuminoids.
Studies show that curcuminoids act as a vasodilator. They help relax blood cells so that they can move through the bloodstream easier. That’s extremely important for people who have atherosclerosis, heart disease, or high blood pressure.
Furthermore, we need our blood to flow freely because this stream carries our immune cells. Without blood to transport our immune cells, viruses are free to roam and infect our cells.
If you are consuming turmeric for its health benefits, make sure you also add some black pepper. Black pepper has a mineral known as piperine. This fat-based molecule improves the absorption of curcumin by 2,000%!
6. Chicken Soup
Perhaps nothing transports us back to childhood more than a comforting bowl of chicken noodle soup. This soup is the OG of foods that help boost your immune system.
My mom would always whip up a bowl the minute I had the sniffles. Just these memories alone are enough to make me feel better. That kind of placebo effect helps alleviate stress, which is the ultimate immune suppressant.
Chicken soup is one of the best foods to boost the immune system because it has a variety of antioxidant-rich ingredients, such as carrots, celery, and onions.
Plus, drinking soup is very easy on the digestive system. Your body doesn’t have to work hard, breaking down the foods in the soup. So, it can focus on healing any infections and fighting off potential threats.
Lastly, chicken is an excellent source of B-vitamins and protein. B-vitamins are like electric currency for our cells. Meanwhile, protein contains amino acids, which are the building blocks of life. So, B-Vitamins and protein are a recipe for immune boosting foods.
7. Shellfish and Crustaceans
Speaking of B-Vitamins, Vitamin B-12 is an essential vitamin because the human body can’t create it. We need this vitamin because our body uses it as a cofactor to create two of the five nucleotides that make up cell RNA and DNA, including immune system cells. So, we must consume food sources containing Vitamin B-12.
Crustaceans and shellfish that have an abundance of Vitamin B12 include:
Shellfish and crustaceans also have a lot of zinc. Zinc is a micronutrient that is pivotal for maintaining a healthy immune system. In fact, it actually keeps the immune system in check.
Cells in early infection use the nuclear factor (NF-κB) gene to attract zinc. This interaction immediately puts an end to the viral attack. That’s why adequate zinc levels are crucial for virus protection.
8. Dark Chocolate
As if you needed a reason to eat chocolate, dark chocolate is one of the top immune system booster foods. This decadent treat has a unique compound known as theobromine.
Theobromine is actually a stimulant, much like caffeine, with longer-lasting but milder effects. However, this mind-booster also boosts the immune system.
A meta-analysis of theobromine noted that it is very effective in controlling coughs and helping with asthma. In fact, researchers noted, “the diffusion of theobromine in lung substructures is higher than that of other drugs used in the therapy of respiratory diseases.”
In addition, dark chocolate is rich in anthocyanins. These are the pigment molecules that give dark chocolate its deep velvety hue. They are also potent free radical scavengers, preventing the development of tumors and disease.
Lastly, dark chocolate is an excellent source of prebiotics. These are dietary fibers that our intestines have trouble breaking down. So, they feed our probiotic bacteria. As we mentioned earlier, probiotics and immune system cells are besties.
Mushrooms are fungi, and fungi are microbes. Viruses are also microbes. By eating mushrooms, you’re starting a molecular war, and the immune system is going to win.
Mushrooms are the best immune boosting foods because there is a wide variety of them. Even better, they all seem to have unique antiviral capabilities.
Some of the best immune boosting foods that are mushrooms include:
- Maitake – Fights Influenza A
- Shiitake – Fights Hepatitis C
- Reishi – Prolongs the Spread of H1N1 strain
- Cordyceps – Show Antiparasitic Behavior
Just make sure you wash mushrooms thoroughly. Since they carry unique microbes, they might also have bacteria or mold that can compromise the immune system. You don’t want to counteract all the good work you’re doing!
Last certainly is not least here. In fact, it just might be the most. Countless studies have noted that those who follow a Mediterranean Diet live the longest lives. Besides fish (which we’ve already discussed), perhaps no other food is more synonymous with this type of cuisine than olives.
Whenever you want the highest potency of a plant’s most beneficial compounds, you go their extracts. That’s why CBD oil and aromatherapy are so popular in the wellness circle. Highly concentrated extracts provide potent servings of beneficial vitamins and minerals. The same can be said for olive leaf extract.
One of the most beneficial compounds in olives is oleuropein. Research shows that oleuropein plays a significant role in regulating our systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Our blood cells, complete with immune-supportive capabilities, are free to access various regions of our bodies with little resistance due to oleuropein. Therefore, more areas are protected from potential viral attacks.
Furthermore, studies also suggest that oleuropein can regulate our immune response by manipulating various pathways. It can also increase our natural nitric oxide production, helping to clear inflammatory markers, dead cells, and various pathogens out of the system.
Lastly, oleuropein has strong antimicrobial capabilities. Viruses, fungi, yeast, and pathogenic bacteria are all microbes. THat makes oleuropein a versatile addition to any immune-boosting regimen.
Tranquility Labs’ Olive Leaf Extract contains 20% oleuropein. These all-natural supplements encase high-quality olive leaf tinctures in a vegan shell. They offer your immune system support all day long. In turn, you are less susceptible to viral attacks and can focus on crushing the day ahead.
How to Boost Your Immune System with Food
Now that you know what foods boost your immune system, it’s time to incorporate them into your diet. Start off with the spices, such as turmeric, ginger, garlic, onion, and pepper. Google dishes that include those ingredients. See which recipes look like ones you already cook. Now, try to incorporate these ingredients more often.
Next, you need to look at your vices. Cut back on the sweets. They taste good to you, but not to your gut. Instead, feed your gut bacteria some dark chocolate. Even better, get dark chocolate with ginger or chili peppers! Your gut (and taste buds) will thank you.
Then, you need to cut down on the red meat. It’s good in moderation, but too many omega-6 fatty acids will leave your body feeling stressed and inflamed. Incorporate more shellfish, plant protein, and poultry (chicken soup) into your meal plan.
You can also offset some of this omega-6 damage with Tranquility Labs’ Olive Leaf Extract with Oleurepin. Olives are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that omega-3s help balance out the damage caused by excessive omega-6 intake.
Lastly, eat more plants. Fruits and veggies are your friends. They’re the perfect breakfast options to kickstart your day, snacks to get you through the afternoon, and side dishes or main courses at dinner. Just remember, a little change goes a long way. Make slight alterations to your routine at a time, and you will ease your way into a healthy immune system.
- Eat more plants that have a wide variety of colors to get a full spectrum of antioxidants
- Culinary herbs and roots are some of the best immune boosting foods
- Protein from shellfish and poultry are better immune boosting foods than red meat
- Olive leaf extract with oleuropein has strong antimicrobial capabilities