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Whether you are the type to get sick every season or rarely experience symptoms, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s best to boost your immune system in advance to give it a fighting chance. Sorry, I really didn’t mean to rhyme but now I can’t undo it.
We are all coming off our holiday sugar binges with renewed resolve to eat healthier this year. Right?
Or, perhaps you jumped into 2022 at full speed and haven’t had time to think about your habits, much less your immune system. Does that hit more true to home?
You know what they say, if you take care of your body, it will take care of you.
On the contrary, if we are constantly stretching it thin, making it work harder, and neglecting to refuel appropriately, our immune system’s defenses deteriorate.
The issue is, we often don’t think to build our immunity walls until we have already caught a bug. Unfortunately, there’s no instant cure for a weakened immune system.
Oh, sure, there’s medicine and antibiotics to fight infections.
But maintaining a healthy immune system takes time, dedication, and a holistic approach. Just like stress can affect us mentally, emotionally, and even physically (more about that here), our immune systems are also impacted by our entire lifestyle.
There’s good news, though. You can naturally boost your immune system with simple, accessible, and affordable methods, which will ultimately save you in the long run by preventing sickness and doctor visits.
Foods to Boost Immunity
Truthfully, maintaining a healthy immune system has more to do with what foods to avoid rather than which ones to pack onto your plate.
Of course, life is all about balance. To tell anyone to never eat processed foods and sugars just isn’t realistic. However, many studies show a strong correlation between increased inflammation and low immunity.
Inflammation, it turns out, is largely caused by consuming high amounts of sugar, trans fats, and even caffeine.
But what is a high amount? On average, Americans intake about 70 grams of sugar per day. If you’re wondering, that’s 3 times the recommended allowance!
One soda can is about 25 grams, as well as most favorite, fancy coffee drinks. While these are examples of processed “bad” sugar, naturally occurring fructose can be just as damaging since it’s all the same to the liver (source).
At first, giving up these sweet concoctions can be painful. Once you start feeling the benefits of the nourishing, whole-health foods you replace them with, however, your sugar cravings will fade tremendously.
Okay, what healthy, immune boosting foods do you need to incorporate into your diet?
Nutritional information for just about any ingredient is found on Google.
But I asked my nutritionist mother for her top recommended immune boosting foods. She made it clear that these foods are important to include in your diet consistently, not just when you’re feeling sick.
Keep in mind, some foods from this list directly impact immune system while others help to detox our bodies, which can then make it easier for our bodies to rebuild immunity.
Fresh produce – especially greens!
Broccoli, spinach, collard greens, arugula, and kale are highest in antioxidants, minerals, and vitamin C.
These cruciferous veggies are fibrous. So, if you struggle to digest raw greens, I suggest steaming them or adding them to stir fry meals, soups, or omelets.
However, colorful vegetables and fruits like bell peppers and strawberries are also high in vitamin C, but unlike always-advertised oranges, they are also low in fructose and acidity.
The amino acids in real bone broth (made by boiling down hearty meat bones) fight inflammation, alleviate cold symptoms, strengthen bones and teeth, aid digestion, and boost immunity.
Although it is best to make it yourself, most of us don’t have that kind of time. If you can’t get it fresh, you can find good quality bone broth in powder form or frozen at your local health store (I get mine at Fry’s and Sprouts).
Containing over 500 enzymes, 30 amino acids, and 60 trace minerals, ginger has proven to make our bodies less reactive to infections.
This spicy root encourages B12 production, flushes lactic acid, and is antibacterial. But it can also aid in soothing a sore throat, relieve a tension headache, and settle an upset stomach.
If you suffer from any of the latter, pour yourself a hot cup of ginger tea. To incorporate it into your everyday diet, grate fresh ginger into salad dressings, stir fry dishes, soup broths, or eat it pickled on your next sushi date!
Curcumin gives turmeric its yellow-orange hue, and it is a powerful warrior against inflammation.
Doctors recommend about 500 mg of turmeric twice per day with meals heavy in heart-healthy fats like avocado, nuts, and seeds. You can use it as a spice or freshly grated from the root in curry dishes, smoothies, soups, and roasted vegetables.
Low in calories but high in fiber and micronutrients, daikon radish is a powerful antioxidant which helps to reduce free radicals in the body and protect against chronic diseases. Thus, due to its water-solubility and vitamin C concentration, daikon is a must for immune function.
I like to use it in stir fry dishes as well as miso soup. Although it is in the radish family, it is less spicy and bitter than other radishes.
Often called a perfect superfood, eggs are the best balance in protein and heart-healthy fat. They’re also one of few foods that provide a substantial amount of vitamin D.
Miso soup, beet kvass, fermented and cultured vegetables (traditionally known as sauerkraut, but you’ll want the non-cooked stuff), and raw Greek yogurt are all essential for happy gut health.
Although they might take some getting used to, probiotics and prebiotics fight against pathogens and microorganisms, especially along mucosal areas like the nose, mouth, and along our intestinal tract.
Additionally, these vitamin K and B producing foods break down harmful yeast and bacteria in our bodies, kicking our immune system into high gear (source).
Whether it’s a cup of live-culture yogurt in the mornings, a bowl of miso broth and seaweed at lunch, or a few bites of kimchi with your evening meal, probiotics should be consumed along with every meal to promote healthy digestion and to aid our bodies in retaining all available nutrients from our meals.
Full of trace nutrients that help replenish virus-preventing T-cells in our blood, garlic’s excess sulfur also aids our digestion in absorbing zinc, which is an immune system necessity.
In several studies, garlic acted as an antibiotic, fighting off toxins and even parasites within the human body.
The best way to dose up on garlic is to chop up raw cloves and swallow them like pills. The less cooked it is, the more potent it is toward germs.
However, a more favorable way to consume it is to toss it in some olive oil and roast it on a sheet pan with other nutritious veggies like sweet potato, zucchini, and cauliflower.
Although zinc is found in a few forms, the most absorbable type for humans is found in animal products.
In order to obtain enough zinc per day, we should be consuming at least 2-3 servings of these staples:
· Seafood like salmon, tuna, halibut, sardines, and oysters are packed with omega-3s, selenium (which can diminish viral mutation and reduce inflammation), B vitamins, iron, as well as zinc.
· Red meat such as lamb and grass-fed beef.
· Pumpkin seeds – feel free to roast and salt these, but don’t overdo it. Add them to salads, trail mix, or homemade granola for an additional punch of protein and healthy fat.
· Hemp seeds – another superfood with the perfect blend of protein and fat, these little nutty seeds taste great in yogurt, homemade granola, smoothies, or sprinkled on salads.
· Lentils – if you are avoiding animal products, this could be a good alternative, but you’ll have to consume quite a bit to meet the same percentage!
Supplements and Vitamins
We all know vitamin C is the powerhouse. But what isn’t commonly known is that our bodies need vitamin D and E, as well as other trace minerals, amino acids, and fats to absorb and transform vitamin C into something useful for a healthy immune system.
As mentioned, these nutrients are found in several foods. But one can only eat so much in a day.
Plus, if you are trying to give your immune system a boost in preparation for cold and flu season or for a time you’ll be exposed to concentrated germs (i.e. during holiday travel), you might consider amping up on extra supplements and vitamins.
Of course, you will want to consult your physician or naturopath. Not only can they determine the amount you should take to avoid overconsumption, they can also recommend the highest quality brands.
Turmeric capsules may be prescribed by doctors for those suffering from severe inflammation.
If you can’t afford to incorporate seafood into your regular diet, look into taking fish oils on a daily basis. The liquid form is more potent and more readily absorbed as opposed to capsules.
While I can’t really vouch for the Emergen-C packets as a quality source due to the sugar content, I can recommend Liquid I.V.’s tangerine flavored immune support powder.
These packets do contain sugar, but it is in its purest, unrefined form and combined with salt and other nutrients to function as electrolytes and antioxidants when consumed.
Immune Boosting Essential Oils
Not everyone is a believer in essential oils. With all the gimmicks out there, it’s understandable. But where there are counterfeits, there is always a legitimate source.
Many essential oils on retail shelves are low quality. The FDA requires only about 10% of a pure extract in a bottle to consider it 100% pure, even if the rest of the bottle is glycerin. If you’re scratching your head, no, it doesn’t make any sense.
However, brands like DoTerra are a Certified Pure Tested Grade, meaning every drop contains exactly what it is supposed to and nothing else.
Bottom line, essential oils are another form of medicine that have actually been around much longer than modern medicine. God placed them on earth for our benefit.
Just like food and plants that we use daily for nourishment, teas, and even cosmetic products, essential oils derive from the same sources in concentrated forms to be used externally and internally for various treatments.
DoTerra offers several oil blends packed with immune boosting qualities.
Two favorites are OnGuard and Breathe.
OnGuard combines cloves, cinnamon, and wild orange extracts which all support a healthy immune system and, when taken internally, are powerful antioxidants. The Breathe blend includes melaleuca, eucalyptus, laurel leaf, peppermint, and other oils which all aid the respiratory system.
Many single oils can stimulate your immune system as well and help prevent infection from spreading.
is known for binding toxins like heavy metals. Keep it on hand to take internally either by adding it to a recipe or a few drops in a capsule so it can cleanse and detox your body naturally.
tastes similar to anise seed and, my favorite, black licorice. More importantly, it aids a healthy digestion and has calmed many an upset stomach! If taken internally, it is can promote metabolic function and blood circulation as well.
is a natural surface cleaner and also supports a healthy immune system when taken internally.
Oregano and Thyme oils...
are actually just as effective in killing off bad bacteria as your normal household cleaners, but without all the harsh chemicals.
is a balm to the throat and mouth and helps to heal from the inside out.
There are several other single DoTerra oils that naturally boost immunity. Find them on this page.
Physical Habits for Immune Health
When we think of immune system health, our initial reaction is to eat vitamin-rich foods and take immune boosting supplements.
However, we forget that the mind and body go hand-in-hand. Our bodies are constantly thwarting attacks left and right without our awareness 99% of the time.
But stress can have just as much impact on our overall wellness and physical being. To deflect physical and mental stress from eventually chipping away at our immune system, we should also take our physical habits into consideration.
Keeping a routine is a smart way to teach yourself boundaries with workload and time management.
Even small changes like slowing down to mindfully eat a meal, having a genuine conversation with a loved one, and getting fresh air and sunshine during the week can immensely offset various stressors.
If our mind is in the right place, our body will follow suit, making us more likely to repel and overcome attacks against our immune system.
Additionally, these are a few physical behaviors we can implement to rid our bodies of built up tension and give them time to restore and replenish our immune health each day.
Drink half your body weight in ounces of water.
H2O carries oxygen through our blood stream, promoting functional circulation, cognitive awareness, and optimal digestion.
Avoid excess caffeine, alcohol, and sugary drinks which can slow you down and lower your immune system.
I recommend these coffee alternatives if you still need the placebo effect.
While this seems like an obvious one, it’s often the first thing we sacrifice when we are stressed or have a busy schedule.
If our brains don’t get the down time, our bodies don’t get to fully repair overnight, which in turn means a significant weakening of our immune system.
See more ways to rest here.
Detox Bath or Foot bath
You don’t have to soak for hours if you don’t have time to.
Just dump some Epsom salts into warm water along with essential oils like those mentioned above to draw out toxins like heavy metals, chemicals, and other pollutants our bodies absorb.
Not only does exercise help with routine, it helps regulate our energy levels so we can rest when we are supposed to.
Sweating also releases toxins so our immune systems don’t have to work quite so hard. You don’t have to run a mile or hit the gym.
Check out these creative ways to burn calories to get inspired!
Blood circulation allows our bodies to dispose of toxins.
Stretching our limbs and joints prevents inflammation and bodily fatigue and keeps tension at bay.
When we are at ease, our bodies don’t have to work so hard to get us to relax, so they can focus on our immune health instead.
Deep tissue massages and facials
Not everyone can afford this one too often. But whether you pamper yourself a few times per year, splurge on a massage gun (a favorite from our wedding registry last year), or take a jade or rose quartz roller to your face during the week, massages and facials have a similar effect as stretching.
More importantly, a massage can help drain our lymphatic system, which can get backed up with toxins.
Final Thoughts on Immune Health
Every body is different. Doctors will tell you that certain drugs will work for some patients but not for others.
While I’m thankful for the advances of modern medicine, I tend to avoid a visit to the doctor as much as possible.
However, there is little dispute about the above natural methods to boost your immune system.
Unless you consume them in exorbitant measures, there are no side effects to worry about. Since they are all found in nature, you can rest assured they were specifically created with humans in mind.
And we can all agree that general hygiene like brushing your teeth, washing your hands, and refraining from sharing drinks are good practices to continue.
This year, take your health into your own hands. Don’t wait for a sickness to string you out. Start implementing these healthy behaviors now so your immune health is prepared for whatever comes next!