Immunity is the power that protects us from bacteria, diseases and all pathogenic organisms in our environment. To make sure your immune system is strong enough to protect you, you need to take care of it. The best way to do this is through a healthy and well-balanced diet. The presence of healthy foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in your diet, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, seeds and nuts, is essential for healthy immune system. It is especially important when heading into cold and flu season.
Below are some of the best foods that you should include in your diet to provide your body with all the necessary nutrients needed for a strong immune system.
1. Red peppers – they are an excellent alternative source of vitamin C and one of the best vitamin C- rich source for fighting colds. The powerful effect of vitamin C comes from bioflavinoids that help your body produce white blood cells that cleanse your cells and tissues of toxins. Red pepper, also is full of beta carotene and antioxidants that support your immune system, helps build healthy mucus membrane tissue that defends against viruses and bacteria. The amount of vitamin C is greater than that in citrus. Besides vitamin C, beta carotene and antioxidants, red pepper also contains a number of other essential and beneficial nutrients for the body and maintaining a healthy immune system. These are sodium, iron and vitamins A, E, B1, B2, B6, zinc, and fiber. Red peppers can be consumed both raw and cooked. And the good thing is that frying and roasting preserve the nutrient content of red peppers.
2. Spinach – Spinach is great for your overall health. It contains many essential nutrients such as vitamin C and vitamin E, antioxidants and digestion-regulating fiber. They all benefit the immune system. And as with red peppers and oranges, high levels of vitamin C in spinach help to prevent common colds and help reduce symptoms of sickness.
3. Garlic – is a common home remedy for the prevention of colds and other illness. Regularly eating garlic may help prevent the common cold or the flu, but you don’t have to eat garlic all year round. It is better to eat it from time to time and during winter months. Garlic can help with a variety of problems like heart disease, high cholesterol, colds and flu. Garlic contains compounds that help the immune system fight germs. The main active ingredient in garlic is allicin – which is released when you cut it and gives garlic its distinctive smell and taste because the allicin contains sulfur. And if you do get sick, eating garlic can reduce the severity of your symptoms and also can help you recover faster. By eating 2-3 garlic cloves per day, you can get all the benefits of it.
But in case you are like me and don’t like the smell of garlic, there is another way to increase your garlic intake – by taking a supplement. Garlic supplements can found in different types – powdered garlic, garlic extract and garlic oil. Supplement doses range from 600 to 1,200 mg per day, so be careful and stick to the recommendations.
4. Turmeric – this yellow spice is used for cooking, as a dye but also it is present in some alternative medicines. Turmeric has many benefits: improve the immune response, support immune system, improving liver function, assists weight loss and prevents obesity, regulates cholesterol and enhances brain function. Also, it has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties and helps to fight the cold and flu. The main active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which gives all the powerful therapeutic properties.
You can add turmeric in your milk, salad, soup, smoothie or you can make turmeric tea. If you’re cooking with turmeric will be good to mix it with black pepper or oil, as this increase the bio availability of curcumin. One of the best ways to eat turmeric is with some fat, plenty of black pepper and curry powder. You can find turmeric in various types – raw turmeric, powder, supplements and essential oil.
5. Ginger – it contains many important vitamins and minerals, and therapeutic compounds like gingerol, shogaol, paradol and zingerone, and have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that has been linked to many unique health benefits. Ginger can help prevent nausea, fights fungal infections, protects against stomach ulcers, regulates blood sugar, blocks bacterial infections, promotes proper digestion, eases inflammation, lowers cholesterol levels, improves brain function, prevent the accumulation of toxins, it’s able to cleanse the lymphatic system, enhancing weight loss and strengthens the immune system, prevents the symptoms of cold and flu and helps for quicker healing. You can find ginger in fresh, ground or capsule form and also as an essential oil.
Ginger is my favorite immune booster. Every time I catch a cold or flu it helps me get healed quickly. I usually use it in two ways. I add it cut into small pieces in chamomile tea (sometimes with honey and lemon). Also, if I catch a cold or flu, I eat two tablespoons shredded ginger with walnuts, honey and lemon every morning (this is extremely efficient combination).
6. Citrus fruits – they are an excellent source of vitamin C, which is essential for good health, helps body fight off infections, improve the function of immune system and may reduce the common cold symptoms. The amount of vitamin C in citrus is enviably high. Because vitamin C can’t be stored by your body, you need to incorporate foods that are rich in vitamin C every day. Oranges, mandarins, lemons or grapefruit – all are good choices. Also, here I will mention kiwis and pineapple, which are really good source of vitamin C too, even if they are not citrus.
If you don’t like citrus, you can take vitamin C as a supplement.
Keep in mind that if you drink only citrus juice, you miss the benefit of the fibers contained in them.
7. Honey – this is one of the few products that do not spoil as it has a very high acidity that stops the bacteria completely and they can not survive in it. Besides, there is no moisture in it to feed them. Honey is a natural source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It has antibacterial and anti fungal properties. There are many benefits for the body of raw honey: it helps cough and sore throats, strengthens the immune system, lowers cholesterol levels, cleanses the liver and colon from parasites, helps the development of beneficial bacteria in the intestine, improves blood circulation, relieves burns and promotes faster tissue repair, hydrates skin, gives energy and reduces fatigue. Also, honey helps break down fat in the body, although there are many more calories than sugar.
Honey used in the raw form, combined with other foods and drinks, or added in various recipes, effectively helps in the fight with various illnesses including cold and flu. My favorite combination during the winter months is green tea with honey. Since green tea also has many benefits for the body, drinking it with honey makes your immune system stronger. Green tea can be used as an alternative to black tea or coffee, because contains only a small amount of caffeine, but you can find a green tea without caffeine too.
8. Kefir – is a fermented milk drink made by a combination of bacteria and yeast that interact with the milk to make a lightly fermented probiotic drink. It can be made from any type of milk, such as goat, sheep, cow, soy, rice or coconut. So, even if you can’t tolerate having any dairy or you have a milk allergy, there are types of kefir that are still rich in probiotics and have all healthy benefits but are completely lactose- and dairy-free. There are two types of kefir are milk and water kefir. Milk kefir is made from cow, sheep or goat milk and also from coconut milk. Water kefir is made from sugary water or coconut water, both of which do not contain any dairy, so and lactose intolerant people can drink it.
This is one of the best probiotic foods with several important probiotic strains, which is where many of the kefir benefits come from. It also contains high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate and enzymes. Kefir has many benefits to the body – boosts immunity, supports digestion, improves lactose intolerance, heals skin, improves allergies, builds bone strength and more.
Kefir is widely available and there are many options for where to buy it, but also can be made at home. There are many ways and recipes to use kefir. For example, you can use it in smoothies, or just can add fruits, honey, cinnamon and vanilla to it.
9. Fiber – they are extremely beneficial to the body and should be taken with food every day. Unlike other nutrients like fats, proteins or carbohydrates, which your body breaks down and absorbs, fiber isn’t digested by your body. Although the fibers are not absorbed by the body, they can seriously affect its ability to digest other types of nutrients. Daily fiber intake helps maintain healthy weight, prevent of diabetes, digestive problems, heart disease and some types of cancer.
There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and it changes as it goes through the digestive tract where it is fermented by bacteria. They slow down digestion and absorption of nutrients, helping to maintain low cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water, and as it goes through the digestive tract, it does not change its form. They contribute to a faster passage of food through the stomach and intestines and to prevent the most common digestive disorders such as constipation or diarrhea.
Both types of fiber are important for the health of the digestive system and thus help maintain good health of the body, including the maintenance of a good immune system. Both types of fiber are mandatory for daily intake, and the easiest way to do this is by consuming a variety of fiber-rich foods.
Excellent fiber sources of both types are oats, linseed, fruits, vegetables, barley, whole-wheat flour, wheat bran and nuts. Best fiber-rich vegetables are: broccoli, artichokes, spinach, turnips, potatoes, asparagus, tomatoes, cabbage, raw carrots. Best fiber-rich fruits are: avocado, apples, pears, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, figs, watermelon. Choose fresh, bright-colored fruits and vegetables, as they are usually richer in nutrients. Fruits and vegetables is good to be present daily in your healthy diet, as they contain vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients that the body needs every day. Other fiber-rich foods such as oats, linseed, wheat bran, and even nuts it’s better to be alternated, because they contain different fiber and nutrients and if they are consumed constantly they can overload the body.
Usually, I add just sugar and/or walnuts to my oats. Linseed is very delicious with yogurt. The recommended daily amount for linseed is 1-2 teaspoons. It can be added also to salad, juice or to flour for cookies. There are two important things about nuts that need to be noted. The first is that raw nuts are much more beneficial to the body than roasted nuts. It is also very important to note that most raw nuts should be pre-soaked in water for several hours to become easier for the digestive system. The time for soaking varies with different types of nuts, usually between 2 and 12 hours. For example, almonds and hazelnuts have to soaked for 8 – 12 hours and walnuts for 4-6 hours.
Another way to get more fiber is to eat foods like cereal, granola bars or yogurt, with fiber added. With fiber supplements such as Metamucil, you can get some more fiber in case you need extra. There are some people that don’t feel good after eating foods with added fiber. If you need more fiber for some reason, consult your doctor to find the best option for you. Fiber supplements don’t provide the variety of fibers, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that foods can do. So, maybe will be better to add fiber supplements to your healthy diet and to try to eat variety of fruits, vegetables and the other fiber- rich foods.
10. Dark chocolate – maybe it’s hard to believe (at least it was for me), but dark chocolate can be very helpful in fighting off a cold. It contains concentration of theobromine, an antioxidant that has been proven to alleviate coughing. Theobromine may help to boost the immune system by protecting the body’s cells from free radicals. They can damage the body’s cells and may contribute to disease. The body produces free radicals when it breaks down food or comes into contact with pollutants. In order to be most useful, the black chocolate must be high in cocoa (minimum 80%).
In addition, besides the above listed foods, don’t forget to include also mushrooms, peas, onions, oily fish, meat and eggs.
The best way to keep strong immune system and fight against cold and flu infections is through a healthy diet and natural remedies that boost immune system and help your body cleanse toxins.
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