Kim’s Top 10 Immune Boosting Fruits and Vegetables

Do you find yourself thinking a lot about how well your immune system is working these days and hoping that it is in tip top shape? Getting more fresh air, practicing good hygiene and appropriately social distancing are some ways you can support a well-functioning immune system. You can also plan a shopping list and try some new recipes centered around specific immune boosting foods. Here is the cool thing, certain micronutrients work in partnership with the body to guard against infection, boost the ability to deal with stress, and support mental health. Loading your plate with key fruits and vegetables will help your body mount a rapid and robust immune response when needed.

1. Garlic: Garlic does more than just keep vampires away. Garlic is rich in allicin, a sulfur containing compound, that gives your immune system a generous boost. I have known people to just eat it raw by the clove. Honestly, that’s not for me! But I do love making garlic-rich condiments such as different pestos and chimichurri. This is the perfect time of year to make big batches to keep in the fridge. These make a great addition to:

  • Any food off of the grill
  • A salad dressing base
  • Spread on an ear of corn
  • An herb-based potato salad
  • Mediterranean tuna or chicken salad

2. Ginger: This somewhat spicy herb contains a powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient, gingerol, that helps to calm an upset, relieve a sore throat, and it turns out that ginger can also prevent you from getting sick in the first place. In the summer, I love making Honey Lemon Ginger Iced Tea. Not only is it refreshing and zippy, but all three ingredients have potent health benefits. It is a win, win, win.

3. Turmeric: Like ginger, turmeric is also an anti inflammatory herb. Research shows that curcumin, the yellow pigment that gives turmeric it’s golden color, is a power immune boosting and anti-viral nutrient. Traditionally turmeric is known as one of the key ingredients in many curries. If curry is your thing I recommend checking out the amazing selection of MAESRI Curry Pastes. They are fantastic. I have tried most of them but I particularly love the green curry paste and the masaman curry paste. I make a cold curry cauliflower salad that is delish. Or enjoy turmeric as an ingredient in many beverages.

  • Bottled Turmeric Kombucha
  • Chilled golden milk
  • Iced golden turmeric latte
  • Turmeric ice tea
  • Turmeric mango smoothie

4. Spinach: I am loving spinach right now because it is such a versatile vegetable. I am wilting it, adding it to smoothies, using it as the base of pesto, and last night I made a creamed marsala spinach to use as a flatbread sauce. It was amazing. The immune boosting properties of spinach are compliments of the rich supply of vitamin C and beta carotene, alongside other antioxidant phytonutrients.

5. Pumpkin Seeds: Pepitas! Seeds in general packed with nutrients but pumpkin seeds are my favorite. Their green color is an immediate give away that they are rich plant nutrients that improve your immunity. Pumpkin seeds are a fantastic source of magnesium and zinc, two minerals which can be lacking in most people’s diets. Raw pumpkin seeds are a great base to a trail mix, added to granola, or eaten by the handful. Check out the variety of seasoned pumpkin seeds in the bulk section of Healthy Living & Cafe. I also love to lightly toast them and toss them on salad. This summer I am experimenting with making a variety of pestos and am using pumpkin seeds in the base of a few of them.

6. Citrus: An “apple a day” might be said to keep the doctor away, but to be honest I think they meant to say “an orange a day”. Your body cannot store vitamin C, so truly you need to eat it daily. Almost all citrus fruits are high in Vitamin C, an amazing immune boosting nutrient. Don’t limit yourself to just oranges though. Grapefruit, limes, lemons, and tangerines are all right up there with oranges. Squeeze a little lemon or lime juice in your water, be sure to grab a zester to add some zest as well. This is an easy way to elevate your body’s defense system and stay hydrated too. Learning to make “grapefruit supremes” can be a fun new culinary skill to acquire this summer. Supreming citrus fruits is a technique that removes the fruit segments from the membrane and rind. An elegant and delicious addition to a salad or dessert. Here is a simple Grapefruit Supreme Salad recipe

  • Layer shaved fennel, grapefruit supremes, and a dry cheese like feta, halloumi, or ricotta salata.
  • Drizzle on a light dressing of lime juice, mint and honey.

7. Mushrooms: Mushrooms contain a phytonutrient that is well known to stimulate immune cell activity, they are also one of the few foods rich in vitamin D. Pst, even though it’s summer I still suggest taking supplemental vitamin D to keep your immune system fully engaged. The richest sources come from wild mushrooms, here are three that are easy to find in the produce department:

  • Maitake
  • Oyster
  • Enoki

Cremini and Portobello mushrooms have also been associated with strengthening the immune system. There are many ways to incorporate mushrooms into your cooking. However if you are one of those people who are not sure you love mushrooms, I suggest you finely chop them and add them to recipes you know you love. They add great flavor to any sauce, to meatballs (or eggplant “meatless balls”), or rice dish.

8. Sweet Potatoes: Here is something interesting for you. Cultures whose diets center around orange/yellow foods have longer and healthier lives. Sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene, the phytonutrient which gives them their orange color. This nutrient strengthens your immune response and helps to protect your body from foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and the like. When it comes to sweet potatoes I like to keep it simple:

  • Scrub the potato with a veggie brush.
  • Cut them into thin rounds or wedges.
  • Toss them with olive oil, salt, and white pepper.
  • Maybe add a little cinnamon or smoked paprika.
  • Roast them at 450 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

9. Fennel: In my opinion, fennel is somewhat of the unsung hero of produce. And unless you favor Mediterranean cooking, there is a good chance that you just don’t know what to do with it. Fennel is a common ingredient in tomato sauces, savory entrees, and salad. I have mentioned that I love shaved fennel with grapefruit supremes. Grilled fennel is also amazing, and easy to make! Fennel is loaded with Vitamin C, Zinc and an essential oil called anethole all of which help your body fight off infections.

10. Broccoli: I know broccoli is already a common vegetable in most homes! Broccoli sprouts, however, might be new for some of you. Broccoli sprouts are microgreens with a high concentration of immune enhancing properties. Loaded with sulforaphane, a bioactive antioxidant, they activate the immune cells. Broccoli sprouts can be added to a smoothie, layered onto a sandwich, or tossed into a salad. Right now I am also enjoying Balsamic Glazed Roasted Broccoli. I serve it warm as a dinner side, but I also eat it right out of the refrigerator. Cold it is the crunchy sweet taste I am looking for mid afternoon or post meal.

Written for Healthy Living by Kimberly Evans MS RD.
Kimberly Evans is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and food enthusiast with over 30 years of experience in helping clients achieve health as a lifestyle. She firmly believes the “good life” should be every day life.Kimberly has a life long love of ballet, running and yoga. Kimberly is passionate about making it easy to connect to multiple sources of nourishment to support your health and vitality.