The 11 best immune-boosting foods
By Louise Belle BHSc (Nut Med)
Hippocrates once said “Let thy food be the medicine, and thy medicine be thy food”. The food we eat has the ability to nourish and heal our bodies, or to wreak havoc and cause damage. When we get sick, it’s easy to forget about the amazing healing properties of food, as we reach for the cold and flu tablets and another course of antibiotics. Whilst there is definitely a place for these medications, you should be giving your body the best possible chance to fight off the infection by filling it with immune-boosting nutrients.
This sulphur-rich vegetable provides potent antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral properties that can help you to fight off infection. When fresh garlic is chopped or crushed, the miracle property; allicin is released which offers the greatest health benefits. Load up on raw garlic at the first sign of getting sick to fight off the bugs… and to ward off the vampires! Garlic can also be applied topically to scratches to stop them getting infected.
2. Citrus fruits
Lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits are jam-packed with vitamin C and bioflavonoids which support and strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation in the body. Vitamin C is destroyed by exposure to heat, light and air, so consume immediately after cutting or juicing to receive the greatest immune-boosting benefit. Tip: Eat or juice some of the peel, as this is highest in bioflavonoids.
3. Fermented foods
Fermented foods are often forgotten about when it comes to the immune system. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, miso, tempeh and yoghurt are packed with probiotic bacteria (good bugs) which are needed to maintain a healthy gut. The gut is vital for maintaining a strong immune system as these bugs help to destroy pathogenic (bad) bacteria that invade the body. Probiotics are particularly important after antibiotic use, as antibiotics also destroy the good bacteria in the gut and can weaken the immune system.
This delicious tropical fruit could be your new best friend if you are prone to sinus or chest infections. Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain which helps to break down mucous, reduce inflammation and protect against allergies. Here’s the catch- the highest concentration of bromelain is found in core, which most people throw away. So, make sure that you eat, juice or blend the pineapple fresh and core to get the greatest benefit.
A food that many people are too afraid to even try, oysters are a rich source of mineral zinc, which plays a vital role in the immune system. Zinc is required for the production of immune cells which fight infection, and also assist in wound healing. Studies have shown that zinc deficiency increases susceptibility to infection, so be sure to indulge in oysters to avoid getting sick.
This sweet substance has been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years, dating back to ancient Egyptian times. Honey is naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial and can be used to fight off infections and to treat wounds. Honey also helps to reduce inflammation and can be mixed with garlic for the perfect antibacterial blend. Ensure that you use raw/natural honey as many commercial honeys have been processed and mixed with sugar.
7. Brazil nuts
These nuts are the richest source of the mineral selenium, which is a potent antiviral and anti-inflammatory nutrient. Selenium has been shown to stop viral replication, making it particularly beneficial for those fighting a cold or flu, or those with any other type of virus. Eating 3-5 brazil nuts will give you a good dose of selenium to protect your immune system.
Now you may be surprised that salt has been mentioned here, and I’m certainly not going to be recommending that you start adding copious amounts to your meals. Salt is a fantastic mucolytic agent, meaning that it helps to draw out and break down mucous. Salt water can be used as a nasal or throat rinse for those with blocked sinuses or sore throats. Salt therapy, which involves inhaling salt through a breathing device can be used to improve respiratory health.
The root that puts the zing in your vegetable juice offers potent anti-inflammatory benefits and pain relief. It is also effective for reducing nausea, so steeping some ginger in a cup of hot water is great when you’re feeling sick. Try adding a big piece of raw ginger to your vegetable juice next time you’re fighting symptoms of a headache or swollen glands.
10. Cod liver oil
Probably not your first choice of immune foods, but cod liver oil packs a punch when it comes to immune boosting vitamins. This oil is the best source of vitamin D, which is critical for a healthy immune system and unfortunately due to sun protection, the majority of the population are deficient in it. Cod liver oil is also rich in vitamin A, important for protecting the immune system and supporting healthy mucous membranes in the lungs and gut.
11. Whey protein
When you’re coming down with the flu, your first instinct won’t be to reach for a protein shake, but maybe it should. Protein is essential for the manufacturing of immune cells and is required in greater amounts when fighting infection. Apart from this, good quality whey protein contains lactoferrin and immunoglobulins which help to modulate the immune system and offers protection against infection.
Now you are fully equipped with the information you need to keep your immune system strong and healthy, and to ward off those nasty infections. If you are prone to getting sick, struggling to fight off an infection or do not usually eat the foods listed above, you would benefit from taking an immune tonic, to give your immune system the extra kick it needs.