Are immune system booster foods really a thing? We take a look at some of the foods credited with boosting your body's natural defences.
Eating healthily can boost your wellbeing in countless ways, and bolstering your immune system is just one of these.
The best thing to do for your immune system is to eat a balanced diet. That means making sure you get a good mix of all the food groups, avoid overly salty, sweet or processed foods, and eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
There are certain foods that contain particularly high levels of vitamins and minerals known to boost the immune system. So are these really ‘immune system booster foods’?
Well, yes and no. Eating certain foods can certainly support a healthy immune system and improve your overall health. But they won’t automatically make you able to fight off infections. You’ll only feel their benefit as part of a healthy lifestyle overall.
We highlight 15 foods thought to bolster the immune system and suggest easy ways to work them into your diet.
- How do infectious diseases affect the immune system?
When microbes such as viruses or bacteria enter your body and start to multiply, this is known as infection. If your cells become damaged because of this, you may notice symptoms of illness.
When your immune system detects an infection, its mechanisms – including white blood cells and antibodies – start working to rid your body of the foreign microbes.
Many of the symptoms of illness are actually caused by your immune cells fighting off the infection.
Garlic has long enjoyed a reputation as a star in the world of cold and flu busting super foods. And it’s not just an old wives’ tale, with plenty of research and studies to back up the claims.
Garlic has antiseptic and antifungal properties and contains nutrients including vitamins B1, B6 and C, iron and phosphorus. It is also high in alliin, which converts to allicin. This is thought to be what makes garlic so effective in fighting off bacteria.
As well as working to prevent coughs, colds and chest infections, it can also help speed up recovery once a cold sets in, reducing the duration of a cold by up to 61%.1
Some studies suggest that flu may have an enemy in the shape of the humble elderberry. This fruit is rich in antioxidants and elderberry extract appears to block flu viruses – in a test tube at least.
Other studies have claimed that it also helps you to recover from flu more quickly.
It’s not just vegetables that help protect your immune system. Poultry such as chicken and turkey is high in vitamin B6, which helps you build new red blood cells.
Both meat from poultry and stock made from the bones can boost your defences. No wonder people eat chicken soup when they’re ill!
Mushrooms contain several key immune system boosting nutrients including selenium, B vitamins (riboflavin and niacin) and zinc.
Various studies have shown the immunity benefits of different types of mushrooms and some suggest that fungi can have antiviral, antibacterial and even anti-tumour effects.2
Citrus fruits are a great source of many nutrients. Oranges, for example, contain vitamin C, vitamin A, B vitamins, calcium and potassium.
Of course vitamin C is the one we most associate with citrus fruits. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and also supports the development of white blood cells, strengthening your body’s defence system.
So, lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits and the like can form a vital part of your defence against illnesses such as the common cold.
If you’re on medication, seek medical advice before eating grapefruit as it contains an enzyme that can interfere with certain medicines.
6. Bell peppers
Did you know red bell peppers actually contain more vitamin C than citrus fruits? Bell peppers are also rich in beta carotene, vitamin K1, vitamin E, vitamin A and folate.
Different coloured peppers offer different nutrients. As a general rule you should try and eat as many different colours of fruit and vegetables as possible to get the best variety of nutrients.
There are many reasons to include broccoli in your diet. It is packed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C and E, which offer many health benefits.
It contains the antioxidant sulforaphane (also found in other cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and brussels sprouts), which has been found to boost your immune response.
To make the most of its nutritional benefits, cook broccoli lightly or even eat it raw.
Carrots are an excellent source of beta carotene (pro vitamin A), an antioxidant that helps support your immune system by fighting free radicals, cell damage and inflammation.
They also offer the immune-boosting benefits of vitamin C.
Ginger has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may well boost your immune health. Some people find it also helps to reduce nausea.
Add fresh or ground ginger to the base of curries, stews or stir fries, or to hot herbal and fruit teas.
A dependable and low-cost standby, cabbage gives you glutathione which helps to maintain your immune system.
Don’t just think of cabbage as a side dish to a roast dinner. Try it in soups and stews or stir-fry it.
Vitamin E is just as important to immunity as vitamin C.
Our body needs fat in order to absorb vitamin E, making almonds the perfect source as they contain both.
Many regard spinach as a super food. It contains folate, which helps your body to make new cells and repair DNA. It also gives you vitamin C, fibre, antioxidants and more.
But be careful not to cook away its goodness. Eat spinach raw, or steam or boil it briefly and lightly to get the most nutritional benefit.
13. Sweet potato
Sweet potatoes are said to be one of the healthiest foods in the world, offering an incredible array of nutrients. Among these are vitamins A, C and E, which can all boost immunity.
If you keep the skins on you’ll be adding extra fibre and potassium to the list of health benefits.
Zinc is essential to our body’s ability to create certain immune cells. Legumes including chickpeas, lentils and beans all contain impressive amounts of zinc.
So even humble beans on toast could help to boost your immunity.
We recommend our posh beans on toast for an easy and delicious midweek meal.
15. Live yoghurt
The cultures in live yoghurt (which will say ‘live and active cultures’ on the pack) are thought to stimulate the immune system. It contains vitamin D, too, which boosts our defences.
Live yoghurt also contains probiotics. These help keep our gut healthy, which in turn protects our immune response.
Rather than buying pre-sweetened yoghurt, choose plain, live versions and sweeten yourself with fruits and a little honey.
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