The body’s immune system is a remarkably designed defense system to protect you from harmful infections and diseases. When the body senses foreign substances (called antigens), the immune system generates an inflammatory response to get rid of them.
Although our immune system is continuously working to rid us of foreign invaders, what makes people sick is a combination of their exposure to these risks and their personal level of resilience. Although you can’t always control exposure, you CAN make dietary choices that give your body some serious disease-fighting support.
A wide variety of diverse foods, especially fruits and vegetables, can have a huge impact on your immune system’s resilience. Foods may support immune function in various ways, including regulating inflammation, increasing resilience against infections, and by exhibiting anti-microbial and anti-cancer effects.
15 foods for your family’s immune health
7. Fatty Fish
10. Matcha Green Tea
12. Olive Oil
Many people don’t realize just how significantly our diet can influence our immunity. The following 15 science-backed foods provide various benefits to immune health.
Apples are great sources of fiber and natural sugars. As an added benefit, apple skins contain quercetin, a type of plant pigment flavonoid that helps boost your immune system and reduce inflammation. Quercetin, also found in berries, grapes, broccoli, and tea, is known to decrease inflammation and demonstrates anti-allergic activity.
Beans are high in soluble fiber, which is fermented in the gut by microbiota. Some of these soluble fibers act as prebiotics, which may support gastrointestinal health and immune health by reducing symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and reducing the risk and duration of infectious diarrhea.
Beans also have an abundance of folate, a B vitamin required for the production and regular cell cycle of certain immune cells.
3. Citrus fruits
Citrus is rich in vitamin C, an anti-oxidant and immune-supportive nutrient. Vitamin C is known to decrease the severity and duration of the common cold. Citrus is also high in phenolic compounds and terpenes, which exhibit anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. Citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruits, also increase the production of white blood cells, boosting your immune system to help fight infections.
Cranberries are crammed with nutrients linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, neurodegenerative conditions, and urinary tract infections. Cranberries contain high levels of anti-oxidant proanthocyanidins (PACs), which can prevent certain types of bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract walls and causing infections.
Dark chocolate, more than milk or white chocolate, contains high levels of flavonoids, anti-oxidants that protect our cells from damage and inflammation.
6. Cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables include cauliflower, cabbage, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and bok choy, among others. These vegetables provide sulfur-containing compounds, as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. Research suggests that cruciferous vegetables may support immune health by reducing the risk of certain cancers, such as gastric and prostate cancers, as well as by exerting anti-microbial activity, which may protect against gastrointestinal infections.
7. Fatty fish
Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, have been found to lower the risk of coronary disease, heart failure, and death from heart disease. The specific omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) have anti-inflammatory properties and can lower levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids involved in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Wild salmon or smaller fish such as anchovies, herring, and sardines are high in omega-3s, while flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds provide certain plant-based omega-3s, which are converted to small amounts of EPA and DHA in the body.
A pungent spice for both savory and sweet dishes, ginger possesses strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. Research has shown that ginger may inhibit certain inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, and other immune-related conditions, including allergies, asthma, and colds. Ginger is widely consumed worldwide and has been used for thousands of years Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda.
Foods such as kefir and yogurt contain probiotics thought to play a direct role in immune function. The probiotics in kefir may alter the gastrointestinal microbiota by increasing beneficial microbes and reducing certain species of pathogenic microbes. Studies suggest regular consumption of dairy kefir can help with fighting gut-disruptive bacteria. Avoid flavored kefir as these contain added sugars.
10. Matcha green tea
Matcha is produced when young green tea leaves are steamed and then ground into a fine bright-green powder. It has a lush, almost sweet, vegetal flavor. Green tea is known to support the immune system by providing antioxidants that protect against free radicals and oxidative damage. Matcha contains roughly three times the amount of catechins, a specific type of anti-oxidant flavonoid, than most green teas.
Nuts, like almonds and hazelnuts, are among the best sources of vitamin E, a fat soluble anti-oxidant involved in immune function. Vitamin E has immunomodulatory effects which include stimulating the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, white blood cells involved in the innate immune response. The vitamin may reduce the risk of certain infections, including respiratory infections.
12. Olive oil
Olive oil contains oleocanthal, a phenolic compound that has anti-inflammatory properties comparable to ibuprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Two or three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil each day, drizzled on salads, vegetables, or grains, does wonders for immune health. Extra-virgin olive oil has a high concentration of anti-oxidants, including vitamin E and phenolic compounds.
Whole oats contain beta-glucans, compounds that can increase the activity of immune cells such as macrophages, natural killer cells, and neutrophils.
Whole grain oats, such as whole grain groats, thick oats, and steel-cut oats provides immune-supportive nutrients including selenium, zinc, and vitamin E.
The botanical herb sage, which can be made into tea, has been used for centuries as a traditional herbal remedy for sore throats, coughs, and colds. Sage tea can improve lipid profile (the blood levels of cholesterol and fats) and anti-oxidant reserves, both key markers of a robust immune system.
This golden yellow, bitter spice is a key component in spicy curry dishes and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to address a range of inflammatory conditions, such as allergies, diabetes, and ulcers.
The primary active compound in turmeric may modulate the immune system by activating certain immune cells and targeting proinflammatory cytokines. These effects may contribute to the benefits of curcumin seen in certain immune-related conditions, including allergy, asthma, and arthritis.