Foods to Help Your Immune System

What Is the Immune System?

The immune system protects the body against harmful bacteria and germs that cause infection as well as pathogens like parasitic worms. When it’s working properly, the immune gets rid of these microscopic invaders. When it doesn’t, you’re more vulnerable to sickness.

The immune system is made of various components working in concert to provide an effective multi-layered immune response. The bone marrow, spleen, and thymus produce white blood cells, also known as leucocytes, and the lymph nodes store them. There are two types of leucocytes, phagocytes and lymphocytes. Phagocytes directly attack hostile microorganisms. Lymphocytes recognize invaders the body has battled previously to mobilize a more efficient and effective response.

Foods to help the immune system

Given its nature, you might assume that having a strong immune system pretty much comes down to the luck of the draw and there’s not much you can do to bolster your own, but that’s actually not the case. The strength of your immune system is correlated with your diet. In other words, there are foods that help build your immune system.

Here, then, is a list of some of the best foods to improve the immune system.

Foods That Help Build The Immune System: Vegetables

Spinach provides antioxidants, Vitamin C, which promotes the production of those all-important white blood cells, and beta-carotene. In addition to helping the body ward off infection, both Vitamin C and beta-carotene are good for the skin. Beta-carotene is good for your eyes as well. As a general rule, spinach is healthiest when uncooked because cooking removes some of the nutrients. Light cooking, however, enhances its Vitamin A content and releases beneficial substances from oxalic acid.

Broccoli offers vitamins and minerals including Vitamins A, C, and E, antioxidants, and fiber. As with spinach, you’ll generally get the most benefit from its many nutrients if you only cook it lightly or preferably not at all.

Red bell peppers have more Vitamin C than any other vegetable or fruit. They have beta-carotene as well.

In addition to fighting infection, garlic can slow down hardening of the arteries and lower your blood pressure. Doctors believe it boosts the immune system because it contains allicin and other sulfur-bearing substances.

Foods That Help Build the Immune System: Fruits

Kiwis give you Vitamin C, Vitamin K, potassium, foliate, and other substances the body needs to keep a number of systems functioning as they should.

Papayas have so much Vitamin C that eating just one will give you more than double the minimum recommended daily amount. They also have B vitamins, foliate, potassium, and an enzyme papain that fights inflammation.

You may already know citrus fruit is loaded with Vitamin C. That’s why so many of us turn to citrus if we’ve caught a cold.

Foods That Help Build The Immune System: Miscellaneous

Some kinds of shellfish are loaded with zinc, another substance necessary for a strong immune system. These include lobster, mussels, crab, and clams. The one thing to be cautious about here is that too much zinc can actually be bad for you by interfering with the immune response, so try to not to go much over the daily recommended amount. That’s 11 milligrams (mg) for adult men and 8 mg for adult women.

Poultry is high in the Vitamin B-6 the body needs to make red blood cells and that plays a role in many of the necessary chemical reactions happening in the body. If you make chicken soup or broth by boiling chicken bones, the bones release chondroitin, gelatin, and other substances that contribute to a healthy immune response.

Yogurts with “live and active cultures” (like Greek yogurt) stimulate the immune system. If a particular yogurt does contain such a culture, you’ll find that information displayed on the packaging. Similarly, yogurts fortified with Vitamin D help the body’s immune system do its job. Ideally, you should choose plain yogurt over the pre-flavored kind that’s full of sugar. You can flavor and sweeten it yourself with healthy fruits and a little honey.

Almonds give you Vitamin E, which, like Vitamin C, helps your immune system fight off infection. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning some fat is necessary if you’re going to metabolize it properly, and fortunately, nuts like almonds provide healthy fats, too.

Sunflower seeds are another source of Vitamin E. (You can get Vitamin E from dark leafy green and avocados.) Sunflower seeds also give you Vitamin B-6, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that make it useful when contending with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. It also contains curcumin, a substance that works to decrease the muscle damage that can come with exercise.

Ginger can fight inflammation and nausea as well. There’s research t suggests it can work against chronic pain and lower your cholesterol as well.

Finally, green tea offers antioxidant flavonoids. Black tea has those too, but if you opt for green tea, you’ll also get an abundance of the antioxidant epigallocatechin gallate, often abbreviated as EGCG, that bolsters the immune system. The difference here is that the fermentation process black tea goes through destroys much of the EGCG content. Since green tea is steamed and not fermented, its EGCG content remains intact. Additionally, green tea has L-theanine, an amino acid that helps with the creation of germ-fighting compounds in the T-cells.