Top 20 foods that boost immunity

Dr. Rimita Farid

Ever since coronavirus has hit the world, people from all walks of life have become aware of the importance of boosting their immune system. There are tons of foods to include in our daily diet which are immune boosters. Below are the top 20 which are readily available and are a must to strengthen the immune system:

1. Spinach

Let’s just say Popeye wasn’t so far from the truth! Consumption of spinach was significantly raised by children in the 1980’s. Spinach is rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folic acid, iron, potassium, magnesium minerals, and antioxidants. Vitamin C helps fight off infection and antioxidants protect against free radicals which are molecules that damage cells and accelerate aging!

Tip: Try cooking your spinach as little as possible, as light cooking enhances Vitamin A and release of nutrients from oxalic acid.

2. Broccoli

My personal favorite! They are rich in Vitamin A, C, E, and K, and an abundance of antioxidants. Most importantly, it is rich in fiber and is great for the digestive system. The best part about it is that they can be prepared easily and quickly.

3. Garlic

Medicinal properties of garlic has been recognized by early civilization. Not only does it add flavor to every cuisine, but it also has heavy sulfur containing compound called Allicin which gives the garlic its distinct smell, taste, and medicinal and anti-inflammatory property.

Tip: Add garlic to everything you eat to heal faster from flu and the common cold.

4. Ginger

I call it the ‘magical ingredient’. Its anti-inflammatory property is spectacular! It has paradols, sesquiterpenes, gingerols, zingerone and shogaols which give its high anti-inflammatory and antioxidant property. Ginger also helps with indigestion and nausea. Most important of all, it has anti-cancer characteristics and aids in diabetes and weight loss!

Tip: To get maximum benefit, consume raw ginger, or prepare ginger shots at home.

5. Turmeric

It has been used for centuries and the list of health benefits it carries is a mile long and more! Its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial properties and the availability of it make it one of the most common and powerful immune boosters.

It has been known to reverse heart disease. Most of us who love spices in our food have it somewhere stocked up in the kitchen cabinet. It has various skin benefits as it prevents acne breakouts, wounds, dark circles, and fights eczema and psoriasis. So whether you eat it or apply it, Turmeric works wonders. For common cold and flu, turmeric shots are the best remedy. In fact, one of my staples during pandemic has been early morning shots of turmeric juice with honey and lemon!

6. Yoghurt

It is a probiotic which means ‘friendly bacteria’ that are already present in the gut and thus aids in digestion. You can’t go wrong with yoghurt, add it to anything and it becomes yummy in the tummy!

7. Poultry

For my non-vegetarian readers, boiling poultry releases gelatin and chondroitin which acts as immune boosters. One must be careful of where they are getting poultry from, for example, many farms inject hormones to their poultry to reap maximum commercial benefits but when ingested by consumers, are extremely unhealthy.

One of the theories to why PCOS is common among women would be consuming farmed poultry injected with hormones but that’s a debate for another day!

8. Almonds

Have a handful of almonds every day as they are not only memory boosters but are filled with Vitamin E which act as antioxidants, iron, and protein. It can be served as a perfect healthy snack and may be consumed alone or commonly with milk.

9. Mushrooms

Mushrooms are rich in Vitamin B such as riboflavin and niacin, as well as selenium which is all immune boosters. The recommended dose for riboflavin is 1.3mg/day for men and 1.1mg/day for women. They are a delicious and healthy choice among children. They are known to prevent heart disease and cancer.

10. Apple

There is a famous quote ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’. As much as I hate to agree, it is true! Apples are rich in iron and minerals. It also contains high fiber if taken with the ‘apple coat’ aiding digestion and weight loss which keeps it at the top of the charts! Hence the apple should never be peeled completely.

11. Citrus

Fruits such as orange, grapes, and lemon help increase white blood cells and fight off infection. It is advised to have Vitamin C on a daily basis as the body doesn’t store vitamin C. Recommended dose for women is 75mg for women and 90 mg for men. Avoid taking more than 2000mg/day.

12. Red bell peppers

If you believe orange has more vitamin C than bell pepper, then think again as a bell pepper has three times the amount of vitamin C (127mg) than that of a Florida Orange (45mg). Besides, it has Beta Carotene that is converted into vitamin A which keeps the skin and eyes healthy.

It is best to eat it raw or can be added to any salad or even egg. If children don’t like bell peppers on their own or salad, adding them to pizzas is a great way to make them consume it!

13. Sweet Potato

They are a great source of Vitamin A and C. A single sweet potato contains 120% of vitamin A and is a great ingredient for the vision, skin, and immune system.The daily dose of vitamin A is 900mcg for men and 700mcg for women. Vitamin A is two types:retinoids and carotenoids. Sweet potato has a good source of beta carotene, manganese, copper, and vitamin B6.

14. The forbidden fruit

It boggles my mind to why such a nutritious fruit is called ‘The forbidden fruit’.A cup of pomegranate seeds contains 36% of the recommended Vitamin K, and 30% of daily Vitamin C. It also contains high levels of potassium, 3g of protein, and 7g of fiber. It has punicalagin which is a strong antioxidant, three times that of green tea. They are anti-inflammatory and even have anti-cancer properties and Punic acid is a fatty acid known to reduce heart disease as it reduces the ‘bad cholesterol’. It is a staple food in Lebanese cuisine and you may even add it to your smoothie bowl.

15. Carrots

They are rich in vitamin A and C, minerals, and are extremely good for the skin; improve vision and the immune system. It improves kidney function, reduces the incidence of stroke, and has anti-cancer properties Best way to have it is to have it raw!

16. Salmon

Most immune boosting articles don’t include it but the benefits of salmon’s packed Omega- 3 fatty acids can’t be ignored. Omega- 3 fatty acid not only prevents and manages heart disease but helps to maintain blood pressure.It can be cooked easily within 10 minutes and can be added to salads or is quite filling on its own. Most health organizations suggest 250mg to 500 mg of omega acid per day.

17. Sun flower seeds

These are filled with magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, and folate. It contains 2g protein per tablespoon and zero cholesterol and helps in maintaining blood glucose level, blood pressure as well as cholesterol. It has natural anti-inflammatory properties.

There are high levels of vitamin E and selenium which help in boosting immunity. Sunflower seeds can be sprinkled over salads, smoothie bowls, or made as homemade granola bars.

18. Green tea

It is widely used as a natural medicine. It has the antioxidant catechin which helps in combating viruses and bacteria. It has epigallocatechingallate (EGCG) which are also antioxidants with immune boosting properties. It also contains L-theanine which stimulates the T cells we discussed earlier and helps to strengthen the immune system.

It has anti-cancer properties and not only is it an immune system booster but green tea is also known as a brain booster. Studies have shown to improve metabolism of people who consume green tea on a regular basis.

19. Lentils

They are readily available, affordable and are filled with protein, vitamin B6 and high in fiber, low in fat, iron and zinc. When lentils are taken in conjunction with vitamin C, the absorption of iron is better. Lentils have anti-cancer properties and can assist in lowering cholesterol.

20. Dark chocolates

Who would have thought something so delicious can be an immune booster! It has an antioxidant called theobromine that helps alleviate cough. According to a publication at ‘Frontiers of Pharmacology’, dark chocolates have helped alleviate cough in bronchitis.

Last but not the least, water is essential. I would like to end the list with the most important immune booster, which is water! Most of us take the benefits of staying hydrated for granted. Sticking to basics is always the key to a healthy life. Keep yourself hydrated with at least 8 glasses of water a day. Staying hydrated not only helps loosen trapped mucus but increases circulation, hence leading to an enhanced immune system.

Bottom line

These are only 20 immune boosters among the never-ending list, but let us keep in mind that only having immune boosting food is not enough to maintain the immune system. Adequate light exercise (at least three times a week for 30 to 45 minutes), stress management, and 6-8 hours of sleep play a pivotal role in boosting our immunity.

The writer,currently a registered doctor in Bangladesh, has recently completed her MBBS from MAHSA University in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia.