Foods to Boost Your Immune System

Jun 02, 2022
green smoothie with a white napkin that reads

Eating a whole food, plant-based diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes (beans, peas, lentils), nuts and seeds, as well as herbs and spices can help build a healthy immune system.

These healing foods are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals — micronutrients and beneficial bioactive compounds found in whole plant foods shown to lower inflammation and stop free radicals. A diet rich in whole plant foods can also be protective against several chronic diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

The term immunity is from the Latin immunitas, meaning freedom from, so we’re talking about protection against foreign agents in our bodies including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Here are three ways you can boost your immune system.

1. Foods to Eat Everyday!

Eat dark leafy greens, fruit and mushrooms daily. While nitric oxide (NO) has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health, one study shows that it may also help to inhibit replication of SARS and coronavirus. The powerhouse foods rich in NO include dark leafy and cruciferous greens (arugula, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, bok choy, etc.), and beets. We can also include citrus fruits (oranges, kiwi, grapefruit, berries) as well as watermelon, because these fruits enhance the production of nitric oxide.

Anthocyanins, the phytochemical found in blueberries, has been shown to increase natural killer (NK) cells. NK cells are regulatory cells that can limit the spread of infectious pathogens. Other foods rich in anthocyanins include black berries, black rice, concord grapes, chokeberries, and elderberries.

Mushrooms contain beta-D-glucan, which has been shown to increase IgA — an antibody that strengthens our immune system. One study showed that eating 1/3 cup of mushrooms each day will increase IgA production by over 50%!

Broccoli and broccoli sprouts contain a substance called sulforaphane. A study showed those who ate broccoli sprouts experienced a reduction in nasal viral load due to an increase in NK cells. 

Tip: Consider adding 1 full serving of dark leafy greens or broccoli to each meal of the day. Enjoy 1 to 2 servings of citrus fruit and blueberries (or black berries) each day. Add in 1/3 cup of cooked mushrooms to at least one meal of the day. Boost the nutritional density of your smoothies with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp of mushroom powder. (#ad)

2. Improve Gut Health

Our gut contains an ecosystem of bacteria living in symbiosis and influences the function of our immune system. The “microbiome” is this ecosystem of bacteria in our body. Diet, along with physical activity and stress, play a major role in our gut microbiome. Foods, such as fermented vegetables (e.g., sauerkraut, kimchi) provide beneficial probiotics. Furthermore, foods rich in fiber (e.g., beans, lentils, oats, barley) provide beneficial prebiotics, which are food for the probiotics. Eating a varied whole-food, plant-based diet will ensure you're getting plenty of fiber.

Tip: Consider adding 1-2 cups of cooked beans to your diet daily, and 1/4 cup of fermented vegetables every other day.

3. Reduce Chronic Stress

Reducing or managing chronic stress can improve your immune system health. Stress can often come from strained relationships with family, feeling overstretched at work, and financial hardships. For many, stress promotes unhealthy eating habits. Daniel Fast: A Bridge to Healthy Living zeros in on restoring health while deepening your relationship with God. It helps with overcoming emotional eating and food addictions. For many, detoxing from junk foods and achieving mental and spiritual clarity aids in making better choices. 

Check out this interview with Dr. Joel Fuhrman to learn more about the power of food in building a healthy immune system:

 

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