The difference is often their immune system.
So how can you boost your immune system? It turns out
that one of the most powerful tools for a strong immune system can be
found right inside your own kitchen: the food you eat.
Let’s take a look at what your immune system does and how to
boost your immune system with food, so it can protect you from nasty,
What is the Immune System?
The immune system is your body’s network of organs,
tissues, and cells that work together to keep you healthy by fighting off
harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. It acts as a barrier
between your body and the things that can make you sick.
When your immune system is compromised, it’s like tearing
down a wall that would otherwise help to keep germs at bay.
Your immune system can become compromised by dietary,
environmental, and lifestyle insults. And a compromised immune system
can lead to frequent illness, such as the common cold and flu, as well as more
serious infections and diseases, even including cancer.
Your complex and amazing defense system is made up of two
main parts. First, you have mucous membranes found in places like your nose,
eyes, and mouth — which use white blood cells to fight infections before they
can get inside you. Second, you have T cells and B cells, which work together
to create antibodies that fight off invaders and then destroy infected cells
throughout your body.
Your bone marrow and spleen also play key roles, making
white blood cells which fight infections. And your lymphatic system transports
lymph (a fluid containing white blood cells) throughout your body.
Altogether, your immune system functions as an
amazing team, working to keep you healthy, safe, and alive.
How Does Food Affect Your Immune System?
It’s difficult to overstate how important nutrition is in
promoting a healthy immune system. You need a diverse group of
phytochemicals (the bioactive chemical compounds in plants) to create a strong
barrier against pathogens that would otherwise make you ill.
Because immunity typically declines as you age, it
becomes especially important to eat more immune-boosting foods as you get older.
Many studies have shown that
nutrient deficiencies cause impaired immune function in the elderly. Even in
people as young as 35 years old, poor nutrition wreaks havoc on the immune
But there’s good news, too! When elderly people eat at least
five servings per day of fruits and vegetables, they have improved antibody response to stress.
For many reasons, the more fruits and vegetables you
eat, the better off you are. And you need specific nutrients for optimal
Some of the most immune-boosting vitamins and minerals
include folate, zinc, iron, beta-carotene, Vitamins B6, B12, C, D, and
So, what foods should you be eating to get them?
How to Boost Your Immune System with Food
As it turns out, the best immunity boosters are found in the
produce aisle, not in the pharmacy.
Eating kiwi fruit
has been shown to reduce the duration of the common cold.
In fact, it
can reduce a child’s risk of getting sick by 50% and
can even shave a few days off of how long the elderly are sick with upper
Kiwi is high in
vitamin C, folate, potassium, and antioxidants, such as alpha-Tocopherol and
lutein. It has been shown to have positive effects on the immune
response — making it potentially helpful in preventing a wide range of
Kiwi makes a great
snack for all ages. It’s easy to throw into a lunch bag or serve sliced
alongside a hearty breakfast. Most people peel it, but when you include the
peel, you triple the amount of fiber you get from this tasty fruit. The
skin also has a unique prebiotic potency that makes it marvelous for your
Garlic has been used
in medicine for centuries.
One of the reasons
is that whole garlic contains a compound called alliin, which turns into the
active compound allicin when crushed and is known to enhance immune
function. Crushed garlic also offers additional sulfur-containing compounds
with healing properties.
Heating fresh garlic
may reduce its flu-fighting ability, but some studies have shown that letting
crushed garlic sit for 10 minutes prior to heating it can protect its
immunity-boosting capabilities from being compromised.
Aged garlic extract
may also reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu.
If all else fails,
garlic does wonders for opening up a stuffy nasal passage!
Enjoy minced, crushed,
or roasted garlic in homemade pasta sauces, sprinkled on pizza, in warm soups,
or as a flavor-boosting complement to almost any savory dish.
No need to cry.
Onions are good for you!
They contain two
major compounds that support immunity: the antioxidant flavonoids anthocyanin
and quercetin—and allin.
Red and yellow
varieties are particularly high in quercetin,
which is known to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-viral
properties. The highest concentration is found in the outer rings.
Enjoy onions baked,
roasted, sauteed, or chopped up and eaten raw in many dishes. If they
make your eyes water, make sure you chop them with a sharp knife,
with your arms straight, so any onion juice spray is some distance from your
eyes. You can also cut onions under running water to protect your eyes. And
be sure to wash your hands, knife, and cutting surfaces with soapy water when
Ginger has many
medicinal and health uses and is known to
be a powerful anti-inflammatory andantioxidant.
It also has antimicrobial effects and can help to protect against
Gingerol is the
compound found in fresh ginger that is most responsible for its anti-cancerproperties.
Gingerol is closely related to capsaicin and piperine, the active compounds in
peppers that give them their spiciness and unique medicinal traits, as well as
the curcuminoids found in turmeric.
You can purchase
ginger root fresh and keep it in the freezer. When ready to use, grate it into
stir-fries or smoothies, or boil it for a hot ginger
drink. You can also use it in a dried, powdered, or oil form.
Green tea is about
40% polyphenols by weight — and may be the most powerful of all the
It contains compounds
called catechins, as well the antioxidant quercetin and the amino acid
L-theanine, all of which support a strong immune system. These compounds
are effective agents in helping the body fight viruses, such as influenza and
many forms of gastrointestinal infections.
Green tea is an immunity warrior. One study showed that women under 50 who drank green tea at
least three times per day reduced their risk of breast cancer by 37%.
But you may not
necessarily have to drink green tea all the time to reap its benefits.
In fact, gargling these catechins has also been shown
to reduce incidences of influenza among the elderly.
A 2011 study published in the journal Cell found
vegetables, including kale, collard greens, mustard greens, Chinese
cabbage, bok choy, kohlrabi, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, are a
source of a chemical signal necessary for the immune
system to function at its best.
vegetables contain beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, folate, and vitamins C,
E, and K. They are also rich in sulfur-containing substances called
glucosinolates, which make sulforaphane—
a phytochemical known for its immune-boosting and anti-cancer
effects. When chewed and chopped, these vegetables also release other
cancer-fighting compounds called isothiocyanates.
Of all the
cruciferous veggies, kale appears to offer the most
anti-inflammatory polyphenols, which enhance the body’s defense against pathogens,
especially when cooked.
Try chopping leafy,
cruciferous greens and mixing them into salads. You can also add them to soups,
sprinkle them onto pizzas, or even blend them into smoothies.