Vitamin C is always at the forefront of mind when it comes to immune-boosting nutrients, but it's not just about vitamin C and there are lots of other key players to keep a healthy immune system.
As with most things nutrition, variety is the spice of life and immune health is no different from boosting immune cells to looking after your gut microbiome - both play a significant role in supporting immune function and here are some of my top picks of immune-boosting foods.
Oranges as we know, are one of the heroes of vitamin C sources and help to increase immune-boosting blood cells. Just one navel orange provides over 100% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin C and there are plenty of other good sources of vitamin C including strawberries, broccoli, capsicum asparagus and kale. Something to be mindful of is cooking methods as vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin meaning if you boil your veggies, you will lose some of the vitamin C in the process.
Ginger is loaded with bioactive compounds and both fresh and ground have their own benefits. Fresh ginger is rich in gingeroland whilst this is found in lesser quantities in dry ginger, another compound known as shagaols is found in dry ginger. Both gingerol and shagaols offer the benefits of reducing pain, inflammation and fever so either way, its a winner.
Not only is pineapple a good source of vitamin C, but it also contains a digestive enzyme called bromelain. Predominantly found in the pineapple core, bromelain is a protein-digesting enzyme that helps nutrient absorption and boosts immune and inflammatory response. Something else bromelain is useful for is reducing mucus, so if you do catch a cold, some pineapple will come in extra handy.
There is a lot more to turmeric than just its anti-inflammatory properties and the main compound found in turmeric, curcumin, can also boost immune function. To date, the majority of research has been conducted in animal studies and turmeric is understood to support immune health by boosting the production of immune cells. More human research is needed to support this, but for now, every little helps and turmeric is a great spice to incorporate into your diet.
There are a few good reasons why garlic is great for the immune system. Firstly, garlic contains a key compound called alliin that stimulates the production of immune-boosting white blood cells. Alliin is found in both fresh and dried garlic! Secondly, garlic is also classified as a prebiotic food. This is a key player when it comes to optimal gut health and prebiotic foods essentially feed our gut microbiome. This increases beneficial bacteria which crowds out pathogenic bacteria and increases the production of immune-boosting cells.
Cayenne pepper is really high in carotenoids, in particular, a compound called beta-carotene, that gives cayenne its vivid red colour. Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body and vitamin A stimulates the immune system and increases the production of white blood cells.
OK, so details, but sunshine technically isn’t a food, although vitamin D does play an important role in immune system response and research shows that those with lower levels of vitamin D are more susceptible to infection. If you aren’t getting enough sunshine, vitamin D can also be sourced through some foods and good sources include shitake mushrooms, liver, eggs, salmon and cheese.