A healthy immune system is key for your overall wellness and quality of life -- from keeping you symptom-free through flu season, to controlling allergies, to fighting off dangerous chronic illnesses. While some factors that affect immunity (like genetics) are outside your control, following a diet high in key immune-boosting nutrients can keep you healthy. So snack on these fruits and veggies to support your immune system and stay hale and hardy! If you’re worried that you have a compromised immune system, talk to your doctor. While fruits and veggies help maintain your immune system, they’re no substitute for medical treatment.
Fruits & Vegetables You Need to Boost Your Immune System
Spinach, Mulberries and Apricots
What do these fruits and veggies have in common? They’re all packed with iron. Getting enough iron keeps you energized and active, since iron helps infuse your cells and tissues with oxygen. And you’ll also have a stronger immune system. Your white blood cells -- the major cells responsible for fighting off disease -- use iron-containing proteins to kill nasty microbes and keep you disease-free. A cup of spinach has about one-third of the iron you need; a half-cup of dried apricots contains about one-fifth of your needs and a cup of fresh mulberries offers roughly one-sixth of the iron you need for the day. Make a super immune-boosting, iron-rich breakfast smoothie by blending almond milk, protein powder, spinach and mulberries, or try one of these delicious apricot dishes.
Fend off a cold with mushrooms? Yup! ‘Shrooms grown under ultraviolet light serve as a great source of vitamin D, a vitamin vital for immunity. Vitamin D activates genes that help you body fend off infections, and it’s important for “activating” certain immune cells, so that they can wipe out any microbes before they make you sick. As a bonus, vitamin D also keeps your immune system from getting too active, which can protect you from autoimmune diseases. Make sure you check the label before you buy -- only mushrooms grown under UV light boost your vitamin D levels. Sautéed, grilled or stuffed, mushrooms are delicious -- try one of these easy dishes to get more vitamin D.
Red Bell Peppers, Carrots and Cantaloupe
Red and orange fruits and veggies come packed with vitamin A, a proven immune booster. Vitamin A keeps your skin strong, radiant and glowing -- which keeps microbes from getting into your body in the first place -- and it also guides the development of new white blood cells to keep your immune system strong. While virtually any red, orange or yellow produce will up your vitamin A intake, red peppers, carrots and peaches are among the best sources. A serving of either carrots or red peppers provide all your vitamin A needs for the day, and each slice of cantaloupe has about half your vitamin A requirements. Start your day with a carrot, red pepper and kale juice for a potent shot of immune-boosting vitamin A; make a healthy snack from chopped cantaloupe and nonfat cottage cheese; or serve these garam masala glazed baby carrots with dinner tonight.
Asparagus, Mango and Broccoli
Eat asparagus, mango or broccoli and say "hola" to folate -- one of the best nutrients for immune function. Folate, also called vitamin B-9, is crucial for cell growth. That’s essential for immune health, since you’re constantly producing fresh new immune cells to replace older, damaged ones. Low folate levels mean you’ll see a dip in your immune cell count, and might even prevent your existing immune cells from working properly to fight off infection. Add a cup of asparagus to your dinner and you’ll get about 70% of the folate you need for the day. Each cup of broccoli supplies about 40% of your folate needs, and a mango has about one-third of your folate requirements. Try roasted asparagus or garlicky lemon roasted broccoli as a healthy side; or whip up a delicious mango smoothie for a nutritious snack.
Citrus fruits come loaded with vitamin C, a nutrient with a serious reputation as an immune booster. Like vitamin D, vitamin C helps “activate” certain immune cells to keep your immune system strong, and it also protects your immune cells from damage so that they can fight hard to protect you from disease. Citrus fruits are among the best sources of vitamin C, and an orange, grapefruit, tangelo or tangerine provides virtually all you need for the day. Lunch on an ultra-healthy raw kale and blood red orange salad; start your day with a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice; or squeeze lemon or lime juice into your water for a healthy shot of vitamin C throughout the day.
Add enhanced immunity to the list of reasons avocados are great for you. They’re a great source of vitamin E, which helps prevent cellular damage -- which cuts down on the need for your immune system to deal with damaged cells. Low vitamin E levels also prevent certain immune cells from working properly, which makes you more susceptible to nasty bugs. Your immune cells also use fat -- including the healthy fats in avocados -- as source of energy, so avos literally fuel your immune system. And those healthy fats also help you absorb other immune-boosting nutrients, including vitamins A and D, so adding avocado to your meals actually boosts the immune-enhancing benefits of other fruits and veggies. Enjoy guacamole while you enhance your immunity? Yes please! Try this recipe for a quick immune system boost.
Kale, Collards and Other Leafy Greens
Good immunity is just another reason you need to get your leafy greens. On top of being low in calories (perfect for keeping you full without causing weight gain) leafy greens are packed with lots of immune-friendly nutrients. They’re a great source of vitamin A (most have all your vitamin A needs in one serving), along with vitamin C and iron. Certain leafy greens, like kale and collards, also come loaded with calcium. On top of its well-known role in bone health, calcium sends chemical messages that help stimulate your immunity, and calcium is key for immune cell growth. Start your day with a spinach-packed detox smoothie; lunch on a leafy green salad to enhance your immunity, such as this delicious spinach salad or this ultra-nutritious kale version; or make a warming meal with this rustic Indian lentils with collard greens recipe -- it's simply delicious!