Best and Worst Foods for Flexing Your Immune Strength

With all the challenging things going on in the world, it’s more important than ever to take good care of yourself and support your immune health! 

And when it comes to setting the foundation for a rock-solid immune system, it starts with what’s at the end of your fork. 

While the right nutrients are key for supporting your immune system and ensuring it functions at its best, the wrong foods can impair immune function and weaken your defenses. 

By taking a few action steps to safeguard your immune health, you can stay strong and help your system pack a punch when it needs to. Here’s how…

Steer clear of immune threats lurking in your kitchen

The top culprits are: 

  • Sugar 

Don’t let its sweet taste fool you! Sugar is no friend to your immune health. In fact, studies show that sugar can lower the potency of your immune system for hours.1 Here’s why: 

When you eat more high-sugar impact foods, your body becomes more insulin resistant, which contributes to inflammation, making it harder to ward off germs. 

What’s more, so many high-sugar impact foods are lower in nutrient density, lacking in nutrients that are critical for immune support. Sugar can also make you anxious and impair your sleep, both of which can wreak havoc on your immune system. 

Important note: It’s not about cutting out all sugar! It’s about figuring out which foods to choose and which foods to lose, which comes down to their sugar impact. 

To find out more, check out the Sugar Impact Diet! It can help you put together a plan to reduce the amount of sugar you’re consuming to give your immune system maximum support. 

  • Highly Reactive Foods 

Your gut houses up to 80% of your immune system and contains an entire ecosystem of trillions of microbes that play a major role in your immune function. If your gut health is compromised, you simply won’t have a strong immune system. 

One of the most common dangers to your gut health is regular exposure to highly reactive foods. As explained in my New York Times bestseller, The Virgin Diet, there are 7 foods most likely to cause food intolerance and the gut issues that go along with it. 

The easiest way to determine your food intolerances is to eliminate the 7 highly reactive foods for 21 days, then test to find out which of the 7 foods you can add back to your diet long-term. (Check out The Virgin Diet to find out more…) 

Level up with immune power foods 

Nutrient-rich foods are critical for immune support. They deliver things like: 

  • Antioxidants like glutathione and quercetin, which protect your immune cells from damaging molecules created during an immune attack. 
  • Key vitamins and minerals, especially vitamins A, C, D, and K, as well as zinc and selenium – among many others. These all-important nutrients have many jobs, including helping produce immune cells and other substances involved in launching an effective immune attack. 
  • Fiber to feed your gut microbiome, an important player in keeping you healthy. (Remember that as much as 80% of your immune system resides in your gut!) 
  • Beneficial plant compounds that can help destroy harmful microbes.

By building these immuno all-stars into your diet, you’ll give your body extra firepower to fight off any pesky germs that may come your way. 

Your challenge? Pick three of these to incorporate into your diet every day…

Coconut: Coconuts are a true immune superfood! They contain lauric acid, which your body converts to monolaurin, a compound with antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.2 In addition to our low-sugar impact bars, you can enjoy the power of coconut in this trio of yummy recipes. 

Ginger: This root is great for soothing the gut and is also an incredible anti-inflammatory. While short-term inflammation is a necessary part of any immune response, inflammation that sticks around longer than needed can contribute to problems like tissue damage and chronic disease. Keep inflammation in check with tasty recipes like this one for Stir-Fried Kale with Ginger. 

Avocados: In addition to containing healthy fat that reduces your appetite and stabilizes your blood sugar, avocados are also high in glutathione. Known as the “master antioxidant”, glutathione boosts the utilization and recycling of a number of other antioxidants. Get your glutathione with this savory recipe for Tex-Mex Burgers with Avocado Salsa.

Green tea: The plant compounds quercetin and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) from green tea have been shown to reduce insulin resistance and inflammation, while also helping balance your gut microbiome.3,4 Those are all big wins when it comes to immune health! Whether you like your green tea cold or hot, you can’t go wrong with recipes like these for Peach & Mint Iced Green Tea and Chai Green Tea Latte with Whipped Coconut Cream. 

Cayenne pepper: This spice can not only boost your metabolism, it can also act as a mucolytic that keeps your mucous moving and your lungs clear. And the best thing about cayenne pepper is that it’s easy to add into your diet! Try it in Smoked Paprika and Cayenne Roasted Almonds or toss a pinch of cayenne into your protein shake for an extra zing. 

Broccoli: Broccoli is rich in vitamins like C and K, both of which are important for immune support. Broccoli also supports your body’s production of glutathione, a powerhouse antioxidant.5 Meet your daily broccoli quota with recipes like Easy Detox Vegetable Fritters and Paleo Steamed Broccoli with Garlic Oil Drizzle. 

Fermented foods: Packed with probiotics, fermented foods help heal your gut and balance your gut microbiome.6 That’s key since gut health is directly linked to your overall immune system. A few to try: coconut kefir, kimchi, coconut yogurt, almond yogurt, and more. (Just be sure you watch the sugar content in any fermented foods you choose!)

Mushrooms: Mushrooms are one of the few plant sources of Vitamin D, which can both help prevent infection and shorten the length of an illness.7 So feel free to load your plate! Try serving them with Zucchini Bolognese for an immune-boosting dinner. 

Oysters: Whether you’re a novice or a long-time oyster fan, this versatile seafood is worth getting to know better! Rich in zinc and selenium, among other immune-supporting vitamins and minerals, oysters are also a great source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. (And if you’re not a seafood lover, no problem – you can still get the powerful immune benefits of selenium from two Brazil nuts a day.) 

Red peppers: Surprising, but true – red peppers are one of the richest sources of vitamin C around! And that vitamin C provides critical immune support. Red peppers also deliver a hefty dose of the antioxidant quercetin, which helps your body use zinc. Red peppers make a great addition to this tasty recipe for Flank Steak Bistro Chopped Salad. 

Sweet potatoes: These root vegetables are a fantastic source of beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A supports immune health in a variety of ways, from assisting in maintaining the integrity of your cell walls, in turn helping prevent infection, to helping make antibodies that neutralize the pathogens that can make you sick. Reap the rewards of sweet potatoes with these yummy homemade fries!

Garlic: Garlic has been used as a natural health remedy for centuries and it’s easy to see why! This amazing multitasker has been shown to have potent antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties.8,9 Translation: protect yourself from dangerous predators with recipes like this one for Instant Pot Garlic-Herb Beef Shanks. 

Bone broth and bone broth protein: Full of amino acids, collagen, vitamins, and minerals, bone broth and bone broth protein contain all the building blocks for a healthy immune system! Collagen is also especially helpful for sealing your gut, creating a barrier that stops invading microorganisms in their tracks. Enjoy a cozy mug with this recipe or whip of one of my Paleo-Inspired All-In-One Shakes for all the benefits of bone broth without the hassle! 

Wild salmon: If you’re looking to supercharge your immune system, look no further than salmon! In addition to vitamin A and the antioxidant astaxanthin, salmon is loaded with vitamin D, which helps stimulate the production of pathogen-fighting proteins.10 Salmon is also rich in omega-3s, which offers important immune-regulatory functions.11 This recipe for Blackened Salmon is one of my favorites…

Who knew that eating for a stronger immune system could tantalize your taste buds, too? 

If you can add just three of these to your plate or cup every day, you’ll be well on your way to optimizing your immune function so you can protect your health and feel your very best! 

Article Sources 

1 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/4748178/

2 https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2006.1209

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5537887/

4 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2019.01092/full

5 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6770193/

6 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6117398/

7 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3166406/

8 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1286457999800033

9 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321289060_Potential_Antifungal_Activity_of_Fresh_Garlic_Cloves_Allium_sativum_L_from_Sudan

10 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2821804/

11 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6834330/

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