Feel a cold coming on? Don’t sweat it – we’ve listed our Top 40 foods to help nourish and revitalise your body, and give your immune system a serious boost in the process. Combine with plenty of sleep and exercise for maximum effect.
1) Red Peppers
The jury is out on whether vitamin C consumption directly aids the curing of the common cold , but what has been proven is that dosing up on the antioxidant can significantly reduce the symptoms, strengthening the skin – your body’s first line of defence – and increasing antibody production. Red bell peppers contain almost twice the amount of vitamin C in most vegetables and fruits – including oranges – so try adding some fresh slices to a salad or whizzing up in a tasty gazpacho.
Formed from the nectar of the Manuka bush, this sweet treat native to New Zealand is sought-after for its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, which can fight infection in the body. Some health experts claim that eating a couple of spoons a day promotes good digestion and rejuvenation during sleep too, while applying it directly to problem areas can help to combat conditions such as eczema, acne, ulcers, and accelerate the healing time of wounds and scars. We’re stocking up now!
Want to protect yourself from coughs, colds, flu, and other unpleasant illnesses? Try adding a couple of cloves of garlic – raw, if possible – to your evening meal. Garlic not only contains powerful toxin-battling antioxidants, it also hosts a naturally-occurring chemical called allicin, which reacts with the blood to create a product capable of killing off harmful bacteria and viruses. Just have the chewing gum on standby…
4) Green Tea
The Chinese have raved about the health benefits of green tea for centuries, and, hundreds of years later, it turns out they were spot on: the refreshing beverage is abnormally high in antioxidants. “Antioxidants protect the body from over-production of free radicals, which cause damage to proteins, fats, carbohydrates and DNA in the body,” says Dr Elisabeth Weichselbaum, an expert from the British Nutrition Foundation. Pick up a box from your supermarket and reap the benefits.
Not keen on garlic? Try onions– the pungent bulbs contain a powerful natural chemical called quercetin, which can boost the immune system’s defences against bacterial infections and viruses, reduce inflammation and bloating in the body, ease digestion and detoxify the blood. Add to this the lowering of cholesterol in the blood stream, the safe destruction of food poisoning bacteria E.coli and salmonella, and we’re all wondering why we don’t eat onions more often.
Ever wondered why Bugs Bunny never came down with the flu? We suspect his diet of carrots, carrots and more carrots may have had something to do with it. The orange vegetable contains high amounts of beta carotene, which is a powerful plant nutrient that boosts the immune system’s production of infection-fighting white blood cells. To get the most out of your carrots, eat them raw – try shredding a few over a tasty salad, or blend into a smoothie.
These slippery characters can do a lot more for the human body than simply boost your libido. Oysters are also one of the most potent sources of zinc you can find – a nutrient that helps infection-fighting white blood cells and other antibodies reproduce faster. It also makes your existing defences more aggressive so they have a better chance of beating the bug. Not keen on shellfish? Try zinc-rich wheatgerm, sesame, pumpkin seeds or dark chocolate.
8) Chilli Pepper
Aside from the fact that chilli is great for boosting the metabolism, a single pepper also contains a full day’s supply of beta carotene and twice your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C – an essential antioxidant that helps to battle toxins and foreign bodies in the blood stream. So ditch the buckets of orange juice, and opt for adding a spicy low calorie chilli to your meals instead. Not bad for the sinuses either if you’re blocked up with a cold…
Got a sore tummy? Along with peppermint, ginger is one of the best foods you can eat to aid digestion and fight inflammation in the stomach – which can even make for a flatter tummy if it’s consumed as part of a balanced, low-calorie diet. Ginger is also a powerful antioxidant, and can also help to stimulate your circulation, aiding detoxification, and cleanse the colon. Try slicing a small amount into a stir fry or opt for some ginger herbal tea for a great caffeine-free after-dinner drink.
Eating live, foreign bacteria may seem a little strange, but consuming the types of natural organisms found in yogurt can actually do your immune system the world of good. Natural, plain yogurt contains “good bacteria” that is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system, while some even help fight harmful bacteria like salmonella and even viral infections. Try to include a serving with your breakfast, or as part of a smoothie.
If you’re looking for a great immune system-boosting all-rounder, give broccoli a whirl. Rich in vitamins A, C, E and beta carotene, it contains plentiful amounts of almost all of the top immune system nutrients, as well as other potent health boosters. Plus, it’s great value for money and easy to cook. Eat raw to get the most out of your florets, or stir fry with some of the other ingredients in our Top 20 (like garlic, chilli and ginger) for a tasty cold-busting cure.
12) Leafy Greens
Bored of eating broccoli? Opt for nutrient-rich leafy greens such as kale, spinach, mustard greens and turnip greens instead. Much like our immune system-boosting friend, these tasty morsels are packed full of beta carotene, vitamins A, C, iron and zinc, but also vitamin E, which can be difficult to find in large quantities in the diet. Why not steam together for a delicious hot salad, or add to soups or stir fries for a bit of variety?
13) Sweet Potato
We’re struggling to think of a better way to top up our vitamin A and beta carotene levels this winter than snacking on a bowl of sweet potato wedges. Not only are they full to the brim with anti-oxidising nutrients, but they’re also a great source of fibre and slow-release energy, keeping your blood sugar levels at a regular pace, and tackling fatigue head-on. Peel, cut into thick wedges, and roast in the oven with a little olive oil for a healthy treat.
Mushrooms the most mysterious of all the foods we’ve listed here, as the exact components that make them such powerful health boosters are not fully known. What is known is that mushrooms aid the production of white blood cells in the body, which fight infection and harmful bacteria. They also make existing cells more aggressive to foreign bodies. Shiitake and maitake are the best – you should be able to find these in most good supermarkets.
Feel a cold coming on? Guava is one of the richest sources of vitamin C you can find. As we’ve learned, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and combined with other nutrients in the fruit such as calcium, phosphorous, iron and quercetin – a nutrient which defends against bacterial infections and viruses, reduces inflammation, eases digestion and detoxifies the blood – it’s pretty unbeatable. Can’t get hold of fresh? Opt for tinned instead.
16) Brazil Nuts
Along with shellfish, brown rice and egg yolks, Brazil nuts are particularly good sources of selenium – a mineral which actively increases the number of white blood cells in the body and strengthens their fighting power. Packed full of iron, anti-oxidant vitamin E, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium and calcium (phew!), just a few nuts a day is enough to boost your immunity and keep your skin – your body’s first defence – looking glowing.
Ever wondered why a good, hot curry works a treat when you’re feeling ropey? Asides from the mega combination of immune system-boosters like garlic, ginger, and chilli, turmeric as powerful health properties of its own. The yellow spice contains a naturally occurring chemical called curcumin, which has anti-inflammatory effects and infection-fighting properties. The powder itself also has antiseptic qualities when applied topically, and can be used to clean cuts, burns.
One of the best ways to flush toxins out of your system? Make sure you drink plenty of water. It’s inexpensive and is your body’s best defence against dehydration. Symptoms of dehydration can include fatigue, headaches, weakness, nausea and even muscle cramps, so it makes sense to keep your fluid levels topped up, especially if you’re feeling under the weather. Try to aim for drinking at least two litres of water a day – more if you exercise.
Ever wondered what the point is to this peppery green herb, often found in Italian foods such as pizza and pasta?Well, oregano is one of the most anti-oxidant leaves you can snack on, and is particularly high in phenolic acids and flavonoids – two nutrients that ease inflammation and help to protect against illnesses like the common cold, flu, fevers and indigestion. Combined with garlic, tomatoes, and onions? The humble herb is a fantastic health booster.
Hot water, fresh lemon juice, manuka honey and ginger – is there any better immune system-boosting beverage than that to combat the sniffles? We doubt it. Aside from being packed full of vitamin C, lemons are ideal for restoring the body’s acid-alkali balance, which keeps your insides at a steady pH. This means your body is able to better support healthy bacteria, instead of viruses and foreign bodies which thrive and multiple in more acidic environments.
The mineral selenium – which can also be found in many vegetables, nuts and seafood – increases the body’s production of natural killer cells.
22) Egg Yolk
Egg yolks are rich sources of both zinc and selenium – both of which can encourage glowing skin and a clear complexion, as well as helping the body to fight off infection. Other foods rich in selenium include…
23) Brown Rice
… Brown rice, which is also packed full of energising B-vitamins to help you stave off a seasonal cold. Also, try…
24) Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese, which is packed with selenium, calcium and other immune system-boosting minerals. The low fat cheese is also high in protein, which can help your body to repair damaged tissue.
A tad out of season during the winter months, but if you can get hold of it, watermelon is a great health booster because it contains a powerful antioxidant known as glutathione. Gluthathione helps to strengthen the immune system so it can fight off infections.
Cabbage is another good source of the antioxidant glutathione. Shred finely and add to stir-fries or sneak into soups to get your fix.
Hot and spicy foods like mustard contain naturally occurring mucolytics. Mucolytics liquefy the thick mucus that accumulates in the sinuses when you are suffering from a nasty cold or flu, and can help to clear them. Hot foods also have a metabolism-boosting effect, which can give you a burst of much-needed energy if you’re feeling fatigued.
Elderberry is a traditional remedy for common illnesses, and has even been shown to inhibit flu viruses from taking hold in some studies. This is most likely because the berries are rich in toxin-battling antioxidants and high in vitamin C.
For health-giving properties, almonds really are top of the nuts. As well as containing high levels of vitamin E, they are rich in B-vitamins, protein and complex carbohydrates, all of which contribute to a stable immune system.
Like all citrus fruits, grapefruit is a particularly good source of vitamin C, which can help the body fight off infection by encouraging the production of white blood cells.
Rosemary contains immune-system boosting ingredients like carnosol, which is also believed to have memory-enhancing properties. The aromatic herb is also known to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties, which tackle foreign cells that could potentially turn cancerous.
Similarly, thyme is also a good herb to add to dishes if you’re feeling under the weather. It contains thymol, a strong antiseptic and antibacterial essential oil, often used in mouthwashes and for the treatment of inflammations.
33) Black Pepper
Even humble black pepper has healing qualities. Not only can it decrease inflammation, but it is naturally anti-bacterial, full of antioxidants and can aid digestion, too.
Sage has been used for centuries for its various healing properties. Not only is it a powerful antioxidant, but it is anti-septic, can help to rid the body of mucus and even act as a stress relief.
Asparagus is a good source of strengthening calcium and health-fortifying vitamin C. It also provides the body with vitamin K – an essential healing component which is used in blood clotting.
Tropical fruits like papaya tend to contain high amounts of vitamin C. But did you know the fruit is reach in a natural enzyme called papain? Papain aids the body’s digestive process and can ease problems associated with the area.
Apricots are particularly high in vitamin A – a powerful antioxidant which fights unwanted toxins in the body. It also helps to protect your eyesight.
Tomatoes are full of an antioxidant called lycopene, which not just aids the body’s natural defences against harmful free radicals, but is also thought to help prevent the onset of certain forms of cancer, among other illnesses.
Oily fish like mackerel are particularly nutritious forms of low calorie protein. Packed full of omega 3 and 6, calcium, selenium, magnesium, potassium, folate, niacin, vitamins A, B12, C and K (phew!), eating a portion of mackerel three times a week is your one-way ticket to glowing skin, shiny hair and a better immune system.
40) Dark Turkey Meat
Why the dark part of the meat, you ask? Because it contains more health-boosting vitamins and minerals than any other cut. In particular, turkey is rich in zinc, a valuable mineral that increases the production of white blood cells. White blood cells fight against harmful foreign bodies, like infections and viruses. But beware not to take too much – an overdose of zinc can do the exact opposite, and actually inhibit your immune system. Therefore, it is much better to extract zinc from your diet – by eating foods like turkey – rather than taking it in supplement form.