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10 foods that support the immune system

Around 80 per cent of your immune system is based in your gut and much of it regulated by the balance of bacteria that are in there helping with your digestion – which is why what you eat is so beneficial to supporting your immune response to bugs and nasties.

Your immune system is a complex network of cells and structures that are so vital for protecting your body against microscopic invaders.

Immune Boosting Foods You Can Try

James takes us through 10 great immune boosting foods – many that you’ll see in our Elevated recipes – that can help strengthen your immune system and fight colds, flus and other ailments.

We’ve highlighted some of the vitamins that are essential to strengthening your immune system to defend against infections and that, if you are ill, can help build your immune system back up to fighting strength.

Foods that support the immune system - Rainbow of peppers

Red bell peppers

Forget oranges! This scarlet hero packs a whopping three times the vitamin C per gram than its citrusy friends. This crucial vitamin fuels the production of white blood cells, your frontline soldiers against infection. Beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, also joins the fight, keeping your eyes and skin sharp too. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that increasing vitamin C intake reduced the duration and severity of the common cold in adults, making red bell peppers a delicious ally in the battle against infection.

Whilst great on their own, bell peppers are an incredibly diverse ingredient that can be used in many of our delicious dishes.

Foods that support the immune system - Ginger and lemon

Ginger

Ginger is another nutritional powerhouse that features on the Elevated Recipe Subscription roster. Long revered for its medicinal properties, ginger packs a powerful anti-inflammatory punch. Studies show it can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and even fight some antibiotic-resistant strains. More research in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine found ginger effective in reducing the severity and duration of nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, showcasing its immune-boosting potential beyond the common cold. So, brew a warming ginger tea, add it to stir-fries, or even use in home-made ginger biscuits for a tasty immune strengthening boost.

Foods that support the immune system - Bowl of garlic

Garlic

This pungent and well-loved bulb harbours a secret weapon: allicin, a compound that activates immune cells and acts as an antimicrobial shield, banishing harmful gut bacteria that weaken your defences. Research published in Frontiers in Immunology concluded that garlic has multiple immune-boosting properties and may be beneficial for preventing and treating infectious diseases. Additionally, a 2019 study found that garlic can even shorten the duration and severity of illness, making it a valuable ally in any internal skirmish.

Many of the dishes you know and love have heaps of garlic already but our tip is to ensure that you’re using fresh garlic, and not the artificial or concentrated flavoured pastes or oils. There’s nothing better than fresh, and it’s always really cheap too!

Foods that support the immune system - Basket of mushrooms

Mushrooms

These myco-warriors offer vitamin D, a crucial immune system regulator, along with antioxidant quercetin and immune-stimulating beta-glucans. Although we love the staple button and chestnut mushrooms, we encourage you to dive into the world of shiitake, lion’s mane, and chaga for a potent immune-boosting cocktail. A 2017 study in Nutrients found that vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of upper respiratory tract infections, making these exotic fungi valuable defenders against seasonal bugs.

 

Foods that support the immune system - Sauerkraut sandwich

Sauerkraut

This crunchy cabbage, fermented to perfection, teems with beneficial bacteria, your gut guardians. They strengthen your intestinal lining, preventing damage from harmful bacteria in the gut. They also ramp up the production of natural antibodies, adding another layer of protection to your immune system. Research published in Nature Medicine found that probiotics can improve immune function and reduce the risk of infection, highlighting the importance of sauerkraut’s gut-friendly warriors.

 

Foods that support the immune system - Raspberry yoghurt

Greek yoghurt

While we’re not great fans of cow dairy at Elevated,  Greek yogurt makes an exception. This protein-packed powerhouse is teeming with gut-friendly bacteria, your internal allies in maintaining digestive health. Protein, the body’s building block, is vital for repairing and strengthening immune cells, making Greek yogurt an essential immune booster and great for recovery too. A 2017 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that yogurt consumption was associated with a lower risk of upper respiratory tract infections, further solidifying its role in immune fortification.

Foods that support the immune system - Broccoli

Broccoli

This cruciferous champion is packed full of vitamin C, alongside a load of antioxidants that strengthen your cellular walls. Broccoli is healthiest when lightly cooked, preserving its nutrients. So, steam it, stir-fry it, or even eat it raw for maximum defensive power. In our recipes, we tend to quickly blanche our veg to al dente rather than boiling to much.

A 2012 study in Nutrition Reviews concluded that vitamin C may help reduce the risk and severity of upper respiratory tract infections, making broccoli a delicious shield against cellular invaders.

Foods that support the immune system - Roasted chicken

Chicken

This poultry powerhouse comes armed with vitamin B6, a crucial player in the formation of healthy red blood cells, your oxygen-carrying messengers. It’s also a protein powerhouse, fuelling the construction and repair of all your immune system’s structures. Don’t throw away the Sunday roast carcass—simmer it into a bone broth, extracting immune-boosting gelatin and chondroitin for an extra health kick.

10 foods that support the immune system - Jason making a broth

Free Recipe: Bone Marrow Broth

Bone broth has become the darling of kitchens, captivating food bloggers and Michelin-starred chefs alike. Its secret? More than just a base for soups and stews, this rich liquor boasts a depth of flavour that elevates everyday dishes, from scrambled eggs to risottos. But the buzz goes beyond deliciousness – bone broth is a nutritional powerhouse, brimming with calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and a chorus of amino acids like glycine and proline. This potent combination benefits joints, skin, hair, and nails, and even lends a hand in repairing muscle and calming leaky gut.

Our free Bone Broth recipe takes this goodness to the next level, we roast chickens on the bone and use the meat for either a roast dinner or protein needs throughout the week, then use the vegetable roasting trivet and the carcass for this delicious bone broth.

Check out the free recipe, instructions and 30 minute instructional video here. 

Foods that support the immune system - A bowl of eggs

Eggs

After years of getting a bad rap, eggs are back in fashion. They’re not just another great source of protein, but also a treasure trove of immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin D, zinc, selenium, and vitamin E, all vital for your immune system’s proper functioning. So, scramble them, poach them, or whisk them into an omelet. Research published in the Journal of Nutrition found that a moderate intake of eggs can improve immune function and response, further showcasing their value as dietary defenders.

Foods that support the immune system - Smoked fish

Oily fish/shellfish

These aquatic warriors come armed with the mighty omega-3 fatty acids, essential for building and boosting immune cells. Both fish and shellfish also contain a host of other immune-boosting substances like zinc and selenium. A 2019 review published in Advances in Nutrition concluded that omega-3 fatty acids have numerous immune-modulatory effects and can support overall immune health. So, embrace salmon, tuna, mackerel, oysters, and mussels for their potent immune strengthening capabilities.

Remember, these food fortifications are most effective when incorporated into a balanced, whole-food diet. By providing your body with the right nutrients, you can empower your immune system to stand strong against microscopic enemies and help you stay healthy and vibrant.

Frequently Asked Questions About Boosting Your Immune System:

Q: How can I quickly boost my immune system?

A: While a “quick fix” for immunity isn’t possible, the sooner you adopt healthy habits, the sooner you’ll see improvements. Focus on a balanced diet with plenty of fresh produce and whole grains, aim for 150 minutes of weekly exercise, prioritise sleep, manage stress, avoid smoking and limit alcohol. These changes, while gradual, create a solid foundation for a strong immune system.

Q: What nutrients support the immune system?

A: Vitamin C plays a fundamental role in stimulating white blood cell production and reducing inflammation. Vitamin D, often dubbed the “sunshine vitamin,” regulates immune cell activity and offers particular protection against respiratory infections. Zinc reinforces the body’s natural defences by facilitating cell division and wound healing. Iron, a key oxygen transporter, ensures efficient delivery of crucial resources to immune cells. Vitamin A contributes to maintaining the integrity of mucosal surfaces, serving as the body’s initial barrier against pathogens. B vitamins, particularly B6 and B12, are vital for immune cell function and antibody production. Probiotics, beneficial gut bacteria, foster a healthy microbiome, which in turn bolsters immune function. Omega-3 fatty acids exert their influence by mitigating inflammation and supporting immune cell function. Glutamine, an amino acid, serves as a primary fuel source for immune cells, particularly during periods of stress or illness. Finally, selenium, a trace mineral, enhances antioxidant activity and supports immune cell function. By incorporating a varied and nutrient-rich diet, individuals can provide their immune systems with the tools they need to effectively combat potential threats and maintain overall health.

Q: Does vitamin C increase count of white blood cells?

A: Research suggests vitamin C might be involved in white blood cell development and function. It may improve the reproduction of B- and T-cells, important players in immunity. However, the precise amount needed for increasing white blood cell count depends on individual needs and potential health conditions.

Q: How can I increase my white blood cell count?

A: Lifestyle factors can play a role. Avoiding alcohol and tobacco, taking Omega-3s and zinc, and eating a balanced diet with emphasis on the Mediterranean approach (as shown in a 2021 study) can influence white blood cell count.

Q: What types of foods help fight viruses?

A: Some foods contain properties that may offer antiviral benefits. Fermented vegetables (kimchi), fermented milk (yogurt and kefir), herbs (oregano, fennel, peppermint, aloe vera), garlic, ginger, turmeric, black cumin, cinnamon, liquorice root, mushrooms, and citrus fruits are potential contenders.

Q: What types of foods help fight infections?

A: Foods that boost your immune system and those with antimicrobial properties can help fight infections. Herbs and spices like oregano, cinnamon, clove, and rosemary, cruciferous vegetables (kale, rutabaga), citrus fruits, parsley, and a wide variety of plant-based foods fall into this category.

Q: Are there vegetables best for immune health?

A: Eating a diverse range of vegetables is key! Red peppers, spinach, broccoli, ginger, turmeric, and garlic are excellent choices to include in your diet for immune support.

Q: Do bananas boost immune system?

A: Regularly eating a variety of fresh fruits can generally contribute to a good immune system function. Bananas, in particular, contain a substance called lectin. A study in rodents suggests this lectin may have immune-enhancing properties.

Summary:

While fresh foods provide vital nutrients for our immune system, a healthy diet alone isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for immunity. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing stress are equally important. Remember, consult your healthcare professional before making major dietary changes or seeking medical advice for specific health concerns.

We at Elevated truly believe that there is a better way to eat healthier in a simple and easy way. We share cooking advice, recipes and nutrition tips with our Recipe Subscription .

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