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Bracing Ourselves: The 10 Best Foods To Strengthen Our Immune System (And 10 That Won't Help At All)

When we’re feeling under the weather, we’re always looking frantically for the perfect cure. Eat 20 oranges? Do a juice cleanse? Eat raw garlic? Spend your month’s savings on multivitamins? It’s hard when all you can do is sit at home feeling crummy, so naturally, we look for whatever might help. Unfortunately, we hear a lot of myths surrounding ‘How To Boost Your Immune System’—most of which are more buck than their bang. Also, ‘boosting’ your immune system is actually the opposite of what we want to do—being sick is a boosted immune response to bacteria or a virus! So, what we want to do is strengthen our immune system to prevent us from getting sick in the first place.

Fighting off nutrient deficiencies is key to maintaining a healthy immune system. This means eating a well-balanced diet, with plenty of fruits, vegetables, and protein sources. There are some foods, however, that provide oodles of beneficial nutrients, so they're worthwhile including in your diet on the regular. The research isn’t conclusive on some foods’ ability to actually prevent illness, but including them in your diet is a sure fire way to help your body do its thing.

There are some foods that are really just a load of hogwash trying to get you to empty your wallet for them. Or... well... the people who are selling them. Skip the stuff you buy in a bottle and go straight to the source—the fruit and vegetable section of your supermarket. Read on to find out which foods will give you the best bang for your buck!

20 Help: Spinach

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It’s no wonder that Popeye’s go-to for an energy boost is a big can of spinach. High in plant-based iron, spinach definitely needs more credit for how good it actually is. Iron deficiencies can be a common root of getting ill, so making sure you eat enough iron in your diet is essential. Eating cooked spinach also means that you’ll absorb higher levels of nutrients, as the cooking process makes them more available for your body to absorb. Plus, spinach is high in vitamin K, C, calcium, and various antioxidants! Gently sauté with extra virgin olive oil, black pepper, and lemon juice for a side dish that would put Popeye’s can to shame.

19 Won't Help: Ice Cream

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While cold ice cream might help soothe your sore throat temporarily, it’s not exactly the best choice while you’re feeling under the weather. I know, I know... you could really go for some cookies and cream right now. But high in sugar and saturated fat, ice cream isn’t going to be as helpful with healing your body than something that’s packed with nutrients. Another way to soothe your throat could be to try blending some ice with some mango or other fruits and a dash of honey. Not only is that going to be super yum; it’ll also be gentle on your throat and provide you with some healthier nutrients.

18 Help: Garlic

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Believe it or not, garlic can not only ward off vampires but also help ward off your run-of-the-mill cold. Garlic is believed to have powerful antibacterial and anti-fungal properties, so eating it can help blow any bug out of your system. Allicin is the key property in garlic that does this. We also know that garlic is good for your gut health, so that’s another way to strengthen your immune system! Double immune power. Confession: I once ate two whole cloves of garlic when I came down with a cold, and although I smelt like garlic for the next two days, it worked a treat! If you don’t want to go down that route, where you’ll repel more than just vampires (your friends will probably want to keep a safe distance from you, too), then try just adding garlic to your daily meals.

17 Won't Help: Turmeric

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Surprised that this zesty little orange superfood actually doesn’t work miracles? Don’t worry; we were, too. While we’ve seen that doses of curcumin, a property in turmeric, can have beneficial effects against inflammation, your turmeric latte probably isn’t going to do a whole lot for that. Curcumin also needs to be taken with specific agents to increase its absorption, so a teaspoon of ground turmeric just won’t cut it. With that being said, it can definitely be soothing on the throat, though, to have a nice, warm, spicy drink, so still enjoy it. Just remember, you’re not actually drinking warm, liquid gold.

16 Help: Broccoli

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Broccoli is one of those vegetables that don’t have to try to let us know it’s good for us. Rich in Vitamins A, C, E, and K, it’s absolutely packed with nutrients, and including it in your diet on the regular is a sure fire way to help keep your system at its best. The stems of broccoli are actually super healthy as well and have less strong of a flavor than the florets, so chop them up, and throw them all into the dish of your choice. Once it’s cooked, you could even blend it up with your favorite pesto for a level up on your pasta dish.

15 Won't Help: Coffee

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Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things to fight off bugs. While caffeine might give you an energy boost and make you feel a little better, be careful not to overdo it so much so that it interferes with your sleep. Keep your caffeine intake to a minimum, especially later in the day. With that being said, your extra strong mocha caramel frappuccino probably won’t help a whole lot, considering all the added sugar and fat. Instead, try sipping on some herbal tea when you’re under the weather, and take the time to nap at any available opportunity.

14 Help: Strawberries

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Just in case we weren’t given enough reasons to love a big, juicy, red strawberry, turns out they can help keep you healthy as well. Higher than oranges in vitamin C, 6 large berries will have you meeting your recommended daily intake. Now, while we know that high doses of Vitamin C don’t actually prevent colds, we do know that taking enough Vitamin C every day is super important for your body to function. So basically, eating fresh fruits and vegetables will help prevent certain illnesses—we do know that much for sure! Strawberries are also high in antioxidants and other nutrients and are one of the less sugary fruits out there. Chop chop!

13 Won't Help: Canned Soups

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While there’s something so nice about a warm bowl of soup to help banish your bug, it’s best to go to the effort of making your own at home. Canned soups are often very high in sodium and preservatives, so they might be doing more harm than good. Generally, soups are a great way of keeping yourself hydrated and nourished with a serving of steamy vegetables. If you don’t have the energy to make your own and cans are all you have, just have a look at the sodium content on the nutrition information panel at the back. Less than 400mg per 100g, and you’re good to go.

12 Help: Dairy

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Despite popular belief, research shows that dairy doesn’t make colds worse or increase mucus production. So, with that in mind, know that dairy has many benefits that can help keep your body strong. Dairy is great because it’s high in calcium, protein, and vitamin B12, amongst others. So, whether it’s milk, cheese, or yogurt that tickles your fancy, try including 1-2 servings of dairy in your daily eating. Yogurt may have extra benefits due to containing probiotics, which help your gut. Just be careful of ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ varieties—check if they have heaps of added sugar. Natural yogurt is probably your best bet, and add some fruit to sweeten it up.

11 Won't Help: Chocolate

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Don’t get me wrong—chocolate is delicious. And if you want to treat yourself, go for it. Just don’t kid yourself that it’s high in antioxidants—mostly, chocolate you buy at the store is so processed any benefits go out the window. Plus, the actual amount of cocoa solids is probably not that significant when you take into account the added fat and sugar. Even dark chocolate isn’t going to miraculously anti-oxidize your body just because it’s a little more bitter. It’s all yum, but it's probably not going to do much in the way of helping your body get better. Enjoy whatever chocolate you like in moderation!

10 Help: Salmon

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Salmon has long been given a bad rap because it’s a fattier fish. Chunky yet funky, salmon is actually one of the healthiest foods you can grace your table with. High in protein and super rich in omega 3 and healthy fats, salmon has been seen to have heaps of health benefits. It’s also high in antioxidants and Vitamin B12, so don’t judge this fishy book by its cover. Try to eat salmon at least 3 days a week—you can bake it, grill it, barbecue it—you name it. For a different take on salmon, try marinating it in some honey and soy sauce, then baking in the oven with some potatoes. Bon appétit!

9 Won't Help: Fast Food

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Look, I get it. When you’re sick in bed, the last thing you want to do is cook for yourself. The easiest thing to do is reach for your phone and order whatever food will get there the quickest—pizza, burgers, fries, the lot. Plus, it’s comfort food, right? Sure, it might make you feel a little better at the moment, but fast food is high in saturated fat, sodium, and simple carbohydrates. It’s also low in pretty much any beneficial nutrient aside from that one piece of lettuce in your burger (which hey, still give yourself props for that—you’re doing great!). Nowadays, we’re lucky to have so many food delivery options, so try to go for some healthier options, like sushi, salads, or stir-fries.

8 Help: Chicken Soup

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There’s a reason why your grandma always insisted on bringing over a pot of chicken noodle soup when you were feeling under the weather. Bone broth has been known for its healing properties for a long time, as it’s hydrating, packed with nutrients, can help clear nasal congestion, and can have mild anti-inflammatory effects. Plus, there’s nothing like a warm bowl of soup to snuggle up to a night of Netflix on your couch with when you have a case of the sniffles. Everyone will have their own special take on the perfect recipe for chicken soup, so if you’re feeling up to it, try your hand at your own!

7 Won't Help: Eating Nothing At All

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Some people think that when you’re sick, you should eat nothing at all. Particularly if you don’t have much of an appetite, it can be hard to eat all the foods you know are good for you—if you can eat at all. That being said, we need food for energy! Depriving your body of energy means it will take longer to recover, so intentionally avoiding food is a big no-no. Always eat whatever you can manage—even if it’s something small—to help your body do its thing more efficiently. Not to mention, not eating will probably make you feel even worse. Hangry is a thing!

6 Help: Ginger

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A hot cup of ginger, honey, and lemon tea has always been the perfect remedy for that awful winter cold. This is because ginger is well known for it’s anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative effects on the body. Ginger has also been used for centuries to help with nausea, and there’s nothing better than that warm ginger tea to help soothe a sore throat. You can even add ginger to smoothies, salad dressings, stir-fries, and pretty much any food you can think of. Even sweet foods, like gingerbread men, do ginger justice. When you’re sick, though, stick to the least processed foods you can—it’s hard to beat a fresh ginger root!

5 Won't Help: Multivitamins

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Multivitamins tend to be one of those things that cost you a lot of money but don’t actually do a whole lot of good. Sure, they contain lots of vitamins but in such small amounts, they probably won’t do much. If you have a deficiency, look into supplementation under medical advice. If you look into what’s actually in a multivitamin, you’ll notice that the amounts of vitamins they actually contain are next to nothing or something you could get from just a small handful of the right foods. If you feel you’re lacking in something (but don’t have a diagnosed deficiency), just follow a healthy, balanced diet, and you’ll be getting all the nutrients you need!

4 Help: Olive Oil

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Extra virgin olive oil is the perfect addition to salad dressings or pretty much anything that requires oil. Since the whole coconut oil craze, we’ve now learned that extra virgin olive oil is one of the best and safest oils to cook with. It’s high in antioxidants and healthy fats, and its anti-inflammatory properties have been proven. There’s a reason why it’s a core component of the Mediterranean—olive oil has been seen to have numerous health benefits. Next time you’re cooking almost anything savory, add a generous dash of olive oil and watch the flavor and health benefits come to life!

3 Won't Help: Chlorophyll

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Yeah, eating the icky green stuff to improve your health is a myth. You may ask, “What even is chlorophyll?” It’s the term used to describe a collection of green pigments mainly found in plants. Unfortunately, there are no scientifically known benefits of chlorophyll, despite seeing all over the internet that it's a superfood—most of which, anyway, don’t do a whole lot except for emptying out your wallet. Green vegetables are good for you because of all the vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber, they provide—not because of the chlorophyll they contain. So, when it comes to ‘superfoods,’ it’s generally a safe bet to assume you’re better off saving your cash and just eating plenty of fruits and vegetables!

2 Help: Eggs

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No, not chocolate eggs. Good ol’ chicken eggs are packed with protein, healthy fats, and Vitamins D and B12. Eating 7 eggs a week can provide you with many benefits because they’re basically a perfect bundle of nutrients in a handful. Even quail and ostrich eggs are great, but they’re a little more difficult to find than chicken eggs. Try scrambling, frying, or baking eggs for breakfast every day—if you’re culinarily gifted, even try poached eggs. Just popping them on toast with a side of vegetables, like grilled tomato, potato, mushrooms, and avocado is the perfect meal to start your day. Egg-cellent!

1 Won't Help: Juices

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The concept of a juice cleanse is really appealing. “Give your system a break,” they say. What they neglect to realize is that your system doesn’t really need a break—your liver is there to detoxify your body. It doesn’t need the help of some juices! Juicing fruits removes the fiber content, which is important for digestion. If it’s the only fluid you can manage, go for it, but remember, juices are high in sugar and low in this essential fiber. Instead, try eating some fresh fruit that you enjoy, or make a smoothie, so that all the good stuff stays in your drink.

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