5 foods to boost your immune system


By Christiane Meireles, PhD, RD, LD, registered dietitian, clinical assistant professor

In the midst of COVID-19, the flu and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, it’s natural to think about how to boost your immune system.

Making healthy choices and changing lifestyle habits can support a healthy immune system. Increasing plant-based foods which are naturally nutrient-rich, among other lifestyle changes, can also help the immune system fight illnesses.

To jump-start the New Year, consider eating these five immune-strengthening foods.

1. Citrus fruits

Citrus fruits are rich in vitamin C, which supports a healthy immune system. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that can help with wound healing, protect the epithelial barrier against pathogens and can trigger anti-inflammatory signals. Some studies have shown that vitamin C appears to prevent and treat respiratory and systemic infections. It can also help to reduce the length of cold symptoms, but cannot prevent someone from catching a cold. Adding citrus fruits to your meal is the way to go this season.

2. Oats

Oats contain many nutrients and bioactive compounds, such as polyphenolics, which have been associated with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and immunogenic responses. Oats also contain dietary fibers and beta-glucan that help modulate the immune system, which is paramount for defending against infectious disease, including cold, flu and COVID-19. Oats can also help optimize the immune system indirectly by modifying the content of microbiota. All forms of oatmeal contain the same vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber. A good breakfast to help fight infections can be a warm oatmeal made with steel-cut, rolled oats, or unflavored instant oatmeal.

3. Sweet potato

Sweet potato is packed with beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A, which is critical to the immune system. It is well known that carotenoids like beta-carotene seem to reduce damage from free radicals. Sweet potato is also rich in vitamin C, which is also a boost for the immune system. Enhance your meals with a boost of color and nutrients using sweet potato in stews, roasted in the oven, either alone or with other vegetables, or steamed.

4. Garlic

Garlic has been used in traditional medicine to prevent or treat diseases. Due to different bioactive molecules, garlic compounds can help with DNA repair, slow the growth of cancer cells and reduce inflammation. Garlic is rich in phytochemicals, inducing many health benefits, with anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties. Garlic is largely used as a flavoring in many Asian and Mediterranean cuisines.

5. Yogurt

Yogurt and other probiotic foods help build up a healthy microbiome, playing a key role in immune function. Diet can determine which kinds of microbes live in our gut. Probiotic foods —such as yogurt with live active culture, kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and fermented vegetables — contain live active bacteria. Including some of these natural probiotics in your eating pattern will help boost your immune system.



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