Cold and flu season is back with a vengeance as the CDC estimates at least 2,800,000 flu illnesses, 23,000 flu hospitalizations, and 1,300 flu deaths so far this year, which started October 1st, 2022. While the best way to boost your immune system is with an annual flu shot, your greatest asset is your diet. Add these five science-backed immune-enhancing foods to your diet today to get the dose of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you need to boost your immune system during the fall and winter months and beyond.
Science-Backed Foods To Boost Your Immune System
1. Cruciferous vegetables
What do kale, broccoli, and bok choy have in common? They’re part of a diverse group of leafy greens known as cruciferous vegetables.
Cruciferous vegetables are packed with nutrients like beta-carotene, folate, lutein, and vitamins C, K, and E, a combination of nutrients and antioxidants that help boost the immune system. Additionally, these leafy greens are rich in sulfur-containing substances that make sulforaphane, a phytochemical known for its immune-boosting and anticancer effects. Moreover, the darker the greens, the greater the number of anti-inflammatory polyphenols they have, which can enhance the immune system’s defense against pathogens.
How to boost your immune system: Cruciferous vegetables are best consumed raw; try mixing them into salads, blending them into smoothies, or adding them to soups to meet the recommended daily amount of vegetables.
This superfood contains flavonoids, an antioxidant that may reduce cell damage and boost the immune system. Flavonoids were found to play an essential role in defending the upper respiratory tract, helping decrease infections due to their antiviral properties. Eating blueberries regularly can also double the number of natural killer cells in the body, which are white blood cells in the immune system that fight off infections.
How to boost your immune system: Blueberries can be enjoyed by the handful, added to a salad, or blended up into a nourishing smoothie.
Although mushrooms have been used medicinally for thousands of years, research is just now catching up to how beneficial these fungi really are. According to a 2015 study, daily consumption of dried Shiitake mushrooms showed improved T-cell function and reduced inflammation in the body, optimizing immune support throughout the body. Mushrooms have also been shown to attack cancer cells.
How to boost your immune system: Mushrooms are highly versatile and can be used in several ways. Adding them to stir-fries and pasta or stuffing and baking them are just a few examples.
Yogurt is a rich source of probiotics, i.e., friendly bacteria that can improve the health of your gut’s microbiome. Made from milk and fermented with probiotics bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria, yogurt contains approximately 90 to 500 billion colony-forming units (CFU), effectively increasing microbiota diversity in the gut when consumed. Adding yogurt to your diet is an excellent way to support a healthy gut and give the immune system a boost as most of the immune system lives in the gut.
How to boost your immune system: Eat yogurt by the spoonful, add to oatmeal, blend into a smoothie, or use as a condiment substitute for sour cream. When out on your next shopping trip, opt for Greek yogurt as it’s high in protein and avoid those with added sugars.
5. Green Tea
Similar to mushrooms, green tea has a history that can be traced back thousands of years and is highly revered for its medicinal properties.
Green tea is loaded with antioxidants and polyphenols like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that fight off disease, alleviate inflammation and enhance immunity. One 2020 study showed EGCG to alter the activity of specific proteins, which could stop viruses like the flu from replicating.
How to boost your immune system: You can drink anywhere from three to five cups a day to reap the health benefits of green tea but be careful of drinking in excess as it does contain caffeine. Additionally, certain compounds in green tea may inhibit the absorption of iron and other minerals, so drink in between meals when possible.
The Best Way To Boost Your Immune System
While the above foods can boost your immune system and enhance its function, they necessarily won’t prevent you from getting sick. To reduce your chances of contracting influenza this cold and flu season, be sure to get your annual flu shot. Regardless of exposure, the vaccine will create antibodies in your body to fight against the latest flu strain and immunization can prevent you from getting sick.
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