You are what you eat. Truly. Fill your body with crud, and you’ll feel like crud. Fuel your body with healthy foods that build immunity, and you’ll feel fantastic! Plus, you’ll be sick less often, you’ll be able to fight off viruses more efficiently, and your body will reward you with energy and vitality.
Are you (or your kids) always sick?
If you are anything like me, I never really thought about my immune system until I had children. I was a relatively healthy teen and young adult, but when we had three kids under 4 years old, there was always someone with a stomach bug, an ear infection or a head cold. I began researching immunity boosting foods back then, in an effort to keep the family in one piece.
What is your immune system?
The immune system is a network of tissues, cells, and organs that work in tandem to first try to keep out germs like bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, and then deal with them if they manage to get in your body.
Your skin is the most obvious part of the immune system. It blocks invaders from getting into your body in the first place. Other blockers are the clear layer over the front of your eye (cornea) and specialized tissue that lines your lungs, bladder, and digestive system. A cut, sore, or burn can make an opening in any of these for germs to get in and infect you.
Sweat on your skin, tears in your eyes, and mucus in your nasal passages, digestive system, and a woman’s vagina can stop invaders from getting in, too. These liquids your body makes not only push away dirt and germs but also have enzymes that can kill bacteria.
Lymphatic System: A network of fine tubes throughout your body collects fluid called lymph from tissues. Part of its job is to pick up dead cells and germs. Waste is filtered out at small bean-shaped lymph nodes, and the liquid goes back into your bloodstream. An infection can make the nodes swell.
The marrow inside your bones is where your body makes blood cells, including the various white blood cells that fight off germs.
Neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cell, are among the first responders called to a trouble spot. They digest bad cells and can trap bacteria and stop it from spreading. Macrophages grow from white blood cells called monocytes, but they work in tissues, not your blood. Eosinophils mainly attach to parasites that are too big to ingest in order to kill them.
There are also white blood cells called Natural Killer Cells, Basophils and Mast Cells, Lymphocytes, and T Cells, which are all part of a search-and-destroy team designed to find and eliminate internal threats to a healthy body.
With all these amazing systems working to keep you healthy, it only makes sense to keep them in optimum shape. Adequate sleep, exercise, laughter and stress management all compliment our immune system. But food is equally important.
Here’s our Top 10 foods that fuel our immune system:
Apples. Apples are loaded with the powerful antioxidants Quercetin and Catechin, which protect cells from damage – that means a reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, especially if you eat the skin. Consider making applesauce with skin-on apples like we did here.
Blueberries. Blueberries are loaded with antioxidants, especially anthocyanins, which have been shown to improve vision and brain function. They also reduce inflammation, which is inextricably linked with virtually every chronic disease from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, to diabetes and heart disease. Other studies show that blueberries have much greater anticancer activity than other fruits. Adding blueberries to salads is a great flavor boost! Or make our Blueberry Quinoa Salad!
Broccoli. It’s an immune-boosting basic. You’ll get plenty of nutrients that protect your body from damage. It has vitamins A and C, and the antioxidant Glutathione. Broccoli Soup is one of our K2.0 favorites!
Garlic. This kitchen staple does more than punch up the flavor of food. Garlic can help beat skin infections thanks to its ability to fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi. To get the benefits, you have to use the real stuff, though, not garlic powder.
Oysters. They’ve got zinc in them, which has virus-fighting powers. Zinc helps create and activate white blood cells involved in the immune response. Zinc also assists your immune system with tasks such as healing wounds. If you like oysters, consider adding them into your weekly menu.
Pomegranate. Pomegranate arils contain Punicalagins, which are extremely potent antioxidants. They can help fight harmful microorganisms, and can reduce your risk of various serious illnesses, including heart disease, cancer, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. We made a simple relish with pomegranate arils here. They are so versatile, you can add them to salads, top yogurt or cereal with them, put them in a peanut butter sandwich, or just break them in half and eat with a spoon!
Salmon. Salmon contains high levels of Vitamin D, which supports immune, brain, and nervous system health. Salmon has been on weekly repeat in our home for decades. Poach salmon for an easy, healthy meal, or try Sheet Pan Salmon or crunchy Panko Crusted Salmon for a treat!
Spinach. You’ll find lots of nutrients in this “super food.” One of them is folate, which helps your body make new cells and repair DNA. It also boasts fiber, antioxidants such as vitamin C, and more. Eat spinach raw or lightly cooked to get the most benefit. Our favorite blueberry spinach salad is here.
Tea. It doesn’t matter if it’s white, green, or black. Tea delivers disease-fighting polyphenols and flavonoids. These antioxidants seek out cell-damaging free radicals and destroy them. Caffeinated and decaf work equally well. We love making sun tea in the summer, but hot or cold, any tea is good for you!
Watermelon. It contains an antioxidant called glutathione. It strengthens the immune system so it can fight infection. We made a Fire and Ice salsa this summer that was delicious!
That’s our Top 10, but when in doubt, just eat the rainbow. Vary your colors each day. Or add them together for a visual feast! Sweet red peppers, onions, green zucchini, yellow summer squash and purple eggplant make an antioxidant-rich side dish when roasted. Sprinkle on fresh rosemary and some extra virgin olive oil, and roast on a sheet pan for 30 minutes on 400º. Yum!