As many of us are confined to our homes, we’re all trying to find ways to keep our bodies and minds strong and healthy. While handwashing, good hygiene, and exercise can go a long way in reducing our risk of getting sick, what about our diet? Research has shown that a healthy diet and lifestyle habits can help boost the body’s natural defenses and immune system.
“A healthy diet contributes to a healthy immune system because it helps balance immune activation,” says Dr. John Wherry, PhD, director of the Institute of Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania. “A healthy diet has low amounts of animal products including red meat, processed meats, and low amounts of processed foods in general.” It does include lots of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and fiber.
Here are five foods that are known for their immune-boosting potential:
Citrus fruits. Many people turn to vitamin C at the first signs of a cold coming on. This is because vitamin C helps the immune system work properly. And some studies show it might help to ease symptoms and reduce the duration of the common cold. To boost your vitamin C intake, you can turn to citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruit, along with other vitamin C-rich foods like red peppers, kiwi, and strawberries.
Cruciferous Vegetables. Veggies like broccoli and Brussels sprouts are known as nutritional powerhouses. They fill your plate with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. A lesser known fact is that much like citrus fruits, they are loaded with vitamin C.
Garlic. The widely popular ingredient contains compounds that may help the immune system fight germs. How? Fresh, whole garlic contains a compound called alliin. When garlic is crushed or chewed, alliin turns into allicin, a molecule that has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Researchers of one large 12-week study found that a daily garlic supplement reduced the number of cold symptoms by 63% in its active group compared to its placebo group. You can get the same benefits from eating onion, leeks, and shallots which are also part of the same allium family. These veggies also deliver prebiotic fiber, which ensures a happy gut—something that is essential for a healthy immune system.
Ginger. Also known as a “superfood” and one of the healthiest spices on earth, ginger’s unique flavor comes from its natural oils, the most important being gingerol. Gingerol is the bioactive substance in ginger that is responsible for much of its medical properties, including antimicrobial and respiratory protective, as well as its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.
Almonds. One of the world’s most popular tree nuts has shown promise in boosting immunity. Almonds are packed with antioxidants, in particular vitamin E, which has immune-boosting abilities and can help fight off invading bacteria and viruses. They also contain fiber, plant protein, and some iron, which are essential for the immune system.
Variety is also key to having proper nutrition. Eating just one of these foods constantly won’t fight off the flu. You’ll need to switch it up and have a colorful plate. “This idea promotes getting enough diversity of fiber and different nutrients,” says Wherry. “Especially if one is sticking to a diet of minimal animal products, you’ll want to include some fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.”