Food & Nutrition Science

6 Foods that Strengthen Immune Function 

Immune-strengthening foods aren’t just for the cold and flu seasons anymore. All year round, our bodies are exposed to bacteria and viruses that can kick us off our feet.  

While your diet alone isn’t enough to stay free of colds, flus, and infections, researchers continue to find positive links between our immune function and a nutrient-dense diet. After all, adequate and appropriate nutrition is required for all cells in the human body to function optimally, including the cells in the immune system.  

Additionally, the gut microbiome, a vital component of the immune system, requires its host to consume nutrient and fiber-dense foods to function appropriately. When the immune system is “activated” due to a potential attack from pathogenic microbes like bacteria and viruses, the demand for nutrients is even greater.   

If you or your clients continue to lose battles with bacteria and viruses, it’s time to start filling up on foods filled with nutrients that strengthen the immune system. Best of all – many of these foods may already be stocked in their kitchen! 

What Are the Power Foods that Strengthen Immune System Functionality? 

 #1 Yogurt 

The probiotics found in yogurt, namely lactobacillus, have been shown to support the immune system function by providing protection against pathogenic microorganisms in the gut. The probiotics responsible for fermentation in yogurt are the same “good” bacteria typically found in the intestinal tract.  

Choose versions without sugar added, and for a boost of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory components, add some berries.  

If you or your client is lactose-intolerant, consider lactose-free options.  

#2 Green Tea 

Green tea is widely known for its rich complex mixtures of polyphenols and potent plant antioxidants that are proven to boost immunity. Green tea has the potential to modulate the innate immune system, adaptive immune system, and enteric (intestinal) immune system.   

Some immune-fighting components in green tea are flavanols, gallic acid, flavanol glycosides, polysaccharides, theanine, and caffeine. The most abundant chemical in green tea and the main component linked to its beneficial effects is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which has been found to have antiproliferative, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, and chemopreventive effects. 

Drink green tea daily to take advantage of its immune-boosting effects.  

#3 Chia Seeds 

These tiny seeds are packed with minerals and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids can alter immune cells by regulating immune cellular membrane properties so they more readily eliminate pathogenic cells through phagocytosis. It also increases the production of adaptive immune cells.  

Chia seeds may be small, but they have some of the highest concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids out of any seeds.  

You can add chia seeds to your smoothie, top your salad with them, or even add them to lemonade or another drink of choice to activate their jellification properties.  

 #4 Mushrooms 

Mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants, B vitamins, and beta-glucans that all help to fight off infection through their anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-tumor effects. They also strengthen the function of lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. 

For the best results, add to any of your favorite evening dishes for extra flavor and the disease-fighting power the body needs during the winter season. 

#5 Purple Sweet Potatoes 

Purple sweet potatoes have polysaccharides that not only give them their sweet taste but also enhance immune system function. One group of researchers extracted three different kinds of polysaccharides from purple sweet potatoes and found that they all enhanced the function of macrophages, a type of white blood cell that stimulates the effect of other blood cells. They also had the ability to stimulate the production of antibodies when needed.    

If you grow purple sweet potatoes in your backyard, consider eating the leaves, too! They have components that enhance antibody production and the function of several immune cells.  

#6 Leafy Greens 

Leafy greens of the brassica species are some of the most nutrient-dense foods that are part of our diet. Not only do they contain varying amounts of calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, and vitamins A, K, B6, and C, but they are also rich in prebiotic soluble fiber, which provides “food” to your gut microbiota – a vital component of the immune system. Additionally, the brassica variety of vegetables contain sulforaphane and pectin, which have immunomodulatory effects.  

Not a big fan of kale? No problem! Other brassica vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and turnips, and these are all packed with immune-strengthening vitamins, minerals, macronutrients, and phytochemicals.  

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