Take It In: Boost your immunity with these foods

Apr 4, 2020 by Carol Bareuther

Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

Colds and flus viruses are everywhere. In this age of globe-trotting travel and with nearly a quarter of the world’s inhabitants living in cities with a million people or more, it’s hard to avoid your fellow man – hence, the bacteria and virus that cause these common ills. 

Handwashing is a great first line of defense. But if bad bugs still get through, it’s important to have a strong immune system to fight them off. Many foods can help you do this, and a diet including a variety of healthful, immune-boosting foods is best. To get you started, here are three foods to include in your diet often.


A family member of onions and native to Central Asia, the medicinal effects of garlic have been known for over 5,000 years. In addition to helping prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease, garlic’s immune-boosting properties come from sulfur-containing compounds such as allicin. In 2014, German researchers found that allicin can kill bacteria, including antibiotic-resistant strains like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). To get this benefit, allicin is produced when fresh garlic is crushed or chopped. Cooked or dried garlic isn’t as effective since heat and water can inactivate garlic’s sulfur compounds. 

Tasty ways to enjoy fresh garlic include salad dressings, salsas, dips such as guacamole and hummus, and even stirred into room-temperature mashed potatoes or cauliflower rice. To dispel garlic breath afterwards, researchers from the Ohio State University found eating lettuce, mint leaves or apples was effective. That’s certainly a win-win as these three produce items are also rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidant nutrients.

Citrus fruits

Orange juice is an age-old treatment for a cold. Indeed, among the major types of citrus, oranges rank as the richest in vitamin C. One 8-ounce cup of orange juice provides from 60 to 120 milligrams of vitamin C, depending on whether its bottled or fresh squeezed, respectively. This amount equals about one to two times the daily recommended intake of this immune-enhancing vitamin.

Overall, the jury is out on whether vitamin C can cure the common cold. However, Swiss scientists writing in the journal Nutrients in 2017, found that when they looked at several studies, those in which subjects took 250 milligrams of vitamin C daily showed a significant reduction in how long their colds lasted. 

What’s more, eating an orange itself not only serves up a day’s worth of vitamin C, but also provides other nutrients that can keep colds at bay. The Cara Cara variety contains 50 percent more vitamin C than a regular navel. Plus, the pink fleshed Cara Cara is rich in vitamin A, with 30 percent of the days requirement for this nutrient compared with the 2 percent in regular navels. 

So, drink orange juice often, as in a smoothie or even in cold soups. And eat oranges, especially Cara Caras, out of hand, in a fruit or leafy green salad, or even tossed into a cold rice or quinoa salad. Vitamin C is destroyed by heat, so consume your citrus cool.

Seeds and nuts

Vitamin E, like A and C, can also promote immune system health, and seeds and nuts are a great place to get this fat-soluble vitamin. That’s because its easy to store and eat these foods. They need no refrigeration and are easily eaten out of hand, on cereal, salads, soups, side dishes and even desserts.

A report by Korean researchers in 2018 outlined the detailed biologic pathways in which vitamin E can improve a person’s resistance to infections. One ounce of sunflower seeds packs in two-thirds of the daily requirement for vitamin E, while a same size serving of almonds offers 50 percent and hazelnuts almost 30 percent.

Slice citrus over your salad, add garlic to the dressing, and sprinkle seeds or nuts on top – it’s an easy, tasty way to boost your cold- and flu-fighting immunity.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.