The foods we eat have a great impact on how we feel and our overall health. When we eat healthy, we feel great and if we fill up on junk foods, we become lethargic and lack motivation. But eating a healthy diet not only provides energy, many foods works as immune boosters as they support gut health, which has a large impact on immune health.
There is evidence that certain nutrients have positive effects on our health. For example, some research suggests that zinc supports the production of certain immune cells while Vitamin C promotes healthy cell function within the immune system. (1,2) And on that note, here are some foods with amazing powers to protect your immune health and why they have earned the right to be called super foods.
Barley grass is derived from the leaf of the barley plant, and is a popular superfood used for its many health promoting properties. It is particularly rich in B vitamins as well as C and E, zinc, magnesium, potassium and a host of other nutrients. As mentioned, both zinc and vitamin C play a role in healthy immune function, but barley grass also contributes to healthy digestion. It contains organic sodium, which supports the integrity of the stomach lining, and barley grass is rich in enzymes, both of which contribute to a healthy gut. And studies do show that good gut health is critical for a healthy immune system. (3)
Kale is a leafy green vegetable that has gained popularity among health advocates, because it is loaded with B vitamins for energy, vitamin C to promote iron absorption and fiber for a healthy digestive tract. In fact, the special type of fiber in kale is a prebiotic that helps your body manufacture healthy bacteria, which is crucial for gut health. And while most of us don’t normally associate leafy greens with vitamin C, it turns out that kale is quite rich in this immune booster. And some studies show that, for those under stress, consuming enough vitamin C can lessen your chance of getting a common cold or at least reduce the duration of symptoms.
Moringa may not be found on the supermarket shelves, but it is a medicinal plant in many traditional herbal remedies, and has even earned the nickname the Miracle Tree. Touted for its nutrient count, it has 7 times more vitamin C than an orange and 15 times more potassium than a banana. It is also high in antioxidants that protect cells from damage due to oxidative stress.
Noni is a small, shrub-like tree that mainly grows around lava flows. It has been used for centuries as traditional remedy for colds and flu as well as symptoms like cough or irritated eyes. While there is not much research on this plant as a medicinal herb, it does contain important nutrients like 33% of our daily recommendation of vitamin C, as well as vitamin E, potassium and magnesium. It is rich in folate and biotin, which are B vitamins that play an important role in metabolism.
Spinach falls in the leafy green category, a group of veggies that most of us don’t get enough of. But spinach is rich in vitamins C, A and E, and it just so happens each of the nutrients supports our natural immune system. It is also high in magnesium, a mineral that is important for metabolism and healthy immune function.
Spirulina is a type of blue-green algae that doesn’t normally make its way to the dinner table, but it should. This alga is rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and is often added to nutritional supplements because of the high nutrient count found in a small serving. According to the University of California, Davis, adding it to cultured immune cells greatly increases production of cytokines, that are important for immune response. (4)
Blueberries are a delicious way to add immune boosting foods to your diet. They contain a host of flavonoids; a class of antioxidants that protects our body and brain from the damaging effects of free radicals. According to UT Southwestern Medical Center, eating foods rich in vitamins and antioxidants may be beneficial in supporting immune health. (5) They are also loaded with vitamins A and C, potassium and manganese and have an antihistamine effect, which can reduce allergy symptoms like a runny nose.
Elderberries are commonly used in herbal remedies and have long been considered a powerful, medicinal plant. Also called Sambucol, it may play a role in supporting the immune system by increasing immune response. One of the more recent studies showed that using elderberry extract while traveling may shorten the duration of cold symptoms in air travelers. (6)
Mangosteen is an exotic, tropical fruit that is highly nutritious with a host of health promoting benefits. It is rich in B1, B2, B9 and Vitamin C, all of which play an important role in supporting immune function and helping to keep energy levels up. It is rich in fiber, providing almost 14% of the daily requirement in just one cup. And it is rich in powerful antioxidants that neutralize free radicals that are linked to a host of disease and health issues.
Green tea has long been a home remedy for weight loss, reducing internal inflammation and protection against cancer and other disease. But it is also important for supporting immune health and may even improve immune function. (7) And drinking just 1-2 cups a day can have a beneficial impact on your health.
Maca is a cruciferous vegetable related to kale and cabbage. It is a popular medicinal herb and is a common ingredient in Peruvian cooking. Often ground into a powder, it has traditionally been used to improve mood, libido, increase energy and endurance. It also increases the body’s supply of superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione; natural antioxidants to fight free radicals and protect our cells from damage.
1 Prasad AS. Zinc in human health: effect of zinc on immune cells. Mol Med. 2008;14(5-6):353–357. doi:10.2119/2008-00033.Prasad
2 Carr AC, Maggini S. Vitamin C and Immune Function. Nutrients. 2017;9(11):1211. Published 2017 Nov 3. doi:10.3390/nu9111211
3 Wu HJ, Wu E. The role of gut microbiota in immune homeostasis and autoimmunity. Gut Microbes. 2012;3(1):4–14. doi:10.4161/gmic.19320
4 UC Davis Health, & Public Affairs and Marketing. (n.d.). UC DAVIS STUDY SHOWS SPIRULINA BOOSTS IMMUNE SYSTEM. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from https://health.ucdavis.edu/health-news/newsroom/uc-davis-study-shows-spirulina-boosts-immune-system/2000/12.
5 4 foods to ease cold and flu symptoms: Prevention: UT Southwestern Medical Center. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2019, from https://utswmed.org/medblog/flu-cold-remedies/.
6 Tiralongo E, Wee SS, Lea RA. Elderberry Supplementation Reduces Cold Duration and Symptoms in Air-Travellers: A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Nutrients. 2016;8(4):182. Published 2016 Mar 24. doi:10.3390/nu8040182
7 Oregon State University. (2011, June 3). Mechanism discovered for health benefit of green tea, new approach to autoimmune disease. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 12, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/06/110602143214.htm