15 foods that will keep your immune system fighting fit

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After months of sanitising and social distancing, our immune systems have been on a long break. As a second wave of COVID-19 sweeps through Europe and the US, here are 15 foods that will help keep your immune system fighting fit.

1. Berries

Berries are very low in sugar but packed full of antioxidants. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries and goji berries are both delicious and nutritious and can be added to most breakfasts or eaten as a healthy snack.

Blueberries, in particular, contain a type of flavonoid called anthocyanin, which has antioxidant properties that can help boost your immune system. Flavonoids also play an essential role in the respiratory tract’s immune defence system.

Researchers have also found that people who eat foods rich in flavonoids are less likely to get an upper respiratory tract infection or the common cold than those who do not.


2. Turmeric

Turmeric is a yellow spice that gives curries their yellow and orange colour. It’s a bitter spice that has been used as an anti-inflammatory for centuries and contains curcumin, which may improve a person’s immune response and even act as an antiviral.


3. Omega 3

Salmon, Tuna, Trout, Sardines, Mackerel, Herring and other oily fish are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 has so many health benefits, from being good for heart health to decreasing plaque build-up in arteries, to being very good at reducing inflammation, and lowering blood clots.

Many diseases are inflammatory, including heart disease, cancer and diabetes, so anything that reduces the body’s inflammation is a great immune booster.


4. Citrus

Our bodies don’t naturally produce or store vitamin C, which is why we need a daily dose of it. Vitamin C increases the production of white blood cells, which are crucial to fighting infections. The great news is that almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. Add a squeeze of grapefruit, orange, lemon or lime to any meal, or a nartjie to lunch, and you’re good to go. If you’re taking a Vitamin C supplement, avoid taking more than 2 000 mg per day.


5. Broccoli

Broccoli is crammed with vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, and E, as well as potent antioxidants, such as sulforaphane, making it one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat. The key to this superfood is that you want to cook it as little as possible and eating it raw is even better. If you aren’t a fan of uncooked, crunchy broccoli though, then steaming is the best way to keep more nutrients in your food.


6. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene, which is an is an excellent source of vitamin A. Beta Carotene is an antioxidant that gives the skin of sweet potatoes their slightly orange colour and it keeps your skin healthy while offering some protection against skin damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays.


7. Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, including selenium, phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamins B-6 and E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that is key to a healthy immune system. Just like antioxidants, vitamin E improves immune function by fighting off free radicals, which can damage cells. Other foods with high amounts of vitamin E include dark leafy greens and avocados.


8. Almonds

Brimming with vitamin E, manganese, magnesium, fibre and healthy fats, Almonds are a super-food, and you only need a half-cup serving to get your daily intake of vitamin E.


9. Garlic

Garlic doesn’t just add some zing to your food; it’s must-have for your health. Early civilisations recognised its value in fighting infections, including slowing down the hardening of the arteries and even lowering blood pressure. It seems that Garlic’s immune-boosting properties come from a heavy concentration of sulphur-containing compounds, such as allicin.


10. Ginger

Ginger is another age-old remedy that’s been used for sore throats and inflammatory illnesses. This is because it has anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also great for nausea. Mix it with freshly squeezed lemon juice, and you’ve got your daily Vitamin C dose as well.


11. Spinach

Spinach is rich in vitamins C and E, but more importantly, it’s full of several antioxidants and beta carotene. These increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.

Similar to broccoli, spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. Luckily, we aren’t recommending that you eat it raw though – lightly cooking your spinach makes it easier to absorb vitamin A.


12. Yogurt

Yoghurt is an excellent source of vitamin D, so keep an eye out for brands fortified with this vitamin and with packaging that includes ‘live and active cultures.’ Together, your immune system is regulated and stimulated. Choose plain yoghurt over flavoured yoghurt, which tends to be loaded with sugar. Instead, you can add some berries, seeds and a touch of honey to create a super-food breakfast.


13. Green tea

Both green and black teas are filled with flavonoids, which is a type of antioxidant, but while the fermentation process that black tea goes through destroys a lot of the epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG, which is another powerful antioxidant), green tea is steamed and not fermented, so the EGCG is preserved.

Studies have shown that EGCG enhances immune function. Green tea is also a great source of the amino acid L-theanine, which may aid in the production of germ-fighting compounds in your T cells.


14. Poultry

If your mom ever made you chicken soup when you were sick, you know how comforting it can be. This isn’t just the placebo effect at work. Chicken helps lower inflammation, which could improve symptoms of a cold.

Poultry is high in vitamin B-6, which is vital to the formation of new and healthy red blood cells and an essential player in many of the chemical reactions that happen in the body.

So, the next time you’re feeling a bit under the weather, indulge in some home-made chicken soup.


15. Shellfish

Shellfish might not be the most apparent food group that we associate with our immune systems, but many types of shellfish are loaded with zinc, which is an essential mineral that helps our immune cells function as they should.

Shellfish that are high in zinc include oysters, crab, lobster and mussels, so the next time you splurge on oysters or a lobster, remember that you’re doing so for your health.

Just keep in mind that too much zinc can inhibit your immune system function, so try to stay within the daily recommended amount of zinc in your diet: 11 mg for adult men and 8 mg for most adult women.


A healthy balanced diet is best

Variety is the key to proper health and nutrition. Eating just one of these foods won’t be enough to help fight off the flu or other infections. Instead, keep your plates healthy, vibrant and colourful, and try to ensure that every meal has at least one super-food in it.