Remember a time when we chose ingredients based solely on how they tasted? Now, in the midst of a global pandemic, it’s no surprise you’re looking to fill your virtual grocery cart with anything that gives your immune system an extra kick in the pants.
Eating a bunch of superfoods won’t keep COVID-19 away. But filling your diet with immune-boosting foods is a gold star move for your overall health, regardless.
What makes an immune-boosting food?
A combo of powerful antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, protein, and plant compounds that help your beautiful bod keep the nasties at bay.
Here are 22 to ease your mind:
These bad boys bring more than a little crunch to your salad. Bell peppers are bursting with vitamin C. This antioxidant actually boosts the activity of phagocytes, immune cells that can “swallow” nasty bacteria.
It also helps out your lymphocytes, a type of immune cell that can attack enemies in your blood.
Yep, still talking about vitamin C. Since your bod doesn’t produce or store it, you’ll need to get it in a variety of ways.
It’s not all about oranges! Lemons, limes, grapefruit, tangerines, and clementines are all bomb sources of cold- and infection-fighting vitamin C.
While we’re #blessed by citrus all year round, this fruit group really shines in the winter. Give cold and flu season a kick out the door with a winter citrus salad, which keeps vitamin C-destroying heat away from the goods.
Grab your crab crackers! Some shellfish are super high in zinc, an essential mineral (meaning you don’t produce it naturally or store it) that is responsible for the development and function of your immune cells.
Your best bets for zinc are:
Aim for 8 milligrams (for women) or 11 milligrams (for men) a day. Just be careful not to overdo it — too much of this good thing can actually slow your immune system’s roll.
Adults should aim for 15 milligrams of vitamin E a day, but it only takes an ounce of these little guys to help you hit 49 percent of that.
Along with the gingerol, there’s evidence that other compounds like shoagols and paradols contribute to the anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-oxidative benefits of this powerful root.
Some animal studies also suggest ginger can help protect brain function.
Garlic has been hailed for its medicinal properties for literal centuries, but modern scientists now know the secret sauce lies in special sulfur compounds like allicin, diallyl disulfide, and S-Allyl cysteine that get released when garlic is crushed, chewed, or chopped.
Heat could damage those sulfur compounds, so crush your garlic and let it stand for 10 minutes before throwing it in the pan.
Mom wasn’t moonlighting as a broccoli pusher just to be a jerk. These little trees are seriously one of the most nutrient-packed veggies you can put on a plate. Along with high levels of potassium, folate, and a bunch of antioxidants, broccoli is a great source of immune-boosting vitamin C.
Get those live and active cultures, baby! All that good probiotic bacteria in yogurt has been shown to help stimulate and regulate your immune system and help kick it in the anti-inflammatory direction.
But get outta here with those fake, sugar-laden flavors. Instead, try a stir of natural, antiviral honey for a extra sweetness.
Like broccoli, you’ll get the most out of spinach when it’s eaten raw or cooked as gently as possible — light cooking helps release nutrients like vitamin A.
We already talked about how vitamin E is key to helping your body fight the nasties, but almonds are especially awesome:
There’s a reason it’s not just called *SOUP* for the soul. Chicken is truly the magic ingredient in what could be the oldest home remedy in the book.
It’s not all folklore — chicken is high in vitamin B-6, a key player in more than 100 enzyme reactions, including those that keep your immune system firing on all cylinders. For one, it cheers on the production of lymphocytes.
Cooking chicken releases cysteine, an amino acid that, on the chemical level, looks like the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine.
Pair that with the gut-happy gelatin from boiling chicken bones and the mucus-thinning properties of warm liquid, and you’ve got yourself a fighting chance against cold and flu season.
These little cuties are basically bursting with vitamin C: one cup of this juicy little fruit accounts for around 273 percent (!) of your daily recommended intake.
Potassium, folate, and vitamin K also contribute to kiwifruit’s health halo, and one study shows that kiwi not only support immune function, but may actually reduce the severity and the likelihood of developing cold- or flu-like sickness in higher-risk groups (like your parents).
Papayas are another vitamin C superstar, with 224 percent of your daily reco hanging out in just one of these bad boys. This sunshiney fruit is also home to the aptly named papain, an anti-inflammatory digestive enzyme.
EGCG, a powerful natural antioxidant, is the secret sauce that makes green tea a helping hand in fighting off myriad conditions. It works by reducing free radicals from forming in your body, which protects your cells from damage. It’s also a hella anti-inflammatory.
These purple berries may have skyrocketed to flu-fighting fame in the past few years, but it’s not for nothing. Sambucus, its fancy plant name, checks all the disease-fighting boxes.
It’s antiviral, antifungal, and evidence shows it’s got what it takes to fight off two types of strep bacteria while working to stop the spread of the influenza virus.
Mushrooms have been a medicinal go-to for centuries. Shitake and maitake mushrooms are usually the stars of the show when we talk about healing, but let’s not underestimate the humble white mushroom.
These little buttons are a good source of vitamin D and are packed with a crazy good variety of immune-boosting antioxidants, including vitamin C, polyphenols, selenium, polysaccharides, glutathione, and ergothioneine.
Remember when açai was having a moment? Like other blue and purple produce, açai (pronounced AH-sigh-EE, BTW) berries are seriously high in antioxidants. Anthocyanins, found in the rich, dark skin of these little berries, help neutralize free radicals that could damage cells.
You thought it was just a cute summer treat, but watermelon packs a healthy punch.
It’s full of vitamin C, lycopene (more than tomatoes!), carotenoids (like beta carotene that converts to vitamin A), and cucurbitacin E, an anti-inflammatory plant compound. It’s also super hydrating, as a bonus.
Wheat germ is a solid source of folate, magnesium, thiamin, zinc, and phosphorous, but the big immune-booster at work here is free radical-fighting vitamin E. It’s also high in fiber and good for your cardiovascular system which is never a bad thing.
Sweet potatoes have a lot going for them: they’re full of fiber and healthy minerals, and there’s even a good amount of vitamin C.
But for your immune system, sweet potatoes deliver with three powerful antioxidants: anthocynanins (like in açai berries), chorlogenic acid, and beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A, the “anti-inflammatory vitamin.”
Vitamin A is crucial for both the development and the regulation of your immune system, so bow down.
Your favorite sushi bar starter is as good for you as it is tasty. Miso is made from fermented soybeans, which means it’s full of probiotics that are good for gut health and your immune system.
Out of balance gut bacteria is associated with a host of issues including IBS, food allergies, and even some cancers. And since about 70 percent of the immune system hangs out in the gut, balanced gut flora makes for a strong immune system.
Pomegranates are home to powerful punicalagin, an antioxidant found in the juice and the peel. These guys have three times more antioxidant chutzpah than red wine or green tea. Pomegranates are also seriously anti-inflammatory and are shown to be antifungal and antibacterial.
Oh, it also has great levels of vitamin C and E, which you’re now a total expert on because you made it this far.
The seeds and juice are both pretty versatile, but we love the juice because it can be used in cocktails, salad dressings, and smoothies.