Winter is coming so it’s important to know how to boost your immune system and prevent infections in an all-natural way. I’m a huge believer that the food we put in our bodies can work miracles for us, especially when it comes to the cold and flu season. Apart from fighting infections, a strong immune system is able to ward off cancer and a number of other serious diseases.
Before you turn to any supplements and immune-boosting medicines, consider incorporating these nutrient-dense foods into your winter (and overall) meal plan. Plus, give my favorite immune-boosting smoothies a try. They’re so yummy. You’ll like them, I promise!
10 Things That Weaken Your Immune System
There are many habits that might be weakening your immunity and I’m not talking about the eating habits only. Your lifestyle indicates your health and if you’re guilty of cultivating the following habits on a daily basis, you aren’t going to be the healthiest version of yourself, no matter how hard you try.
One of the worst things you can do to your body is to skip breakfast, especially during the cold and flu season. In the morning, your immunity is weaker than anytime throughout the day, making you more vulnerable to infectious while you commute or just go grocery shopping. Regardless of how busy you are, make it a rule to eat at least one fruit or drink a glass of smoothie before heading to the office or the store.
Not getting enough sleep
When your body doesn’t get enough sleep, it fails to restore itself, increasing your disease risk. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3256323/) If you can’t get 7-8 hours of sleep at night, try at least to take a short 15-minute nap in the afternoon.
Chronic fatigue has always been associated with poor immune system function. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC120010/) Unfortunately, we live in the world where every second person is suffering from chronic fatigue. The screen generation is already doomed to live an exhausted life and many researchers predict it will affect their lifespan. Limit your screen time and give your body a rest as often as possible.
Stress is the major culprit of most diseases. It increases the cortisol levels, which affects the immune system and makes it harder for the body to combat infection. Stop stressing over the stuff you can’t change and consider incorporating the activities that will help you keep your stress levels at bay, such as walking, meditation, yoga, reading etc.
Bad news, coffee lovers. Your favorite cup of joe can weaken your immune system as well. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2303315) Caffeine found in coffee raises the cortisol levels in the body, destroying your immunity. I’m happy that I’m a smoothie junkie.
If you spend most of the time glued to a chair in the office, stock on the snacks that boost the immune system, because your 9 to 5 job is slowly killing it. It slows down your metabolic rate and reduces your body’s ability to absorb the nutrients you consume throughout the day.
Meat lovers are more prone to the diseases than their vegan counterparts. That’s all about the protein sources. While meat lovers rely on animal sources of protein, vegetarians enjoy the plant-based proteins, increasing their daily nutrient intake. Not only does animal protein consumption affect your immune system, it increases your risk of premature aging. Yech!
Clean water isn’t your fav shot, but if you’re trying to improve your immune system, say goodbye to alcohol. It’s not me saying, it’s a study. (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/10report/chap04b.pdf)
Lack of friendly bacteria
Yep, you read that right. Bacteria can be good too. Since 80% of your immune system is located in your digestive system, keeping your gut healthy is a step closer to a stronger immunity. Consider consuming more probiotics like yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Lack of exercise
A research (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4241367/) shows a lack of physical activity is the main cause of chronic diseases. Exercise is an effective way to beat stress, boost mood and stay in shape. There’s no need to hit the gym daily, just aim to move as more often as you can and don’t forget about your morning exercise.
The other culprits of poor immunity are money, anxiety, depression, antibiotics, air pollution, smoking, and junk food among the others.
20 Foods That Boost Your Immune System
Strengthen your immune system and keep your body healthy each day by eating the following immune-boosting foods. They aren’t only healthy, but also tasty and versatile. Scroll down to find out more information about each of them.
I love oats and use them in cooking daily because I’m well aware of the health benefits they offer. Oats are an excellent source of beta-glucan, a specific type of fiber that is known for its powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial capabilities. Whether you eat a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, oat-packed granola bars for lunch or enjoy an oat-packed fruit smoothie as a midnight snack, you can be sure that you’re doing your immune system a favor.
Sweet potatoes aren’t just a delicious comfort food to share with your family on a cold winter evening. They’re fortified with beta carotene that gets converted to vital vitamin A by the body, playing a crucial role in maintaining the healthy immune system. Moreover, sweet potatoes boast incredible anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, not to mention that they contain vitamins B6 and C, protein, magnesium, iron, and calcium.
Vitamin C deficiency affects your immune system and makes you more vulnerable to influenza and other infectious diseases. Increasing your vitamin C intake during the cold months is particularly important, as it has been shown (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19263912) to strengthen the immunity and reduce the illness risks. Lemons, oranges, tangerines, pomelo, lime, grapefruit and other citrus fruits are loaded with vitamin C and other nutrients your body needs to fight bacteria.
A natural antibiotic, garlic knows its job. Allicin found in garlic combats infections and bacteria and reduce inflammation. Apart from this, garlic has cancer-preventive potential (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3915757/) and is plentiful in vitamins B6 and C, protein, potassium and calcium. Add a clove to your hearty soup, baked sweet potatoes or stews, or eat them fresh (but no more than one clove) with a soup.
Red bell peppers
If you’re not a big lover of citrus fruit, increase your vitamin C intake by consuming organic red bell peppers. One medium red bell pepper contains 253% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C while one medium orange contains only 116% of the daily recommended dose. Plus, one red bell pepper provides your body with 74% of RDI of vitamin A and 15% of vitamin B6. Slice up a red bell pepper for a quick snack, add them to salads or bake them. I add red bell peppers to my vegetable smoothies as well.
Researchers show that mushrooms, particularly maitake, shiitake,reishi, white button mushroom varieties,stimulate the activity and production of white blood cells, making them much more aggressive, thus fighting respiratory ailments. Mushrooms are overflowing with protein, potassium, fiber, magnesium, iron, and vitamins B6, C, and D, making it one of the most powerful immune-boosting foods.
Fortify your immunity with the antioxidants spinach offers. 100 grams of spinach provides your body with 187% of RDI of vitamin A, 46% of vitamin C, 19% of magnesium, 15% of potassium, 15% of iron, 9% of calcium, and 5% of protein. No wonder so many smoothie and salad recipes always recommend spinach as the major ingredient. As an added bonus, spinach contains folic acid, which helps repair cells, slow aging, and wards off cancer.
Keep your immune system strong with a spoonful of plain yogurt in the morning. Since most diseases start in the gut – as I mentioned above around 80% of the immune system resides in the gut – it’s critical to maintain your gut health. Yogurt is high in probiotics, good bacteria, which give the body an incredibly huge immune system boost. Combine it with fresh fruit and you will get the most powerful immune-boosting meal ever.
When it comes to immune fighting, nuts are usually forgotten, and it’s a huge mistake. Brazil nuts, for example, contain beneficial selenium (just 2 Brazil nuts a day will provide you with 100% of the RDI) that is good at fighting the cold viruses and whole body inflammation. Selenium stimulates the production of cytokines, which remove the viruses from the system. Opt for raw Brazil nuts or roast them a little bit without adding salt, sugar, and oils. Store-bought roasted Brazil nuts aren’t recommended.
Broccoli is simply a powerhouse vegetable that is also renowned as an effective immune booster and fighter. 1 cup chopped broccoli contains 135% of RDI of vitamin C, 11% of vitamin A, and 10% of vitamin B6. Plus, it’s plentiful in fiber, protein, magnesium, iron, calcium, and potassium. Broccoli helps to detox your system in an all-natural way, improving immune system functioning and preventing illnesses. Roast, sauté, steam, or boil your broccoli. There are tons of ways to be obsessed with this powerful vegetable.
Cinnamon boasts fantastic antifungal, antibacterial and antiviral properties. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586554/) It helps to improve digestion, promote healthy blood circulation and combat harmful toxins in the body. Cinnamon contains fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and protein, which are all vital for a healthy body. Sprinkle cinnamon over your oatmeal or smoothie for a super healthy, immune-boosting breakfast.
The raw unpasteurized honey has a plethora of health properties that put it on this list. It’s known for its antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal abilities as well as anti-inflammatory properties. Raw honey boasts amazing digestive soothing properties and powerful antioxidants. Natural honey has been used to treat a cough, bronchitis, asthma, and respiratory congestion for centuries. Avoid buying the syrups that claim to be “natural honey.” Look for farmers or beekeepers that focus on natural honey production.
Ginger has anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties, (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665023/) and is typically used with cinnamon and raw honey when it comes to cold and flu fighting. Ginger alone is used to relieve nausea and treat the digestive issues, reducing inflammation. Ginger has also powerful detoxification abilities. By making inner heat, it burns off any harmful bacteria while providing your body with nutrients like vitamin C, magnesium, and potassium.
Like they say, “An apple a day keeps your doctor away.” Apples, particularly red varieties, are chock-full of a potent antioxidant, quercetin, which helps to keep your immune system high when you’re stressed out or suffer from cold or flu. Moreover, apples are fortified with vitamin C, dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, and many more.
Unsweetened dark chocolate
Chocoholics, rejoice! I’ve got something special for you. It turns out, unsweetened dark chocolate, when eaten in moderation, can fortify your immunity as well. Raw cocoa is a good source of theobromine, a chemical that has been shown to treat cough symptoms. Unsweetened dark chocolate is also rich in zinc and antioxidants, which both promote the healthy immune system. If you can’t stand the taste of unsweetened chocolate, try adding it to your smoothies or pour the melted dark chocolate over baked pears or apples.
Vitamin A deficiency can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of cold and flu. Carrots are among the best foods rich in vitamin A. Just imagine, one medium carrot provides your body with about 203% of recommended daily intake of vitamin A, as well as 6% of vitamin C, 5% of vitamin B6, 6% of dietary fiber, and 5% of potassium.
If your immunity is alarmingly weak, your doctor may prescribe you to drink freshly made carrot juice twice a day. If you’re looking to keep your already healthy immune system strong all winter long, just use carrots in your soups and stews.
A new study conducted by the Philippine Women’s University School of Nutrition (http://www.philstar.com/food-and-leisure/2015/10/22/1513274/pineapple-day-keeps-us-healthy-wealthy-and-wise) revealed a regular consumption of canned pineapple can defense against bacterial and viral infection. Whether canned or fresh, pineapple has a high concentration of vitamin C – 100 grams of fresh fruit provides 79% of RDI of vitamin C. Aim to eat ½ cup pineapple daily to support your immune function and increase your energy level along the way.
That’s a reason why I freeze all the berries in season in summer. Store-bought frozen berries are great as well. Berries contain polyphenols, vitamins, minerals and other antioxidants that ensure the strong and healthy immune system. Add berries to your smoothie, yogurt, oatmeal, or make a berry pie to reap all the health benefits they offer.
Curcumin found in turmeric is anti-everything and has a world of great health benefits. It’s detoxifying, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial. Regular moderate turmeric consumption can help to improve the digestive system, stop cancer cell growth, keep inflammation at bay, and boost the immune system. Turmeric is packed with B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, zinc, manganese, fiber, and potassium.
Organic eggs, particularly the yolks, contribute to a healthy immunity as well. Many people skip the eggs, believing they’re high in cholesterol, but tons of studies prove eggs do more good than harm to the body. They’re a fabulous source of selenium and zinc – the two crucial minerals that help strengthen the immune system.
5 Immune-Boosting Smoothie Recipes
I know, I know, I’m a little bit obsessed with smoothies – like my mom says, “You live in a smoothie world” – but for a really obvious reason. Smoothies are a delicious way to get in a wide variety of essential vitamins and minerals into one meal. The next time you wake up in the morning and don’t feel like eating, head to your kitchen and make one of these super healthy smoothies to keep your immune system strong even when you’re half asleep.
Green Tea Mango Banana Smoothie
Since I don’t always have almond milk or yogurt in my fridge, I found out that my favorite green tea can be the perfect base for morning smoothies. Although it’s best to use organic green tea leaves, when you’re running out of time, a green tea bag is a good option too.
- ¼ cup freshly brewed green tea
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 small banana
- 1 cup mango, chopped
- Half a teaspoon cinnamon
- Fresh berries and mint, for garnish
- Chia seeds, for garnish
Brew high quality organic green tea (cheap versions will spoil your smoothie), and add the honey to it. Stir well and set aside. Add the mango, banana, and cinnamon to a food processor or blender and process for 30 seconds. Add the tea and process for another 15 seconds. Serve with fresh berries and sprinkle a dash of chia seeds over it. Enjoy!
Celebrate Christmas all year round while keeping your immune system strong with this fantastic Christmas-inspired smoothie.
- 1 cup water
- 1.5 oz beet greens
- 1 orange or tangerine, peeled
- ½ inch ginger, peeled
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ cup cranberries
- 1 pear, chopped
- 1 tablespoon raw cashews
Blend all ingredients until smooth.
Passion Fruit Smoothie
Your morning dose of vitamins A and C.
- 2 passion fruit
- 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- Half a mango, peeled and chopped
- Half a banana
- Half an apple
- Half a kiwifruit
- ½ to 1 teaspoon organic cacao nibs
Blend all the ingredients until smooth and serve with ground flax seeds.
Pumpkin Pie Smoothie
A totally delicious and super quick pumpkin pie in your glass.
- 1/3 cup coconut or almond milk
- 3⁄4 cup pureed pumpkin
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flax
- 1 carrot, chopped or grated
- 2 teaspoon raw honey
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Kale Berry Banana Smoothie
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup kale
- ¼ cup mixed berries
- 1 banana
- Half an apple
- ½ cup spinach
- 1 teaspoon raw nut butter
- 1 teaspoon chia seeds
Keeping your immune system healthy and strong is easier when you know what foods to put in your body and what to drink in the morning to ward off bacteria throughout the day. Of course, you don’t have to munch on these 20 immune-boosting foods all day long, but adding at least one to your day will contribute to your overall health. Stay healthy and happy all winter long!
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