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Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs to Boost the Immune System

Fruits, Vegetables, and Herbs to Boost the Immune System

‘You are what you eat’ – the saying goes true, as what you eat fuels your ride and recovery. Optimum immune health heavily relies on foods that provide the necessary vitamins and minerals to enhance the immune function.

So, what foods boost your immune system?

The “rainbow ones.” Yes, you read that correctly.

According to Osteopathic Physician and Functional Medicine Practitioner Lisa Ballehr, one must consume “red apples, potatoes, cherries or grapes; orange sweet potatoes, pumpkin, mango, yams or tangerines; green kiwi, broccoli, olives, limes or grapes; yellow apples, pears, bananas, or pineapple; blueberries, cabbage, kale, grapes or raisins; and tan cauliflower, dates, coconut, nuts or sauerkraut.”

Let’s take a look at a few foods that build up the immune system.

Fruits for the immune system

Enriched with antioxidants, minerals (such as selenium and zinc), and vitamins (like C, A, D and E), fruits boost the immune system, lower inflammation, and enhance nutrient absorption. In short, they are a powerhouse of energy that actively support the immune function, helping to keep us from being affected and falling sick by every other virus that comes our way. With a rich array of fresh fruits available in the market, here are a few you can indulge in:

  • Citrus Fruits: Containing high amounts of vitamin C, these fruits are the strongest immunity boosters. Incorporating these fruits in the daily diet may help combat the common cold, flu, and other infections, viruses, and viral symptoms that otherwise affect the body so easily. The minimum recommended intake amount of vitamin C in men is 90 mg and in women is 75 mg. These also promote the formation of collagen levels in the skin which is important since the skin acts as the first line of defense against pathogens.
    • Oranges – they are one of the world’s most popular fruits, packed with several vitamins and minerals like C, B9, B1, copper, and potassium that increase white blood cells and attack free radicals. One big orange or a glass of orange juice consumed daily is ideal for keeping your immunity up.
    • Lemons – Drinking warm lemon water daily is one of the oldest practices to detoxify the body, improve digestion and liver function, and maintain the PH balance in the body. Just like oranges, they are an excellent source of vitamin C and flavonoids, which are antioxidants to boost the immune system. 
    • Grapefruits – Another tremendous source of vitamin C is the grapefruit. They are low in calories as they are made up of 88% water and contain a significant amount of fiber and vitamin A that strongly support the immune system. 
  • Berries: Berries, like citrus fruits, are a great source of vitamin C, flavonoids, and polyphenol. They are known to enhance the immune system, reduce inflammation, and counter cell damage. A berry smoothie, juice, or a simple bowlful mix of different berries daily, such as blueberries, cranberries, and elderberries, can give your body the necessary boost it requires.
    • Elderberry – Lab studies suggest that extract from this berry blocks and fights cold, influenza, and other viruses. Known for its anti-viral, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, they are power-packed with nutrients, including minerals like iron, potassium, phosphorous, copper, and vitamins, such as A, B, and C, as well as proteins and dietary fibers.
    • Acai berry – Acai berry also stimulates the immune system with anthocyanin, an antioxidant that strengthens defense against stress and various other diseases. Found in some areas of South America, Brazil, and Trinidad, these are being studied as a potential treatment for all kinds of health conditions.
  • Other fruits: There are various other fruits that help the immune system, such as watermelons, kiwis, papayas, apples, pineapples, bananas, pomegranates, etc. When incorporated into a daily diet, these enhance the health and immune system and play a vital role in keeping us fit and active.

Immune boosting vegetables

“Finish your vegetables. They are good for you!” Our mothers’ words still ring in our heads sometimes, don’t they? As always, they are right. It is no surprise that vegetables, along with fruits, occupy half the plate of our ideal nutritious diet. These green veggies are also loaded with vitamins, minerals, proteins, antioxidants, and other compounds to rev up our immunity, reduce inflammation, improve gut health, control cholesterol levels, and stabilize blood sugar levels, among other benefits. Let’s take a look at some stand-out vegetables that boost the immune system.

  • Spinach – This ‘superfood’ is rich in nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, and beta carotene that help fight infections. It also contains folate that boosts new cell production as well as repairs the DNA. Spinach is considered the healthiest when it is lightly cooked, retaining all its nutrients. No wonder Popeye never forgot his greens!
  • Sweet potato – Packed with carotenoids, which are a source of vitamin A, sweet potatoes bolster the immune system as well as protect the skin from damage caused by UV rays. With 120% of the daily value of vitamin A, these delicious veggies are cholesterol-free and low in calories and can be fried or baked or used in soups and pies for a great meal!
  • Broccoli – Broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables to consume as they contain fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants, such as glutathione and sulforaphane that activate genes and enzymes in immune cells to combat foreign antigens in the body. Steaming broccoli is the best way to consume its nutrients.
  • Garlic – A staple in most cuisines, garlic is widely known for its anti-inflammatory properties and sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin that improves immune cells to fight cold and other illnesses. Go on, add a little extra garlic zest to your meal!
  • Button mushrooms – Button mushrooms are a high source of B vitamins (riboflavin and niacin) and mineral selenium that play a vital role in strengthening bones and immunity. Low selenium results in frequent illness and severe flu infections. Thus, mushrooms are ideal for maintaining a healthy immune system.
  • Other vegetables – Other immunity-boosting vegetables include red bell peppers, tomatoes, red cabbage, artichoke, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, etc. So, go ahead, obey mom, and eat your veggies!

Immune boosting herbs

Since ancient times, herbs have been well-known for their healing properties. With no chemicals involved, herbs are natural, organic ingredients used in traditional treatment methods that have strengthened the immune system and cured various illnesses. Here are a few immune-boosting herbs that can be added to your daily diet:

  • Ginger – Ginger is known to soothe a sore throat, prevent respiratory tract infection, as well as ease nausea and vomiting. Its anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties quench free radicals and guard against various infections and toxins. Ginger, on its own, is widely consumed in tea.
  • Reishi – Reishi mushroom (a type of fungus) is believed to boost and strengthen the immune system by affecting the genes in the white blood cells that majorly fight infections and may help combat other health ailments.
  • Turmeric – Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric that gives it its color. This compound has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that treat arthritis and muscle damage. It also eases chest congestions, skin irritations, as well as activates the production of T-cells in the body that recognize, respond, and fight antibodies. Turmeric can be added to milk, soup, curries, broth, and cooked vegetables.
  • Echinacea – Like most herbs, echinacea has also been used for centuries to treat cold, cough, respiratory, and other inflammatory conditions. 
  • Adaptogens and other herbs – Adaptogens are herbs used to reduce stress and hormonal imbalance in the body. They improve sleep and focus, as well as boost energy by combating fatigue. Holy basil, licorice root, goji berry, and American ginseng are a few adaptogens. Along with these, astragalus, fenugreek, cinnamon, cardamom, oregano, etc. are few more herbs that help build up the immune system.
  • Supplements – Consuming an extra dose of supplements, along with a nutritious diet, helps strengthen the immune system to tackle the daily stresses of life. These can also be added to various delicious recipes to kick start or calmly end your day for a healthy living.

The things needed to improve immunity are all within our reach. A nutritious diet ensures the optimal functioning of the immune system, thereby safeguarding us from any disease or infection. However, before altering your diet, it is recommended to consult a dietician or physician to work out a plan that is best for your body.

Gene

Gene Bruno is professor of nutraceutical science at Huntington University of Health Sciences and also the senior director of product innovation for Twinlab Consolidation Corporation. Bruno has bachelor's and master's degrees in nutrition, as well as a graduate diploma and master's degree in herbal medicine. As a 40-year veteran of the dietary supplement industry and award-winning formulator, he has developed natural products for dozens of dietary supplement companies; educated and trained natural product retailers and health care professionals; and written articles on nutrition, herbal medicine, nutraceuticals and integrative health issues for trade, consumer and peer-reviewed publications, as well as authoring books and textbook chapters.