Building a strong immune system is important no matter what time of year, but it’s especially vital as we head into colder seasons. The cool weather and busyness of this season can leave our bodies more susceptible to stress and sickness, so taking extra care with preventative measures is key! Think: handwashing, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, and moving our bodies regularly! But in addition to the foundations of a solid self-care routine, clean eating goes a long way. Ahead, we’re sharing some research-backed immune-supporting ingredients that happen to be Registered Dietitian-approved and offer a wide range of health benefits, beyond just immune support!
6 Delicious Immune-Supporting Ingredients
It should come as no surprise — garlic is a top contender on our immune-supporting ingredients list. Full of nutrients like vitamins B6 and C, manganese, selenium, iron, potassium, and copper, it’s a must-have immune-boosting food. Garlic is known as one of the oldest medicines in the world, says Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, co-founder and creator of For The Love of Diabetes, a fast-growing online diabetes nutrition & management program, author of Eat What You Love Diabetes Cookbook and The Diabetes Cookbook & Meal Plan for the Newly Diagnosed.
Allicin, the bioactive compound found in garlic, is responsible for garlic’s potent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, says Zanini. Research shows the immune-boosting benefits of garlic are activated when garlic is eaten in its raw form! Chop it, chew it, but don’t cook it — if you’re strictly eating it or its immune-supporting properties, that is! Evidence from a recent study supports garlic as one of the best immune-supporting ingredients, suggesting garlic supplementation may enhance immune cell function!
How to Use Garlic:
- Mix grated garlic into salad dressings or marinades.
- Make a garlicky-oil spread to use on toasts or veggies by mixing your favorite oil or butter with minced garlic.
- Add it to soups, stir-fries, and roasted…. anything!
- Mix it into a spread like hummus or guacamole.
- Mash roasted garlic into potatoes or cauliflower mash with dairy-free creamer, a drizzle of oil, and savory spices.
- Drizzle garlic with a little oil and bake it whole — life-changing!
Ginger shots, ginger smoothies, ginger tea — ginger is one of those foods that makes its way into every immune-boosting recipe! So, what makes this spice one of the best immune-supporting ingredients?
The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in ginger make it a great immune system booster, says Zanini. Research suggests the active compound in ginger, gingerol, may help improve the immune system response, reduce oxidative stress, increase antibodies, and act as an antibacterial agent in the body.
How to Use Ginger:
- Make it into a cold-pressed ginger shot with juiced lemon, cayenne, and pineapple.
- Make a DIY pumpkin pie spice with ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice.
- Make a fresh ginger tea with boiled water and a dash of honey.
- Sprinkle it onto stir-fries, marinades, or sauces.
- Add dried ginger into holiday-inspired baked goods like gingerbread and apple pie.
If you’re looking for natural ways to bolster your immune defense, then chances are, you’ve heard about elderberry! Studies suggest the rich antioxidants found in elderberries, known as anthocyanins, could help stimulate the immune response. Zanini agrees, the phytonutrients and antioxidants in elderberries are essential immune-supporting ingredients.
How to Use Elderberry:
- Make a DIY Elderberry syrup with honey, cinnamon, ginger, and dried elderberry for an immune-boosting tonic.
When it comes to immune-supporting ingredients, look no further than the anti-inflammatory superstar, turmeric! Research shows the anti-inflammatory properties in turmeric increase the immunomodulating capacity of the body, helping the immune system defend against illness and disease.
The potent anti-inflammatory properties come from a substance called curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, says Zanini. Be sure to pair turmeric with black pepper in order to optimize absorption! Research suggests black pepper enhances turmeric’s bioavailability by up to 2000%!
How to enjoy Turmeric:
- Make a cold-pressed turmeric shot with turmeric, honey, lemon, and ginger.
- Add it to a warming golden milk latte with coconut milk, turmeric, honey, and warming spices.
- Mix it into rice or cauliflower rice.
- Sprinkle it on roasted veggies with a dash of black pepper.
- Add it to stir-fries, soups, and even smoothies!
Did you know citrus is a winter fruit? Citrus fruits ripen to their sweetest and juiciest during winter months, which just so happen to be one of the germiest times of the year. Mother nature may have been strategic in this — after all, citrus is one of the best immune-supporting ingredients!
Studies show citrus fruits are a good source of Vitamin C, an important vitamin for building both immunity and immune response. Research suggests Vitamin C may protect against pathogens and reduce oxidative stress. This is not a nutrient you want to be deficient in! Studies show Vitamin C deficiency can increase susceptibility to illness and infection. So consider adding some nutritious vitamin C-rich foods to your diet like oranges or other nutritious options like broccoli, bell peppers, and strawberries.
How to Enjoy Citrus Fruits:
- Juice it into a fresh, homemade juice.
- Give boring water an upgrade with a squeeze of citrus and mint.
- Add fresh citrus juice to marinades, dressings, and sauces.
- Make a simple salad dressing with oil, vinegar, and citrus juice.
- Pour it on your veggies or meat before roasting for a bright and zesty flavor.
- Add a splash into baked goods for an element of freshness.
#6 Fortified Greek Yogurt
While greek yogurt is typically a topic of conversation when it comes to gut health, it’s also one of the best (Registered Dietician-approved) foods to boost immunity. Greek yogurt contains immune-supporting ingredients like probiotics, Vitamin D, and protein, says Zanini. To keep our immunity up, we want to keep the microbiota (the good bacteria in our gut) flourishing and happy — after all, research suggests 70% of the entire immune system resides in our gut! An easy (and delicious) way to do this? Incorporating probiotic-rich foods, such as greek yogurt.
Opt for a greek yogurt that is fortified with Vitamin D to supply your body with additional immune-supporting ingredients, says Zanini. Research shows Vitamin D is essential to maintaining a strong immune system, helping to stimulate immune functions. In fact, studies suggest Vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infection. In addition to consuming Vitamin D rich food sources like greek yogurt, be sure to get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure, says Zanini.
How to Enjoy Greek Yogurt:
- Make a protein-rich breakfast bowl with a Greek yogurt base. Top it with granola, fruit, nuts, and seeds, and a spoonful of nut butter or honey.
- Use it as a healthy substitute for sour cream, heavy cream, butter, and oil in recipes.
- Use it to make a healthy chicken, egg, or turkey salad in place of mayo.
- Make it into a healthy ranch dressing dip.
- Spoon it on a baked sweet potato with almond butter and granola for a healthy and satiating breakfast or sweet treat.
- Add a sprinkle of cinnamon and use it as a dip for fruit.
- Enjoy it as is!
3 Recipes With Immune-Supporting Ingredients
Looking for some delicious ways to add some of these immune-supporting ingredients to your diet? Here are three FitOn PRO recipes, including ingredients like garlic, ginger, and turmeric.
- 1 cup almond milk, or milk of choice
- ½ tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 1 pinch ground ginger
- 1 tsp coconut oil
- 4 drops vanilla stevia (optional)
- Add the milk to a saucepan over medium heat. Once warm, add the rest of the ingredients. Remove once heated. Pour into a mug and enjoy!
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 brown onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 4 carrots, roughly chopped
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1 can coconut milk
- sea salt & black pepper
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan or stockpot over a medium-high heat.
- Add the onion to the pan and sauté for 3-4 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic, sweet paprika, and turmeric and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the carrots, sweet potato, and vegetable stock to the pan and bring to the boil. Once boiling, cover with a lid, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables have softened.
- Using a stick blender or food processor, blend the soup until smooth. Add in the coconut milk and blend again. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
- To serve, divide the soup between bowls and top with chickpeas, toasted cashews, fresh herbs, alfalfa sprouts, and chili flakes if using.
- Keep any leftovers stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. It can also be frozen for up to 1 month.
- ½ head cauliflower, cut into florets
- ½ yellow onion, thickly sliced
- 2 carrots, thickly sliced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 4 cups arugula
- 4 tbsp fermented vegetables
- 1 serving chicken breast (optional)
- 3 tsp sesame seeds, to serve
For the dressing
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp filtered water
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 2 tbsp hulled tahini
- Preheat the oven to 180°C or 350°F. Line a baking tray with baking paper.
- Place the cauliflower, onion, and carrot on the baking tray and drizzle with olive or coconut oil.
- Roast in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until they’re toasted and golden.
- Make the dressing by the whisking ingredients together in a small bowl. Add more or less water until you’ve reached your desired consistency. Keep whisking and adding water if needed.
- To serve, divide the rocket between 2 bowls. Add the roasted vegetables, fermented vegetables,s and protein of choice. Drizzle dressing over bowls and top with sesame seeds.
Boost Immunity With Immune-Supporting Ingredients And A Healthy Lifestyle!
There you have it, the best immune-supporting ingredients to protect against illness and build a strong immune system! While these foods are certainly tasty ways to maintain good health throughout the year, it’s also important to protect your immune system outside of the kitchen! Practice proper hygiene, prioritize daily movement, and nourish your body with healthy dietary choices.
Overall healthy lifestyle factors help your body fight infection and function optimally, says Zanini. Some expert tips? Get adequate sleep, stress less, increase hydration, and make time for (socially-distanced) social connection!
Want more wholesome recipes? Sign up for FitOn PRO and get access to clean eating recipes that make healthy eating easy.