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5 Nourishing Foods That Fire Up Your Immune System

By Jenny Smiechowski

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Article at a Glance:

  • Your immune system relies on certain nutrients to stay strong, and the best source of these nutrients is the food you eat.
  • Citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C, which can help your body produce more infection-fighting white blood cells.
  • Yogurt and bone broth support a healthy gut, and your gut contains around 70 percent of your immune system.
  • Ginger contains antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that ward off chronic inflammation and support a healthy immune response.
  • Shellfish are packed with immune-nourishing nutrients like zinc, selenium, iron, and protein.

It’s that time of year again. Kids are heading back to school, where they tend to bring home more than just homework, field trip permission slips, and empty lunch boxes. They bring back viral and bacterial infections that can easily spread through the household like wildfire— especially when everyone’s immune system isn’t operating at its best.

As a new parent, I’ve already learned from experience that taking care of a really sick kid while you’re sick stinks with a capital S. Luckily, you can give your immune system the support it needs, so you don’t succumb to every bug that crosses your (or your kids’) path. And you should start in the kitchen.

Your immune system relies on certain nutrients to stay strong, and the best source of these nutrients is the food you eat. No single food is a silver bullet for immune health, so it’s a good idea to eat a balanced diet packed with whole, nutrient-rich foods. But there are some foods with a proven ability to give your immune system a helping hand. Here are five of my favorites.

    1. Citrus Fruit

    Lemon tree

When it comes to immune-supporting nutrients, vitamin C is the reigning king. And there’s a good reason for that. Research shows it can help your body produce more white blood cells, which go to bat against nasty pathogens that make you sick. That may be why people with low vitamin C levels take longer to recover from infections like pneumonia and tuberculosis, according to research. Citrus fruits are a fantastic source of vitamin C, so stock up on oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, clementines, and other citrusy treats for easy snacking.

    2. Yogurt

Around 70 percent of your immune system is in your gut. So if you want to keep your immune system running like a finely-oiled machine, you need to take good care of your gut health. Research shows that the healthy bacteria found in probiotics can interact with immune cells in your gut and positively influence the way they react to pathogens. So keep probiotic-rich yogurt in your regular rotation. Just make sure you choose one with live and active cultures and without loads of added sugar (getting one that’s organic or grass-fed is always a good choice as well).

    3. Ginger

If you love the spicy kick of ginger, you’re in luck. This popular root has a lot of impressive benefits. Many of these benefits are due to the fact that it contains compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, like gingerols, paradols, sesquiterpenes, shogaols, and zingerone. By warding off chronic inflammation, these compounds can support a healthy immune response.

Research also shows that ginger has the ability to act against bacteria and viruses. So do your immune system a favor and enjoy a cup of ginger tea, search Pinterest for a delicious ginger chicken recipe, or (my personal favorite) grab a bottle of ginger kombucha (which contains immune-supporting probiotics too).

    4. Bone broth

If you haven't hopped aboard the bone broth train yet, there's no better time. Bone broth (broth made by simmering the bones and connective tissues of animals) contains gelatin, which supports digestive health. It does this by absorbing water; the extra water keeps your digestive tract hydrated and ensures that waste moves through seamlessly.

Bone Broth Gelatin being scooped with a spoon.

Gelatin also contains an amino acid called glutamine. Research shows this amino acid may be able to protect against a condition called leaky gut, which has been connected to an overactive immune system and autoimmune disease. But bone broth’s immune benefits don’t stop in the digestive tract. It also contains immune-nourishing zinc, iron, selenium, and protein.

    5. Shellfish

Zinc is an immune-supporting powerhouse. And do you know one of the best sources of this magnificent mineral? Shellfish. Shellfish also contain high levels of selenium, iron, and protein, nutrients your immune system needs to function at its best. I know shellfish aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and that some people have allergies. But if you’re willing and able to give oysters, crabs, mussels, or lobster a go, your immune system will reap major benefits.

Mother and daughter sipping on water.

Clearly, eating healthy foods is a great way to fortify your immune system. But hydration is equally important. Drinking enough water and getting plenty of electrolytes (especially immune-supporting sodium and magnesium) are essential to a healthy immune system. To give your immune system the hydration it needs, you can make your own electrolyte drink at home or try one of our simple, clean, and real electrolyte drinks: Re-Lyte Electrolyte Mix or Re-Lyte Immunity. Here’s to a healthy immune system this back-to-school season and beyond!

Sources:

  1. Ascorbic acid in blood serum of patients with pulmonary tuberculosis and pneumonia— International Journal of Turberculosis and Lung Disease.
  2. Boost your immune system and fight colds with probiotics— Essentia Health.
  3. The Gut: Where Bacteria and Immune System Meet— John Hopkins Medicine.
  4. Effect of Dietary Ginger ( Zingiber officinale Roscoe) and Multi-Strain Probiotic on Growth and Carcass Traits, Blood Biochemistry, Immune Responses and Intestinal Microflora in Broiler Chickens— Animals.
  5. The modulatory effects of the volatile oil of ginger on the cellular immune response in vitro and in vivo in mice— Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
  6. Sesquiterpenes from Essential Oils and Anti-Inflammatory Activity— Natural Product Communications.
  7. Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence— International Journal of Preventative Medicine.
  8. What Are Ginger Shots? Everything You Need to Know— Healthline.
  9. Can Bone Broth Boost the Immune System?— Collegian.
  10. Bone Broth: How to Make It and 6 Reasons Why You Should— Healthline.
  11. Glutamine and the regulation of intestinal permeability: from bench to bedside— Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care.
  12. Support Your Immune Health By Eating a Variety of Seafood— Seafood Nutrition Partnership.


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