Everyday Foods That Support a Healthy Immune System

Fermented foods

Updated Mar 23, 2020 @ 12:18 am

By Beth Lipton

If you’re reading this, you already know how important eating well is for good health. As Dr. Mark Hyman puts it, “Food is literally the most powerful medicine you have available to control your health.” That’s always true—but right now, as we’re all trying to protect ourselves and our families from a global pandemic, eating healthy feels even more urgent.

Luckily, there are many commonly available, delicious foods that you can incorporate today—no matter what your particular taste, eating style, cooking ability or budget—that are specifically powerful for boosting your immune system.

Here are some nutrients to focus on, and the foods where you’ll find them in abundance. Of course, keep getting as wide a variety of foods onto your plate as possible; eat plenty of vegetables, beneficial fats and high-quality protein for overall good health.

Vitamin C from

Why it’s helpful: Vitamin C is an antioxidant, so it fights free radicals in the body, helping to reduce inflammation. Research suggests vitamin C may help prevent respiratory infections, and aid in treating them when they do occur. A lack of vitamin C is associated with increased risk of illness.

Where you’ll find it: Red bell peppers, citrus, strawberries, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower

  • Protein Power Smoothie: Along with strawberries, this fast and easy smoothie gets an extra shot of vitamin C from a secret ingredient: Red bell pepper.
  • 5 New Ways to Eat Cauliflower for Dinner: At this point we think cauliflower is just showing off. It can be rice, and pizza crust, and steak—plus, 1 cup of cooked florets has 90 percent of your daily vitamin C. Here are 5 super-delicious veggie-rich ways to get it.
  • “Flu Shot”: This juice is an immune-boosting powerhouse, with three different kinds of citrus (grapefruit, blood orange and lemon). Raw honey, cinnamon, garlic and ginger all pitch in illness-battling properties, and make this elixir bracingly delicious.

Vitamin D

Why it’s helpful: Research suggests that vitamin D may help regulate the immune system, so the body doesn’t under- or overreact (the latter can lead to autoimmunity). Lack of vitamin D is also associated with greater risk of infection.

Where you’ll find it: Salmon, sardines, egg yolks, fortified dairy

  • Curry Frittata with Onions, Broccoli & Cherry Tomatoes: Eggs are a great source of vitamin D—and this tasty frittata, great for any meal of the day, gets bonus points for also incorporating vitamin C-rich broccoli.
  • Salmon Patties with Turmeric and Dill: Fatty fish like salmon are a good source of vitamin D. Pro tip: Stick to wild salmon, which can have up to 4 times the amount of vitamin D as farmed. Canned wild salmon, featured in this recipe, is a budget-friendly and convenient way to enjoy it. These tasty patties get extra points for being rich in protein (also important for immunity), and for having anti-inflammatory turmeric.
  • One-Pan Herb-Crusted Roasted Salmon with Roasted Broccoli Steak: Give yourself a one-two punch of immunity boosting with this tasty dish, which brings together salmon and broccoli. It also incorporates antioxidant-rich herbs, which make the dish even healthier (and tastier).

Vitamin A

Why it’s helpful: Vitamin A also helps regulate the immune system, so that it operates efficiently. Plus, research suggests vitamin A may help protect children from pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

Where you’ll find it: Animal sources such as dairy, fish, and meat, have preformed vitamin A. With plant sources, you eat compounds called carotenoids, which the body converts into vitamin A. Carotenoid-rich foods include carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, spinach, pumpkin, and winter squash

Get it now:

  • Simple Kale and Sweet Potato Salad: It’s simple to make, but loaded with flavor, with fresh mint and green apple adding a punch. Along with carotenoid-rich sweet potatoes, it also has kale, a good source of vitamin C. Plus, the flavorful dressing is made with tahini, which provides protein and healthy fat. Vitamin A is fat soluble, so you need to eat fat with it in order for your body to absorb it.
  • Curried Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup: Get your double shot of carotenoids in this 100% plant-based soup. It also has garlic, used for centuries as a remedy for various illnesses and a popular cold fighter. The curry powder in the recipe also contains anti-inflammatory turmeric.
  • Garlic Mashed Butternut Squash: Step aside, potatoes—this indulgent side dish is comfort food that loves you back. Butternut squash is rich in carotenoids, and there’s plenty of garlic for great taste and good health. Serve it alongside fish, chicken or steak for dinner—or have it with a fried egg on top (vitamin D!) as something different for breakfast.

Fermented foods

Why they’re helpful: Fermented foods contain probiotics, beneficial bacteria that help crowd out bad bacteria in our microbiomes that can cause inflammation and other illnesses. Regularly including fermented foods in your diet helps maintain a healthy gut, the place where much of the immune system lives.

Where you’ll find it: Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and pickles (make sure the label says “raw” or “fermented”), kimchi, miso, apple cider vinegar (must contain the “mother”), kombucha

Get it now:

  • 8 New Ways to Eat More Kefir: Kefir, a fermented drink that is similar to yogurt, is a fantastically versatile ingredient. Use it to add tang to salad dressings, smoothies—even tacos.
  • Cold Kimchi Soba Noodles: Kimchi—a Korean fermented cabbage dish—adds probiotics and tons of great flavor to this fun veggie-forward noodle dish. Pro tip: In this recipe, some of the brine from the kimchi gets whisked into the dressing. Try this with sauerkraut, fermented pickles and other pickled vegetables.
  • Ranch Dressing with Greek Yogurt and Chia: Toss it into salads, use it as a dip—this easy-to-make DIY ranch is so good, you’ll never buy bottled again.

Hungry for More?

 

COVID-19 has us all on edge. One way that we’re keeping calm is by focusing on the things we can control—and the biggest one is our healthy habits. As we work together to flatten the curve, we’ll cover strategies you can employ right now to help you manage stress, boost immunity, and feel better.

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