Good health and an efficient immune system are two terms that go hand in hand. Living organisms, particularly humans, have strong immune systems that help us combat diseases. It’s like the body’s own military force that protects and fights against foreign particles and living entities like bacteria and fungi.
The word immune literally means ‘to exempt’, which is extended to include the meaning of protection. To a biologist, the word means protection against disease by resisting unnecessary and unwanted changes in the bodily mechanism. Even though the system inside our body is pretty strong, in order to sustain and recover itself, it does require extra help. The best way to do that is to consume certain foods that are categorized as ‘immune boosting foods’. Below are some of the most widely used and accepted immune boosters.
Foods that Boost the Immune System
Immune boosting foods are not some kind of booster shots or injections we take for flu or smallpox. They are foods rich in one or more minerals, vitamins, antioxidants or any other substance that provides help to the immune system by either stimulating the immune cells or providing numbing and soothing effects or by acting as anti-inflammatory substances that reduce redness and swelling.
Mushrooms are conspicuous, umbrella-shaped fruits produced by certain fungi. It is important to know that all mushrooms are fungi but not all fungi are mushrooms and not all mushrooms are edible let alone immune boosters. Mushrooms mostly get their immune-boosting properties from being the richest source of therapeutically active polysaccharides such as Beta-glycans that interact with the immune cells and act as immunomodulators (immunosuppressants + immunostimulants). Some of the common immune-boosting mushrooms are:
- Button mushrooms
Apart from its high water content that makes it the best choice for consumption during hot weather, watermelon contains a number of other nutrients that makes it a great immune booster.
- Vitamin A: in addition to maintaining optimal eye health, vitamin A enhances the infection-fighting ability of lymphocytes (a type of WBC).
- Vitamin B6: helps White blood cells (WBC) to produce antibodies – substances that attack harmful invader as they are complementary to the disease-causing culprits found on the bodies of foreign particles like bacteria (antigens).
- Lycopene and vitamin C: are anti-inflammatory antioxidants that lower inflammation (a key driver in many chronic diseases) and oxidative stress (may lead to cancers and tumors).
There are a variety of yogurts which you might find on the market shelves but for the best immune boosting foods, go for the ones that are labelled and certified for containing ‘live and active cultures’. These cultures may act as vaccines and boost your immune system by triggering the cells to produce antibodies. Prefer plain yogurt over pre-flavored ones, instead, try flavoring it at home using fresh fruits or a drizzle of honey. Yogurt also contains Vitamin D, which helps regulate the immune system.
Apart from being a rich source of fibre and energy (remember Popeye the sailor man?) spinach also contains large amounts of vitamin C, antioxidants and beta carotenes. It’s best to not overcook the vegetables as it may cause healthy nutrients to be destroyed, light cooking, however, does help to release nutrients from the oxalic acid and enhance Vitamin A present in spinach.
Broccoli contains a number of phytochemicals – a substance which in addition to giving a vegetable/fruit its respective color, smell and flavor also has numerous immune system benefits. Some of the phytochemicals contained in broccoli are glucobrassicin; carotenoids such as zeaxanthin and beta-carotene; and kaempferol, a flavonoid. The vegetable is also rich in antioxidants that lower the oxidative stress in the body and helps fight diseases.
For most health problems, nutritionists recommend us ‘to harness the power of garlic cloves.’ Garlic is a powerful antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral substance owing to its high amount of calcium, potassium and 100 + sulfuric compounds. One of the most active sulfuric compounds found in garlic is allicin which is believed to block infection-causing enzymes.
The dark red colored fruit is not just a delicious treat for the pallet but also contains around 100 phytochemicals which play roles in preventing cancer, supporting immunity and enhance fertility. Pomegranates are rich sources of antioxidants, flavanols (manage and reduce symptoms of arthritis), and numerous vitamins like vitamin C, E and K. They also contain folate and potassium which contributes to boosting the immune system.
Almost all kinds of edible berries are rich in bioflavonoids and phytochemicals that boost the immune system by acting as anti-inflammatory antioxidants. They are great sources of flavonoids and phenolic compounds ad contain numerous immune-boosting vitamins such as C. not just are berries good for healthy immunity but they taste delicious too. Some of the commonly used immunity booster berries are:
- Acai berries
Seafood, especially shellfish and regular fish are great immune-boosting foods due to their high amount of omega 3 fatty acids. The compounds regulated the immune system and increases the activity of immune cells. Shellfish are usually rich in zinc which is important for healthy functioning of immune cells.
Now that’s a surprising one, right? Well no! Apart from being good at relieving stress cocoa is rich in polyphenols which is a potent antioxidant. Cocoa-enriched diet modifies immune cells function and aids in the production and modulation of antibodies. A pilot study conducted in 2018 showed that dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa has positive effects on genes regulating the production of immune cells. So the next time your mommy tells you to stop eating chocolate, tell her you’re boosting your mood, relieving stress and enhancing your immunity.
11. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are heavily equipped with zinc, a mineral that is widely accepted as a contributor to a healthy immune system. They also contain Vitamin C, Vitamin E, essential fatty acids and other anti-inflammatory antioxidants.
What to Eat When You’re Sick
1. Cranberries & Cranberry Juice
A few months back my mother developed severe abdominal cramps which were later diagnosed as pulsating pain of the kidneys. The doctor suggested her to drink at least 1 litre of cranberry juice daily. Cranberry juice is a great remedy for urinary tract infections and prevents kidney stones from developing.
The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which has proved to be a great antimicrobial agent. For centuries people have exploited the medicinal properties of the spice. Dissolving a bit of turmeric in warm milk and finishing it off with a spoon of honey is a great remedy for internal injury and infections like influenza and cold.
3. Soups and broths
Meat broths are the remedy of choice for sore throat. It provides the necessary lubrication for the esophagus and soothes out a cough. Chicken soups containing fresh vegetables and broths are other common home remedies for when you have been vomiting and having headaches. They provide nourishment in terms of proteins, electrolytes and even hydration. The warmth of the liquid might even help ease the stiffness of the thorax and head.
4. Coconut water
One of the most common side effects of being sick is being dehydrated. You tend to lose a lot of water when suffering from fever, vomiting, sweating and diarrhea which consequently drains you of your necessary electrolytes. In such a condition it is imperative to stay hydrated and one of the best drinks to sip on is coconut water. Aside from being light and flavorful it is rich in electrolytes antioxidants and other nutrients.
5. BRAT DIET
The go-to diet regime for people suffering from stomach infections and cramps. Studies and experts recommend being a little cautious with the food you eat while combating fever and infections as it might as well take a troll on your already vulnerable stomach making things worse.
The BRAT diet stands for
B: Bananas – The sleek white fruit has more in it than that which meets the eye. Bananas are rich in electrolytes like potassium and magnesium so it’ll help you compensate for the ones lost during vomiting and diarrhea. Additionally, the high content of fibre helps absorb water and stiffen up loose stools.
R: Rice – the bland grain which is a staple to many countries is fairly good for sick stomachs. It also contains low fibre, starch and pectin which helps firm up loose stools
A: Apples and apple sauce – in addition to providing flavor to the BRAT meal, the sauce made of fresh apples and no sugar is rich in iron and pectin. Again, the ingredients help stiffen up loose stools.
T: Toast – Bread is usually processed which means it contains little fibre and is well tolerated by upset stomachs.
So there you have it, make sure to include these immune boosting foods in your diet to maintain optimal health. It is important however to note that most modern day doctors and experts recommend that a person return to the regular or more preferably a balanced diet after 24 hours of starting the diet as the BRAT diet is low in fibre, proteins and many other nutrients hence being on the diet for too long may result in deprivation of those nutrients.