Our bodies are constantly at war. Whether it’s sitting next to a sick coworker, an unhealthy diet, or spending too much time in the sun, our immune systems are constantly at work, keeping us safe. This powerful system protects us from pathogens, and even our own dangerous lifestyles. So what can we do to ensure our body is prepared to go to battle? Take a look at some of the most potent immune-boosting foods you should stock up on.
For most people, nothing says summer quite like biting into a cool slice of watermelon. In addition to being a refreshing treat on a hot day, this fruit is an ovular powerhouse that offers a multitude of immunity boosting benefits.
The fruit is about 91% water, and low in calories and fat. Watermelon is high in potassium, which is important for our nervous system, fluid regulation, and muscle contractions. The fruit also contains vitamins A and C, helping reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer. What’s more, it even has lycopene, an antioxidant that helps protect cells from the damage caused by free radicals.
2. Açaí Berries
One of the most popular, not to mention colorful, exports to hit grocery stores would be açaí berries. These dark purple berries come from the açaí palm tree, native to Brazil and its surrounding countries. While the fruit has been a valued food source for indigenous communities in the Amazon region, it is becoming much more common on American grocery shelves thanks to its health benefits.
Açaí contains polyphenols, which some studies suggest can act as antioxidants, protecting your cells against damage and preventing diseases. And while the temptation to overload your açaí bowl with a variety of sweet additions like chocolates is understandable, nutritionists suggest sticking to the puréed fruit and healthy additions like nuts or seeds.
3. Bell Peppers
Bell peppers may not be the most attention-grabbing item in the supermarket, but nutritionists say that everyone should stock up on this crunchy produce because of its surprising health benefits. While often considered a vegetable, bell peppers are technically a fruit. Native to Mexico and Central America, the seeds were carried over to Europe in the late 1400s.
Unlike their spicy cousins, bell peppers do not produce capsaicin. Yet what this pepper lacks in spiciness, it makes up for in immune-boosting benefits. Surprisingly, bell peppers are an excellent source of vitamin C, delivering almost the average daily value in just half a cup. Vitamin C is necessary to regulate protective white blood cells, which defend the body from various pathogens.
The smell of ginger often reminds us of the holiday season: of gingerbread cookies and gingerbread houses, and a variety of spiced drinks and cakes. Though it is often included in decadent baked goods, not to mention a variety of cuisines across East and South Asia, the spice is actually world-renowned for its health benefits.
While the spice has historically been used for culinary and medicinal purposes, scientists are now discovering its immune-boosting properties. Ginger root contains high levels of total antioxidants, which can suppress the oxidative stress, or cellular damage, caused by free radicals. Gingerol, a compound of ginger, has been reported to show powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Ginger can also safely ease nausea caused by pregnancy, motion sickness, and chemotherapy.
While vampires will definitely think twice about stocking up on this pungent bulb, nutritionists are singing the praises of garlic. This commonly found bulb is not only useful for the flavor it packs, but science has showed us just how vastly useful it could be for our health.
Consuming large amounts of garlic and other vegetables in its family (like onion, leeks, and scallions) has been reported to lower the risk of gastric cancer. Other studies are investigating allicin, a compound created when garlic is crushed, as a potential way to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections, as well as fungal and viral infections. Another study has suggested that allicin can help prevent the common cold.
Pomegranates hold a special place in cultures across the Middle East and Eurasia. It is even believed by some theorists that this ruby red fruit was the “forbidden fruit” in the Garden of Eden. Research has emerged suggesting that within those jewel-like seeds there may in fact be a treasure trove of health benefits.
Studies have suggested that the juice from this messy delight contains polyphenols, compounds which can serve as powerful antioxidants. Studies are being conducted on the fruit’s potential ability to fight cancer, among other diseases. Researchers are also investigating the pomegranate’s ability to improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
While most medical professionals do not suggest you take nutrition advice from a cartoon, even they can agree that Popeye the Sailor Man was in fact right; spinach is amazing. In addition to being to its versatility, from curries to salads to pies, spinach boasts some incredible immune-boosting benefits to boot.
The leafy green is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, along with magnesium, iron, and potassium. That magnesium helps maintain healthy muscle and nerve function, allows for energy metabolism, and is necessary for our immune system, as well as other biochemical processes. Potassium may be beneficial to those with high blood pressure, as it helps mitigate the effects of high sodium levels.
Although “golden milk” (a turmeric-infused drink often served with a splash of plant-based milk) has recently become all the rage in swanky cafés, turmeric has long had a presence in cupboards and cultures across Asia. The root, which is typically dried and ground down into a vivid yellow powder, has a variety of uses: dyeing clothes, spicing food, and, most importantly, as a medicine.
Curcumin, the main component of the spice, has captured the attention of the medical community for its possible medicinal value. Studies have suggested that curcumin could help regulate the immune system by reducing inflammation. While inflammation can be a natural part of our immune system’s defense, chronic inflammation can leave our immune systems weak, and is typically associated with diseases such as arthritis and cancer.
It’s another kitchen staple being studied for its immune-boosting properties, it’s super simple, and it’s surprising: it’s chicken eggs. Eggs are one of the most common food items around the world, and can be prepared in a variety of ways. Cooked eggs are one of the best, and one of the most popular, sources of protein.
Eggs contain significant amounts of riboflavin, which supports normal cell function and growth, and choline, which helps cell metabolism. They also contain almost half the recommended daily value of vitamin B12, one of the most important nutrients necessary to make DNA and keep nerve and blood cells healthy. While there is still some debate among nutritionists regarding the cholesterol levels in eggs, these versatile favorites seem to be safe when consumed several times a week.
Long touted as an aphrodisiac, oysters are finally getting the love they deserve — from nutritionists. These bivalve mollusks have played an important role in economies around the world for for their pearl-producing capabilities, not to mention as a nutritious food source.
This popular seafood item contains high levels of protein and low calories. They are very high in iron, which helps the body create hemoglobin. As for their role in stimulating desire, there is some scientific evidence suggesting that these shellfish contain high levels of testosterone-producing zinc. A study published in the journal Sexual Medicine Reviews found that oysters also contain amino acids and serotonin, both of which are “integral in the neural pathway of the pleasure response”.
11. Green Tea
Most people would be surprised to know that tea is the world’s second most consumed beverage, after water. While the majority of tea filling the world’s cups is black tea, green tea is beginning to gain attention by those looking to improve their health.
Green tea, the less processed of the two, is made from leaves which have not been exposed to the air, a step called oxidation. This missing step leaves the plant’s potent antioxidants and polyphenols intact. Antioxidants in green tea, such as catechins, may help prevent damage to the body’s cells. Green tea is also being studied as a possible way to lower cholesterol, reduce stroke, and as a possible treatment for cancer.
Resembling tiny trees, broccoli is one of the healthiest produce items to add to your grocery cart. These members of the cabbage family originate in the Mediterranean, where they have become a large part of the region’s cuisine. Broccoli provides many immune-boosting benefits for your body.
Just a small serving of half a cup can contain more than the daily value of vitamin K, which helps blood clot and helps maintain bone health. This cruciferous vegetable is also loaded with vitamin C, giving your immune system that special boost, as well as being counted with helping prevent a variety of chronic diseases. Broccoli is also rich in fiber, low in calories and fat, making it a great addition to any meal.
Mushrooms don’t have a reputation as being a trendy health food item. But recent studies suggest that these edible fungi have a lot to offer when it comes to boosting your immune system. While the culinary world has made use of the mushroom for its texture and savory flavor, scientists are conducting research on the fungi’s health properties.
Mushrooms contain components that may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer capabilities. Some studies have shown that a chemical called polysaccharides, found in mushrooms, can reduce the spread and stop the growth of tumor cells. Mushrooms also contain selenium, an anti-inflammatory. They provide vitamin D, necessary for bone health, and help improve the immune system’s ability to function.
There is a popular adage that states, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar”. Now, scientists are proving that honey has benefits that far outweigh its capacity to catch flies. Honey is one of the oldest foods known to mankind, and has traditionally been used for food and medicinal practices.
Raw honey, meaning honey that has not been heated or heavily processed, contains the most nutrients. Darker varieties of honey contain flavonoids: chemical compounds that may contain antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral properties. As bees process the honey, hydrogen peroxide is added to the mixture, making it acidic and antimicrobial.
As an increasingly popular tropical fruit, the papaya (or pawpaw) is being studied for its many health properties. The sweet fruit is native to northern South America and Mexico, but has become a popular crop in tropical regions across the world. The bright orange or red flesh can provide almost our entire daily value of vitamin C.
Vitamin C can support the immune system’s functioning. Some of its immune-boosting properties include beta-carotene, giving the fruit its rich orange color. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant currently being investigated as a possible avenue of protecting the body against cancer. Papaya is also known for helping to promote regular bowel movements, thanks to the powerful enzyme papain, resulting in a healthier digestive track.
It’s not just bears who look forward to the migration of salmon — nutritionists recommend that shoppers add the fish to their diets as well. Not only does the popular fish provide high levels of protein, but as an “oily fish”, it contains valuable omega-3 fatty acids.
These fatty acids can help battle inflammation in the body and improve brain health. Salmon is a great source of two omega-3 fatty acids: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). As one of the most common species of edible fish, most salmon in stores is farm-raised. Nutritionists recommend eating two servings of the fish a week in order to gain the nutritional benefits.
Despite being a historically important medicinal plant in Europe, the immune-boosting properties of the elder tree are just recently gaining recognition in the scientific world. The European elder tree produces flowers and berries, and both of these have demonstrated their own possible health benefits.
One study found that taking a small dose of syrup made from elderberries four times a day resulted in a shorter duration of flu-like symptoms. One reason behind this berry’s cold-fighting strength may be its high levels of vitamin C. Other studies are looking into the plant’s ability to fight off viruses by inhibiting viral reproduction.
Packed into these tiny orbs are a world of health benefits. Blueberries have emerged as one of the healthiest fruits in the world. Scientific evidence shows that even small servings, such as just a handful, can possibly lower blood pressure, fight cancer, minimize the risk of heart disease, and so much more.
Phytochemical compounds that exist in the blueberry can protect your body’s cells from the dangers of chronic inflammation. The berries are rich in fiber, which helps your digestive system by protecting the lining of your intestine, reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. The immune-boosting benefits of this tiny super fruit don’t end there: blueberries are also a good source of vitamin A, giving additional support to your immune system.
19. Sweet Potatoes
Underneath those ever-popular toppings of butter and marshmallows lies one of the most versatile and nutritious foods: the sweet potato. These root vegetables are filled with beta-carotene, which gives them their signature brightly colored flesh. Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A, which helps support immune function and good eye health.
Another immune-boosting compound found in this mighty tuber is vitamin C, which can help the body’s immune system and wound healing processes. Sweet potatoes also contain high levels of potassium, a mineral which has a variety of vital functions, including supporting a healthy nervous system and a regular heartbeat. Some studies even suggest that consuming potassium can help reduce the harmful effects of sodium on blood pressure. Experts say to leave the spud’s skin on to keep nutrients intact.
This might surprise some, but sardines, otherwise known as pilchards, are a fantastic sources of vitamins and minerals. This super food can be consumed grilled, smoked, and pickled, or preserved in cans. The fish contains a high amount of vitamins B2 and B12, niacin, as well as potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and selenium.
What’s more, sardines are also a natural source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. The best part about this mineral-packed food is that sardines contain very few contaminants such as mercury, so unlike other fish, it is quite safe to consume on a regular basis. If you were against ever introducing this food into your diet, you should think again.
Tomatoes are an extremely versatile and common produce staple. These fruits are surprisingly healthy, and provide high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium. But one of the plant’s biggest immune-boosting qualities comes from the powerful antioxidant compound, lycopene.
Lycopene has been studied for its ability to potentially fight cancer, among other health benefits. One Finnish study showed that lycopene may reduce instances of stroke in men. Lycopene can also improve the immune system’s function and prevent clot formation, which can be a danger to vascular health. Doctors agree that adding this salad staple to your diet can only improve your health.
There may be some truth to the saying “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away”. Research is now showing just how many immune-boosting benefits this common fruit has. One study has pointed to apples being associated with lowering the risk of thrombotic stroke. Apples contain a variety of antioxidants, which prevent free radicals from causing cellular damages, known as oxidative stress.
These free radicals, or reactive molecules, occur from both natural metabolic processes and environmental stresses like pollution or smoking. Oxidative stress is associated with a slew of diseases, among them cancer. Pectin, the type of fiber found in apples, can help regulate bowel movements, and may improve bowel health overall. Scientists recommend not peeling apples, as the skin is in fact what contains most of the fruit’s nutrients and fiber.
While a glass of orange juice may be a common sight at the breakfast table, nutritionists suggest reaching for the actual fruit. Oranges, like many other citrus fruits, are loaded with immune-boosting vitamin C. This vitamin can not only strengthen your immune system, but may even improve your skin by increasing collagen production. In addition to vitamin C, research is pointing to the fruit’s role in improving eye health.
In one study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, people who ate at least one serving of oranges a day had a significantly lower chance of suffering from macular degeneration, a condition affecting the retina which can cause vision loss.
24. Greek Yogurt
The yogurt aisles in supermarkets seem to get bigger every year, resulting in a seemingly endless array of products. One particular strain that many nutritionists suggest adding to your shopping cart is Greek yogurt. This Balkan-inspired dairy product differs from traditional yogurt in that it has been strained repeatedly. That process removes most of the watery whey, lactose, and sugar that others leave. The result is a thicker yogurt with more protein and less sugar.
Another benefit to eating Greek yogurt is that is contains probiotics, live microorganisms that can improve your digestive system. Some studies believe that improved gut health can result in an improved immune system overall. While more research is being done on probiotics’ role in fighting off colds, some studies have found that probiotics can help gastrointestinal illnesses.
25. Miso Soup
Miso soup is commonly seen on the menu at most Japanese restaurants, and is becoming increasingly common in most large grocery stores. The Japanese word “miso” means fermented beans, typically soybeans. As the soybeans ferment, millions of helpful, probiotic bacteria are added. These bacteria and enzymes can improve our digestive system, and possibly our immune system.
Miso contains protein, folic acid, and vitamins B and K. Miso paste, used to make miso soup and other food items, comes in a variety of colors and strengths in flavor. While miso can be a great source of minerals and protein, nutritionists recommend limiting portions due to its high salt content.
Ginseng is one of the most ancient, not to mention popular, herbal supplements. The two most common varieties are American ginseng and Asian ginseng. These roots are traditionally steamed to produce a tea, but the herb is also available in a variety of other forms, including pills.
Ginsenosides, a compound found in ginseng, is what many researchers believe is responsible for the herb’s medicinal properties. Studies have reported that ginsenosides have antioxidant properties, preventing cellular damage from free radicals. Other studies have suggested that ginseng can help the immune system, and possibly reduce the severity of colds. Most research on the herb has focused on its ability to improve concentration, where it has been found to modestly improve mental performance.
This story was originally published on Science101: Stock Up On These Super Foods: The Immune-Boosting Foods You Need To Add To Your Grocery List
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