Everybody’s immune system could use a tune up once in a while. Learning which foods boost the immune system naturally is a powerful first step anyone can take towards better immune support— though there’s lots more that can help too: like vitamins, minerals, herbs, and to even boost the immune system with supplements.
Boosting the immune system naturally can also be a powerful goal when adopting a plant based whole food diet. For the immune system compromised— like those with AIDS, HIV, autoimmune issues, allergies, diabetes, and more— foods that boost the immune system are key to immune health, along with medications and doctor recommendations. You can even talk to your doctor about immunity booster food as part of your overall plan!
All this out of the way, what is the immune system? How does it even work? Why should we take care of it? What improves it, and what doesn’t? What are the benefits of boosting the immune system, and how do you do it?
Look no further. In this article, we’ll give a quick overview of:
- Immune systems basics intro
- Boost immune system with food
- Boost immune system with supplements
- Boost immune system with herbs
- And more
The immune system and how it works
As a complex part of the human body, there is not one simple immune system definition that summarizes all its parts, workings, or even purposes for our health. There’s not one single immune system “organ” or necessarily immunity cells that we can pin down, categorize, or easily put in a box, either— because, in reality, the immune system is at work everywhere in our bodies.
Here’s a rundown of organs or “components” that make up the immune system:
- Lymphatic system
- T-cells and immune cells
- And more
This is by all means not a comprehensive list. By some definitions, the immune system can include a lot of proteins, enzymes, gut microbes, mucus, saliva, and even our entire skin and bone marrow!
An easier definition of the immune system is it’s our body’s defense system. Immunity cells, tissues, and organs work in tandem to keep foreign invaders or pathogens out of the body that could bring us harm or cause inflammation. Immunity is also in control of inflammation, using it to destroy bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other harmful irritants— like in the case of a fever killing a flu or common cold. That’s the immune system at work!
If we boost the immune system with the right diet, herbs, or supplements, we better help the immune system do its job to protect us. We also give it less to “handle” if we eat right and avoid carbs, sugars, and processed foods that bring on inflammation that overwhelms our immune systems, too.
Vitamins that boost the immune system
Before we move up to which foods boost the immune system, any dietician or nutritionist would acknowledge that nutrients like vitamins (and some minerals) are a huge part of immune boosting. You can find these not only in healthy foods but in supplement form if you need extra in a pinch, too.
For a lot of us, vitamin C is the first nutrient that comes to mind when thinking of vitamins that boost the immune system. But it’s not the only one! Other immunity support vitamins include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
That said, high amounts of natural vitamin C and ascorbic acid both are put into foods, boost immune system drinks, vitamin C powder packets, and supplements of all kinds. It’s because it’s the most widely associated with immune boosting: such as kicking colds, flus, respiratory symptoms, even hangovers.
But many people ask: is ascorbic acid bad or you? Is ascorbic acid vitamin C at all, really? This is something to look out for on product labels, as ascorbic acid is actually a synthetic form of vitamin C, and not a natural one at all. It’s also found to have a lot of undesirable health effects on people (like digestive distress, nausea, headaches, and more) which can offset any vitamin C benefits from ascorbic acid.
When seeking any vitamin source (but especially vitamin C in supplements, drink products, complexes, and more) to boost the immune system naturally, keep an eye out for the ingredient list. Favor products that say “vitamin C extracted from natural ingredients,” or simply whole ingredients known to contain vitamin C (like acerola or rosehips).
Foods that boost the immune system
Which foods boost the immune system? Obviously, foods rich in vitamin C (and other immune boosting vitamins) are ones to look out for. However, a food having immune boosting properties goes far beyond just vitamins— it has to do with antioxidants, too. (Fun fact: vitamin C is also an antioxidant!)
Foods known for boosting the immune system include:
- Acerola cherry
Foods like blueberry and elderberry are each known to be great sources of vitamin C along with many others listed here. They’re also notably rich in anthocyanins, another type of antioxidant that helps enhance the immune system and reduce inflammation. (Another fun fact: anthocyanins are also responsible for the dark purple or blue pigments in these foods!)
The same goes for beets. Betalain, which gives beets their red or golden color, is also an antioxidant. Research shows this beet compound is “immunomodulatory”: meaning it can help balance immune system response and support autoimmune disorders. These are conditions where the immune system causes chronic inflammation by attacking the body’s own tissues.
A cheat sheet for immune-boosting foods: colorful plant-based foods are almost certain to be immune-boosting, since the pigments in them signify tons of antioxidants. Not only does this include dark leafy greens (like kale) or dark berries (like blackberries), it can also be purple potatoes or purple sweet potatoes, orange bell peppers, red cabbage, yellow carrots, purple hot peppers, and all manner of rainbow colors found in foods. The more colors, the better!
Though you can’t forget the less colorful culinary mushrooms— especially shiitake! Mushrooms in these categories are high in polysaccharides, which both enhance and modulate the immune system in their own unique ways.
Herbs that boost the immune system
Healing herbs take things a step even farther. They amplify and magnify immunity health as an extra layer added atop a diet already high in immunity booster foods. Most people take these immune system herbs (and fungi!) in the form of immunity supplements, which are very convenient— though they can also be taken as tea, extract, or even cooked as seasonings in meals.
Famous herbs to boost the immune system (and mushrooms, too) include:
- Chaga mushroom
- Cordyceps mushroom
- Holy basil
- Licorice root
- Maitake mushroom
- Turkey tail mushroom
A plant based whole food diet for immunity
Seeing a common theme in this article for foods to boost the immune system? That’s right: all of these are plant based! (Or mushroom based…close enough.)
The key how to naturally boost immune system health is found in the world of plants: whether through foods (fruits, vegetables, etc.), herbs, and the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that make them so “immune powerful.” If you think your immunity natural health needs a little “pick me up”, never underestimate the power of plants!
What are your thoughts regarding which foods boost the immune system naturally?
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