At these trying times we want to do everything we can to shield ourselves from an illness. One of the most powerful things you can do is nourish your body with foods that support your immune system. It won’t make you virus-proof but the stronger your immunity is, the better your chance of either avoiding the infection or fighting it with only mild symptoms.
Here are some of the most potent foods to make a part of your daily diet. They are inexpensive, widely available foods and can be enjoyed by everyone.
Love it or hate it, garlic has superpowers when it comes your immune system. Research shows it stimulates and activates your white blood cells – immune system soldiers – supercharging their powers (Arreola, 2015). It also contains sulphur phytochemicals which offer a number of health benefits. They act as antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory and help to fight both infection and inflammation in the body.
If you’re wondering whether garlic supplements are as powerful as fresh garlic, the answer might disappoint you. Processed garlic extracts don’t seem to have as powerful an effect as fresh garlic. Two cloves a day should be enough to give you a boost.
Fruit and Vegetables
Bursting with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and healthy carbs, fruit and vegetables are truly irreplaceable. They give your body what it needs to stay strong. Fresh, raw (and well-washed) fruit is best or you can blend it into a smoothie. Vegetables are the most powerful either raw or lightly cooked (steamed or stir-fried) so they retain their goodness. Frozen fruit and veg are also very nutritious and often cheaper than fresh.
Avoid preserved fruit and pasteurised fruit juices – they have lost most of their nutritional value and won’t give your body what it needs.
Ginger and turmeric
Both from the same family, ginger and turmeric contain several potent biochemicals which are very strong antioxidants. They also have antimicrobial properties, helping to fight infection (Grzanna et al., 2005; Kunnumakkara et al., 2017).
Ginger is best fresh – slice it and make ginger and lemon tea or grate it and add in just about any meal, even your morning cereal can be spiced up with it! Turmeric is widely available as a powder and is perfect for cooking or making ‘golden milk’ – a delicious drink made from plant milk, turmeric, natural sweetener and extra spices (add cinnamon and black pepper). The key is to use enough turmeric for it to have the desired effect – about one teaspoon – and add some black pepper, which increases your absorption of the wonder substance, curcumin, from turmeric.
Often overlooked, vitamin D plays an important role in our immune system and can help protect us from infection. It’s the ‘sunshine vitamin’ that our skin makes when exposed to sunlight but in winter we simply don’t get enough. It’s recommended that we take a supplement from October to April.
Make sure your supplement is suitable for vegans. When it comes to dosage, 10 micrograms (400 IU) per day is enough and you shouldn’t go above 25 micrograms (1,000 IU).
Zinc it up
Zinc is a mineral we all need but don’t always get enough. It is crucial for a healthy immune system so make sure these foods make an appearance on your daily menu – pumpkin seeds, lentils, tofu, tempeh, wholemeal pasta or wheat germ.
When discussing the immune system, we mustn’t forget protein. Vital to strong immunity, it’s important to include protein-rich meals in our routine. And it just so happens that the best protein sources – pulses, nuts and seeds – are also excellent for many other important vitamins and minerals. So meals like chickpea curry, lentil dhal, tomato and lentil soup, bean chilli, tofu stir-fry or falafel wrap are perfect options. Add to them a snack of nuts and seeds, or fruit slices with nut butter and you’re set.
Foods to limit
When you kickstart your immune system with all the foods above, it’s also a good idea not to undermine it with other foods you eat. Limit sugar, sweets, processed snacks high in fat, white flour products and sweetened cereal products. Those weaken your immune system because they are pro-inflammatory, making your body work harder just to process it all.
Look after yourself
What we eat is crucial to our well-being but so is our mental health. Stress can seriously weaken your immune system so make sure you are kind to yourself. By that, we don’t mean eating a gallon of vegan ice cream, but perhaps calling a friend, watching a film or taking a relaxing bath – small things that can have a big impact.
Last but not least, make sure you get enough sleep. When you’re tired and your body cannot rest properly overnight, your immune system suffers. Aim for seven or eight hours each night and you can’t go wrong.
Stay safe and take care!
Arreola R, Quintero-Fabián S, López-Roa RI, et al. 2015. Immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory effects of garlic compounds. Journal of Immunology Research. 2015:401630.
Grzanna R, Lindmark L, Frondoza CG. 2005. Ginger – an herbal medicinal product with broad anti-inflammatory actions. Journal of Medicinal Food. 8 (2) 125–132.
Kunnumakkara AB, Bordoloi D, Padmavathi G, et al. 2017. Curcumin, the golden nutraceutical: multitargeting for multiple chronic diseases. British Journal of Pharmacology. 174 (11) 1325–1348.