11 Foods that Strengthen Your Immune System

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The Fall and Winter months are filled with friends, family and people who are are getting sick. Germs are everywhere, so it’s important to incorporate foods into your diet that help strengthen your immune system.

The immune system is made up of cells, proteins, organs and tissues. While there are illnesses that cause it to be weak, most people’s system is running as it should. However, during flu season, our bodies are exposed to way more germs and viruses than other times of the year. As the weather gets colder, we spend more time indoors, making more contact with people. Exercise tends to decrease during these months, as well. Try to keep up on your physical activity for your overall health.

This time of year also brings out the stress in many people, which does not help our immune system. Stress often leads to unhealthy eating choices, which deprives us of the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Additionally, people who smoke and drink alcohol tend to have weaker immune systems, too.

Of course there are immune system boosters that you can buy over the counter. In researching them, the scientific data is not conclusive. Essentially, since there are so many types of cells that make up our immune system, there’s no way to know which cells need a boost to make a positive impact.

The good news is that we know which foods help strengthen your immune system. I personally believe it’s better to get your nutrients from whole foods vs. supplements. Here are 11 foods to consider adding to your Fall/Winter diet:

 

Almonds

While this may not be a popular choice for cold prevention, Almonds contain high levels of vitamin E, which is key to keeping a healthy immune system. Since it’s a fat-soluble vitamin, your body will store it for when it needs it.

Broccoli

These mean, green veggies are loaded with vitamins and minerals. They have vitamins A, C, E and various B vitamins. Additionally, broccoli is high in iron, zinc, potassium, beta-carotene and magnesium. The less time it’s cooked, the more nutrients you will get from it.

Recipes to try: Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Bowl, Turkey Veggie Mix

Related: How to Read Food Labels

Citrus Fruits

Everyone can use a little extra vitamin C during the Fall and Winter months. It increases the production of white blood cells, which fight infections. You can get your dose of vitamin C in grapefruit, oranges, tangerines, lemons, clementines and limes. Our bodies do not store this vitamin so it’s up to you to replenish it.

Most people turn to vitamin C after they've caught a cold. That’s because it helps build up your immune system. Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells. These are key to fighting infections.


Garlic

The very popular ingredient, garlic, is one of our best defenses against illness. There are many health benefits (read about them in our garlic spotlight) but we’re going to focus only on what strengthens your immune system. Garlic has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties. It contains a high amount of sulfur-containing compounds like allicin, which fights infection and bacteria. In addition to being so tasty, it’s really good for you.

Recipes to try: Garlic Lemon Chicken, Garlic Green Beans, Garlic Herb Chicken, Agave Garlic Chicken, Chicken with Garlic Rosemary Sauce, Roasted Lemon Garlic Asparagus

Ginger

The antioxidants found in ginger contain potent immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory traits. Like garlic, it also has antibacterial and antiviral properties. Additionally, it contains two natural antibiotics and eases cold symptoms. Try some in tea or add to vegetables dishes.

Green & Black Tea

Tea is another food not commonly thought of to strengthen our immune systems but both green and black teas contain the antioxidant, flavonoid. Green tea also has high levels of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which is another immune-boosting antioxidant. Starting your day with tea may not be a bad idea.

Mushrooms

These edible fungi are unique in that they are high in selenium, which most vegetables do not. Mushrooms also contain high amounts of B vitamins, which are known immune boosters. There are many other health benefits associated with mushrooms (read more here), so having these in your diet year round is recommended.

Recipes to try: Chicken and Mushroom Bowl, Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Mushrooms

Oats

We all know starting our day with oatmeal helps us to stay healthy. What you may not know is that oats contain beta-glucan which is a fiber found in foods like oats. Your immune cells grab onto it and increase white blood cell activity that protects us from bacteria and viruses. Switching to an oatmeal breakfast during flu season can be beneficial.

Recipe to try: Homemade Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal

 

Spinach

This superfood is high in vitamin C but is also packed with an array of antioxidants. Additionally, spinach contains beta carotene, folate, vitamins A and C, fiber, iron and magnesium. Like broccoli, spinach is most nutrient-dense when it’s cook just a little or not at all.

Recipe to try: Turkey Veggie Mix, Apple Pear Smoothie with Spinach

Sunflower Seeds

As we learned earlier, vitamin E is a key nutrient for our immune system and sunflower seeds have no shortage of it, giving us 82% of the recommended daily amount in just a quarter cup. These seeds also contain phosphorous, magnesium and vitamin B6.

Recipe to try: Cinnamon Sunflower Seeds

Greek Yogurt

Another overall healthy food option is Greek Yogurt. It helps strengthen your immune system with its live and active cultures, which keep your intestinal tract free of bad bacteria. It’s rich in probiotics that boost immune function. When shopping for it, get plain yogurt instead of flavored, which tends to have a lot of sugar. You can always add fresh fruit.

Recipes to try: Protein Fruit Dip, Cranberry Greek Yogurt Mayo

It’s important to keep your body healthy during the colder months so you don’t get sick. But if a virus happens to slip by and isn’t caught by your immune system, try some chicken soup.

Chicken Soup When you’re Sick

Our mothers always told us to eat chicken soup when we’re sick. They were on to something! Homemade chicken soup helps stop white blood cells from moving to inflamed areas of the body, where it stimulates the production of mucus. As soon as you are starting to feel ill, start making or buying some soup to strengthen your immune system and get over your cold quicker. You can incorporate other vegetables, like garlic, that help your immune system, too.

Adding the above foods to your winter diet can help boost your immune system and keep you healthier during flu season. I wish you a happy and healthy Fall and Winter!

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