With the Coronavirus running rampant, it appears many people are turning to google asking “what to eat to prevent coronavirus.” Sadly, friends, there aren’t foods that will prevent coronavirus. The questions people should be asking are: “What nutrients does the immune system need” and “how do you keep the immune system healthy.” A healthy immune system is your first line of defense against the Coronavirus as well as the viruses responsible for the flu and common colds (yup, colds are caused by viruses, not bacteria).
So today I’m going to show you how to naturally boost your immune system and keep it healthy. We’ll cover vitamins, minerals, and the lifestyle factors that a healthy immune system needs. To help you rev up your immune system as quickly as possible I’ve also included immune-boosting recipes with each nutrient your immune system needs.
First, a little science to explain why your immune system needs the different vitamins and minerals we’ll cover today.
Table of Contents
What Your Immune System Needs
God fearfully and wonderfully made everything in the human body, including your immune system, all of which depend on food to function. Yet one of the biggest problems in America is that we’re overfed and undernourished. And guess what…
Both of these things weaken and reduce the effectiveness of your immune system.
Your immune system is composed of specialized cells and organs that work 24/7 keeping your body running as God designed it. Everything we do brings strange bacteria, yeasts, viruses, and more into our bodies. When this happens your immune system samples everything to decide if it’s safe or not.
If it’s not safe, your innate* immune system mounts a response and sends out cellular “infantrymen” to remove the problem.
Information is then passed to your adaptive* immune system and they make a note of what this stranger looked like. The next time that “stranger” finds its way into your body your adaptive immune system recognizes it and quickly eradicates the problem by sending the right cellular “sniper team” in.
Here’s where nutrition comes in.
Without these nutrients, your immune system can’t create the infantry and sniper cells needed. This is what happens when you’re undernourished.
But your immune system also suffers if you’re overfed.
Overfed and Undernourished
Most American’s eat far more calories than their body needs but aren’t eating the foods that keep their body or immune system healthy. Being overfed leads to overweight/obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver, and more.
At the root of these diseases lies inflammation.
Ever cut your finger?
It got red and swollen, didn’t it?
That’s inflammation and inflammation is caused by your immune system. Most people who are overfed and undernourished are also highly inflamed. This inflammation means your immune system is busy trying to put out this fire.
Because of this it doesn’t have the nutrients needed to fight the common cold, let alone the Coronavirus.
How do you keep your immune system healthy?
You provide it the nutrients it requires, nutrients like zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E are what a healthy immune system needs.
Nutrients Your Immune System Needs
Before we cover some of the more familiar nutrients your immune system needs, I want to introduce you to an antioxidant called glutathione.
The problem is, once glutathione puts out a fire, it can’t continue fighting for you. That’s where you step in.
By eating certain foods you can provide your body the nutrients it needs to put glutathione back in the fight. The more glutathione you’ve got active and fighting, the healthier you’ll be.
The good news is that many of the foods needed to keep glutathione up and running also contain other nutrients your immune system needs. God even put glutathione in a few foods.
Keep in mind, many of the glutathione containing foods should be eaten raw or only lightly cooked since cooking can reduce their glutathione content.
Here’s a list of foods that contain glutathione:
- Brussels sprouts
The following is a list of immune-boosting foods that help regenerate glutathione and get it back in the fight against bacteria and viruses. You’ll also notice that these foods contain some of the vitamins that boosts your immune system.
Foods rich in alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) regenerate and increase the levels of glutathione in your body. ALA food sources include:
- Organ meats
- Brewers yeast
- Brussels sprouts
Selenium is a trace mineral important for thyroid health and glutathione production. Foods high in selenium include:
- Brazil nuts
- Whole grains
- Organ meat
Next we’re going to look at the nutrients your immune system needs and how food can boost your immune system. These foods all help keep your immune system in tip-top virus crushing shape and many also help keep glutathione in the immune fighting game.
I’ve also included recipes that contain many of the foods that’ll help your immune system fight off sickness.
Ready to keep learning?
Vitamins Your Immune System Needs
Vitamin C helps various aspects of your innate and adaptive immune system function properly. Deficiency leads to an impaired immune system and an increased likelihood of bacterial or viral infection. This vitamin plays a key role in preventing sickness and supporting your immune system if sickness strikes.
Food sources of vitamin C include:
- Red bell pepper
- green bell pepper
- Brussels sprouts
The best recipe for a healthy immune system is one that contains a variety of immune boosting nutrients. This one contains broccoli, bell peppers, and oranges.
This vitamin plays an important role in your immune system by
- combating inflammation,
- helping aspects of your immune system develop, and
- regulating different aspects of your immune system.
Good food sources of vitamin A are:
- Beef liver
- Sweet potato
- Frozen spinach
- Red bell pepper
- Black eyed peas
- Tomato juice
Keep your immune system healthy by enjoying recipes like this that contain vitamin A foods.
This vitamin is also known as the “sun vitamin” because small amounts of time spent in the sun, stimulates your body to produce vitamin D. But it’s more than just a vitamin and actually acts like a hormone in your body. Vitamin D can regulate both innate and adaptive immune activity and deficiency is associated with an increased likelihood of infection. Food sources of vitamin D include:
- Rainbow trout
- Some mushrooms
- Fortified foods
Minerals Your Immune System Needs
This mineral plays a key role in your immune system and deficiency can increase your risk of infection. Zinc helps with both your innate and adaptive immune responses while also serving as an antioxidant. Food sources of zinc include:
- Beef chuck roast
- Alaskan king crab
- Pumpkin seeds
If you want a recipe to boost your immune system, enjoy this recipe.
Even though you don’t hear about it often, copper’s a nutrient your immune system needs. If copper levels aren’t adequate your immune system won’t have enough neutrophils* to combat microorganisms like bacteria and viruses. Good sources of copper include:
- Beef liver
- Unsweetened baking chocolate
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Sunflower seeds
- Dark chocolate
- Dried figs
This recipe uses several of the copper containing foods you need for a healthy immune system.
Phytonutrients Your Immune System Needs
Quercetin is a flavonoid (plant pigments) found in many fruits and vegetables that has anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antioxidant properties. Great food sources of quercetin include:
- Green peppers
- Red leaf lettuce
- Black and green tea
Quercetin is also found in many nuts, seeds, and leaves.
Curcumin is found in the orange flesh of turmeric root. This “spice” has become popular for its anti-inflammatory benefits but it’s also an important regulator of your immune system.
This recipe for Golden Milk Tea is a flavorful way to keep your immune system healthy but you can also use turmeric and black pepper to flavor most food.
Licorice root is a common weapon in Chinese, Ayurvedic, and Naturopathic medicine but not something most American’s are familiar with. This sweet-tasting root contains something called glycyrrhiza which increases the number of immune cells which fight against infection and tumor growth.
My favorite way to enjoy licorice root is by steeping it in hot water and enjoying it as tea. It’s also great combined with turmeric root in the above Golden Milk recipe.
Here’s another way to boost your immune system and enjoy licorice root:
by Mettch on Food52
Bonus: this recipe includes beef roast (zinc), carrots (vitamin A), onions (quercetin), and rosemary (which has antiviral, antibacterial properties).
Immune Boosting Home Remedies
The next two recipes are great for boosting your immune system and helping to prevent viruses, like the coronavirus. Versions of these two recipes have been circulating in naturopathic medicine for years. I hope you enjoy my versions along with the other recipes provided above.
Four Thieves Vinegar
- 1 full head of garlic
- 1 ounce fresh rosemary, sage, oregano, and thyme (if you use dried herbs make sure they’re very fresh and use 2 TB)
- 2 TB cloves
- 2 TB juniper berries
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 TB fresh horseradish root, chopped
- 32 ounces of raw apple cider vinegar (with the mother)
- Remove the paper from each clove of garlic and lightly mash them. Place all the herbs into a large wide mouth jar and cover with the vinegar. Lid the jar and place in a warm spot for 2-4 weeks. I like to place mine in front of a sunny window or near the back of my stove so it gets the warmth as I’m cooking and baking.
- After 2-4 weeks strain out the herbs and place the infused vinegar into a clean jar.
- Drink 1-2 TB per day during cold and flu season. You can take it straight or mix it into a glass of water. My favorite way of using this is by sprinkling the vinegar over salad greens or steamed vegetables.
Change of Seasons Soup
- 2-3 oz each of the following Chinese herbs (most Asian markets sell these or you can order organic versions here)
- Astragalus membranaceus (Huang Qi)
- Codonopsis pilosula (Dang Shen)
- Dioscorea sinensis (Chinese wild yam aka Shan Yaeo)
- Chinese wolfberries or Goji berries (Gou Qi Zi)
- Place the herbs into your Instant Pot along with 12 cups of water and slow cook for 4 hours. Remove the herbs from the Instant pot with a slotted spoon and keep the infused water on warm.
- While the herbs are cooking saute the following ingredients until almost soft.
- 2 leeks, sliced into ¼’ half moons
- 6-8 cloves garlic, minced
- 2” piece of ginger, minced
- 1 onion, chopped
- When the aromatics are almost soft add them and the following ingredients to the infused water in the Instant pot.
- 2 cups broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Bok choy, kale, or cabbage (you can use one cruciferous vegetable or a mixture)
- 1 cup carrots or sweet potato, sliced or cubed
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 cup sliced and stemmed Shiitake mushrooms
- 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4-5 cloves
- Salt & pepper, to taste
- Place the lid on your instant pot and pressure cook for 3-5 minutes (depending on how soft you want your vegetables). Release the pressure and enjoy your Change of Seasons soup throughout your day, garnished with fresh cilantro and oregano leaves.
How to Keep Your Immune System Healthy
In addition to eating foods to keep your immune system healthy, there are a few other things your immune system needs you to do.
Avoid inflammatory food
For many people some foods can cause inflammation in the body. This could present as joint pain, brain fog, skin issues, and more. The foods that typically cause inflammation include most processed foods, foods with added sugar, gluten-containing foods, and more.
If you think inflammation might be a problem, remove these foods and focus on eating the foods that boost your immune system.
A healthy immune system needs a good night’s rest just as much as the rest of your body does. At a minimum, focus on getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.
Your body is made of 60+% water and your immune system depends on you for water just as much as it does for food. Each day aim to drink ½ your weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 180lb you’d need to drink 90 ounces of water per day.
Physical activity is a great way to reduce stress, improve your sleep, and boost your immune system. You don’t need a gym membership either. Just make a point of building 30+ minutes of physical activity into each day.
You can find ways of doing this on this post here.
As you’ve likely noticed, food can boost your immune system and the nutrients your immune system needs are mostly plants. Staying healthy and ensuring your immune system can protect you from getting sick isn’t about “quick fixes.”
For food to help you not get sick, you have to make eating healthy a part of your life.
Start with the two home remedies for increasing immunity and build from there. Then, each day try one of the recipes for keeping your immune system healthy while drinking green tea throughout the day.
I’ve found that people who follow one of the plant-based diets I talk about in this post here, typically have immune systems that are already in good shape.
If you’re uncertain how many foods you’re eating that’ll build a healthy immune system, use this app here to track your diet for 5-6 days. Then compare it to the foods listed in this post.
Find yourself falling short on a few of the best foods for a healthy immune system?
Use the recipes from this post to add the needed nutrients into your diet.
Until next time remember...
Eating vegetables can keep the doctor away.
The innate immune system provides nonspecific defense against antigens (viruses, yeasts, bacteria, etc.) that are foreign or harmful to the human body. This system responds immediately or within hours of the antigens appearance in the body.
The adaptive immune system is also called the acquired immune system. It eliminates and prevents pathogens from growing using specialized cells and processes.
Neutrophils are the most abundant white blood cells in the body and the first to arrive when a foreign substance (bacteria, viruses, etc.) enters the body.