22 Foods That Boost The Immune System, According To Doctors & Nutritionists

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Playing 5 Foods To Eat Right Now To Boost Your Immune System | Eat To Beat Disease Author Dr. William Li
5 Foods To Eat Right Now To Boost Your Immune System | Eat To Beat Disease Author Dr. William Li Aired May 01, 2020

Trying to stock up on immunity-boosting ingredients to incorporate into your diet while you stay home?

These are 22 of the best foods for immune health, according to doctors, authors and nutrition experts Dr. William Li, Dr. Rupy Aujla, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Dr. Ian Smith, Dr. Travis Stork, Keri Glassman and Max Lugavere — so add these immunity-boosting foods to your grocery list ASAP and reap the health benefits.

"We can make mindful decisions about our foods that can help us boost our defenses. It's not just about what we eat, it's about how our bodies respond to it," says internal medicine physician, research scientist and author of Eat To Beat Disease, Dr. William Li.

"Foods that contain vitamin C, vitamin D, zinc and vitamin B12 are particularly beneficial for our immune system. And the good news is these are foods that you probably already have in your refrigerator or pantry or can easily find on shelves at the grocery store right now."

1. MUSHROOMS

Our immune systems help us fight infection, and even diseases like cancer, Dr. Li says. "My number one food for activating immune defenses is mushrooms," he says. "They contain vitamin D and a fiber called beta glucan that increases our antibodies in our saliva, which helps our immunity."

Dr. Li says research also shows that while the mushroom cap is good for you, the stem of the mushroom is even better — it has twice the amount of beta glucan! So the next time you have mushrooms, eat the caps and the stems, he suggests. Shiitake, button, chanterelle, oyster — it doesn't matter.

"Another little trick about mushrooms," the doc adds, is that "when sunlight hits mushrooms it concentrates the vitamin D. So if you can leave them out every now and then by the window, it'll boost their benefits."

2. EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL

Next up is extra-virgin olive oil, "something great to sauté your mushrooms in," Dr. Li says. "EVOO ramps up the number of our immune cells and actually activates them," according to the doctor.

3. POMEGRANATE JUICE

"Pomegranate juice activates a healthy gut bacteria called Akkermansia," the doc says. "Research has shown that high levels of Akkermansia is good for our immunity, better for our immune response."

4. TOMATOES

Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C. The best part is, you can get the vitamin C benefit from any form of tomato — fresh, canned, puréed, dried, paste — it’s all good for you, says Dr. Li. This makes it easy for people to incorporate more vitamin C into their diets. Vitamin C is also found in broccoli, oranges, guava, blackberries and strawberries, the doc adds.

5. PECANS (+ OTHER NUTS & SEEDS)

Pecans are "a great source of fiber and healthy omega-3 fatty acids that are good for our immune system," according to Dr. Li.

"Research has shown that people who eat more nuts and seeds have longer telomeres, which means that eating nuts can slow down our cellular aging. We want to slow down our aging," Dr. Li tells Rach. "Nuts [also] have a lot of fiber which activates our healthy gut bacteria, which boosts our immune system."

Dr. Li says this healthy trail mix helps promote a healthy gut while boosting immunity and helping to slow down aging.

The cranberries in the trail mix also add antioxidants to the recipe, the doctor says. 

For a delicious recipe that packs in *5* immunity-boosting ingredients (mushrooms, pecans, tomatoes, EVOO and garlic), check out Chef Michael Schlow's Fettuccine with Immunity-Boosting Ingredients.

6. BROCCOLI SPROUTS

"Broccoli sprouts are baby broccoli plants that are great additions to salads and smoothies. Research shows that eating these actually pumps up your immune system against viruses," Dr. Li says.

7 & 8. BLUEBERRIES + BLACKBERRIES

"Research has shown that blueberries increase certain types of immune cells in healthy people," according to Dr. Li.

And blackberries, a source of vitamin C and dietary fiber, are "great for your gut bacteria, which means they're great for immunity," he says.

9. OYSTER SAUCE

Oyster sauce is used for sauces in Chinese food and is actually made from oysters. "Scientists have shown that extracts made from oysters can boost a healthy immune response and calm inflammation at the same time," according to Dr. Li.

10. GREEN TEA 

"A natural substance in green tea called EGCG calms inflammation and helps to reset immune systems to healthy levels," Dr. Li says.

"Green tea is consumed all the time in some of the world's blue zones where people live a long time," says Max Lugavere, brain health expert and author of Genius Foods. "It's known to have anti-inflammatory effects [and] anti-diabetic effects."

11. CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES

Broccolini, broccoli, cabbage, radishes and Brussels sprouts are all cruciferous vegetables, which are some of the most detoxifying veggies you can add to your diet, according to Max. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in nutrients including beta carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin K.

12. GARLIC 

Just like leeks and onions, garlic is an allium, which means it's beneficial for gut health, Max adds.

13. SPINACH + KALE

Copper is found in all of the body's tissues, according to Dr. Ian Smith. It plays a role in making red blood cells and maintaining nerve cells and the immune system, so it's necessary for survival.

We can get copper from leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as from incorporating shiitake mushrooms into our diet, Dr. Ian says — so make sure to grab those from the produce aisle, too!

14. PUMPERNICKEL + SOURDOUGH BREAD

"[The microbiome is] the healthy bacteria in our body — 39 trillion bacteria that boost our immune system, decrease inflammation and even help fight cancer," Dr. William Li, claims.

His number one food for the microbiome is... bread! (Certain kinds, of course.) 

Pumpernickel bread is made with rye, which Dr. Li says contains a natural substance that helps decrease harmful bacteria that can create toxins.

Also, according to Dr. Li, sourdough bread is made with a healthy bacteria that not only boosts your immune system, but also causes our brains to release oxytocin (a.k.a. the feel good hormone).

15. LEMON

"Green tea is great. But the way to make green tea even better is by adding some lemon to it," Max says. 

"Lemon is also loaded with vitamin C, like kale, but no one wants to put kale in their green tea," Max jokes. "By squeezing some vitamin C from the lemon into your green tea, you actually increase the absorption — the bioavailability — of the antioxidants in green tea by up to 13-fold."

16. HONEY

You can also add honey to your green tea with lemon, because it has additional health benefits beyond just soothing a sore throat!

"[Honey] contains powerful immune-boosting antioxidants," Dr. Mehmet Oz tells us, "and early evidence indicates it might help with blood sugar and cholesterol." It also has antibacterial and antimicrobial benefits, the doc says.

17 & 18. GINGER + TURMERIC 

Ginger and turmeric may play a role in immune support as they have been shown in small studies to reduce gut inflammation, according to Dr. Rupy Aujla, author of Eat To Beat Illness

He incorporates turmeric and ginger in his one-pan recipe for Coconut Chicken with Spicy Peas and Potato.

19. BELL PEPPERS

While you might think oranges and other citrus fruits are your best best when it comes to getting vitamin C, red, orange and yellow bell peppers actually contain more vitamin C than oranges do — nearly three times the amount. Plus, they're a great source of vitamin A.

Try making roasted bell peppers to serve as a healthy snack, salad topper, as a side dish or on a cheese board.

20. KEFIR 

Kefir is considered a probiotic, meaning it contains good bacteria that can support overall immune health and sometimes help relieve stomach aches, gas or bloating.

"I often recommend that people add at least one fermented food to their diets every day," says Keri Glassman, a celeb dietitian and founder of The Nutritious Life.

21. KIMCHI

Other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled cabbages, miso and tempeh also contain probiotics.

Dr. Travis Stork says a great way to increase your probiotic intake is to eat kimchi, spicy cabbage found in traditional Korean dishes. 

22. MISO

As a bonus, the fact that these ingredients balance your gut also means that they can lead to better skin, according to Dr. Nigma Talib. "Any imbalance in the gut can show up on the face as pimples and redness," says Dr. Nigma.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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