Fighting off more than just your common cold, here are some of the best immune system booster foods you can have as a vegan.
The importance of a healthy immune system is well-known. To protect yourself from infections and toxins, your body’s immune cells and response must be well-developed. And while there are many things you can do to fight off infections, like exercising, getting adequate sleep and avoiding smoking, a well-balanced diet is crucial for boosting your immune system.
Here are some of the best immune system booster foods you can add in your stir-fries and stews. Consider these chicken soup for the vegan soul.
This is not a medically reviewed article. Please consult your doctor for the appropriate medical advice, which will vary for different people.
Sweet potato is the gift that keeps on giving. The fibre-rich, cholesterol-free immune system booster food contains beta-carotene, which turns into vitamin A in your body. This vitamin deals with free radicals, which are molecules produced by the body when breaking down food and can damage cells.
One medium sweet potato can pack 120% of your daily vitamin A needs, and 30% of vitamin C requirements, which is amongst the most important nutrients to develop a healthy immune system. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and boosts the production of white blood cells, which help the body fight off infections.
Speaking of vitamin C, it hardly gets better than citrus fruits, almost all of which have high levels of this crucial vitamin. This includes lemons, limes, grapefruits, oranges, clementines, tangerines, and so much more.
The body doesn’t produce or store vitamin C, so it’s important to consume these immune system booster foods. A great way to incorporate citrus fruits in your meals is to add some acidity to your dishes to help brighten the flavours.
Red bell peppers
Peppers might have something to say about the vitamin C monopoly citrus fruits seem to hold. Well, at least red bell peppers, which contain as much as thrice the amount of vitamin C as oranges, and they’re also a strong source of beta-carotene, vitamins A, E and K1, and folate.
To preserve the health benefits of red bell peppers, roast them or put some in a stir-fry, which are better ways to cook them than boiling, both for nutritional value and flavour.
Another important (and delicious) food to build your immune response, dark chocolate contains theobromine, which can protect the immune cells from free radicals.
Dark chocolate usually is — and should be — vegan, as it only contains cocoa butter, soy lecithin and sugar as its main ingredients. Look for higher cocoa or cacao percentages, but always check the labels to see if the manufacturers have snuck in milk solids or skimmed milk powder somewhere.
Read our story exploring whether vegans have a better immune system.
The term ‘superfood’ can be overplayed, but not when it comes to spinach. This green is packed with fibre, vitamins C and A. It also contains a high concentration of folate, which repairs the body’s DNA, facilitates cell division and helps the body generate new cells.
The best way to eat spinach and make the most out of its health benefits is to eat it raw or lightly cook it.
Who doesn’t love garlic? Nobody, at least when you realise how it’s present in essentially every cuisine globally (excepting religious considerations, of course). While you may squint at raw garlic, it can fight bacteria, viruses and fungi and help beat skin infections.
It’s the alliin, which converts to allicin, that helps garlic deal with bacteria. It also has antiseptic and antifungal characteristics, and contains iron, phosphorous and vitamins B1, B6 and C.
Another superfood adored by vegans, sunflower seeds are full of minerals like phosphorus and magnesium as well as vitamins B6 and E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant and regulates the function of immune cells by fighting off free radicals.
Vitamin B6 is found in poultry, and is vital in the formation of new red blood cells. So next time you have the common cold, add some sunflower seeds to your diet. They’re also a great source of selenium, which can combat viral infections.
Like the sweet potato, broccoli is one of the healthiest vegetables you can consume. It’s packed with nutrients like vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, C and E, fibres and many powerful antioxidants, including glutathione and sulforaphane, which can help boost your immune system.
Try and cook broccoli as little as possible — steaming or stir-frying it is usually considered the most appropriate way to keep its nutritional value intact.
A staple in East Asian cooking, this deep yellow spice is a revered anti-inflammatory ingredient that has for years been used in treating rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Turmeric gets its colour from the high concentration of curcumin, which can decrease muscle damage induced by exercise. Curcumin has also shown potential as an immune system booster as well as an antiviral, which makes food with turmeric a great way to improve the body’s immune response.
You can use it in your tea, cookies or tofu marinades; ginger is amongst the most versatile ingredients you’ll find in global cuisines. Ginger tea is a go-to when people suffer from the common cold or a sore throat.
Its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties make it a great immunity system booster food. It can also help with nausea and reduce chronic pain. The most optimal way to use ginger is by adding it fresh in curries, tea (also great for boosting your immune system) and stir-fries.