A healthy immune system is something we all want but in most cases, we don’t pay much mind to our immunity until we start to feel sick.
“When we get sick or we feel a cold coming on, so many of us look to the medicine cabinet first,” says Rachel A. Sugarman, DO, integrative and functional medicine specialist at Main Line Health King of Prussia “We don’t usually go to the kitchen for solutions, but our diet plays a very important role in keeping us healthy and keeping our immune systems strong.”
Your diet, in conjunction with sleep, exercise and other healthy behaviors, is critical to keeping you healthy all year round. But if you’re looking to improve your immunity, what foods should you look for? Below, Dr. Sugarman explores some common foods that are rich in immune-boosting vitamins and nutrients that you might consider adding to your grocery cart.
Chickpeas are a great item to add to your grocery list. They’re versatile, relatively inexpensive and a long shelf life. And they can help keep you well. Chickpeas are an excellent source of vitamin B6, folate, iron, and selenium—nutrients and minerals that can support immune health.
Chickpeas make a tasty snack but you can also use them as part of your cooking. Use chickpeas as “filler” in chili or stews instead of ground beef, chicken or turkey and try pureeing them to use as a healthy alternative to thickeners like heavy cream or milk.
Peppers are a great source of Vitamin C, the nutrient that most people are familiar with for its immune-boosting benefits. But it’s also rich in Vitamins A, B6 and E and folate, too. If you have the option, buy organic peppers—they contain less pesticides than ones grown non-organically.
If you’ve typically stayed away from peppers because of their spice, try sweeter varieties like bell or banana peppers. Try using peppers to add crunch and texture to sandwiches, salads and tacos. If you prefer them cooked, sauté them as a side dish or try a stuffed peppers recipe with ground chicken or ground tacos.
The benefits of going meatless for a few meals each week have been advertised for many years, but add improved immunity to the list too. Certain seafoods—including oysters, salmon, mackerel, tuna, cod, and sardines—are great sources of nutrients and minerals that can protect your immune system. Seafood is especially high in Vitamin D, a nutrient that is critical for immune system support.
To try and make seafood a more central part of your diet, consider adapting your favorite chicken recipe for salmon or add sardines to a whole wheat pasta dish.
Nuts and beans
This likely doesn’t come as a surprise—nuts and beans are two important components of a healthy Mediterranean diet and have a number of benefits for your heart, body and brain. And you’ll have plenty of varieties to choose from, too; all of the foods listed below have been linked to better immunity:
- Kidney bean
- Baked beans
- Red beans
- Pinto beans
- Navy beans
- Sunflower seeds
Take your pick! These are all easy to incorporate as afternoon snacks or sides to your meal.
You might have heard this term before, but what exactly are cruciferous vegetables? This is a group of veggies that are low in calories, high in nutrients and are so named as part of the cruciferous vegetable group because they are four-petaled flowers that resemble a cross, or crucifer. Some common examples of cruciferous vegetables are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bok choy, kale, cabbage, cauliflower and radishes.
Cruciferous vegetables are rich in Vitamin C, folate, and selenium, three nutrients that have been linked to a strong immune system. If you’re not a veggie lover, try working these into your diet by cooking them with other parts of your meal. For example, add broccoli or shredded Brussels sprouts to a stir fry or opt for cauliflower rice instead of florets.
Oranges—and their orange-hued friends
Citrus fruits like oranges and papaya are popular sources of Vitamin C, but consider a few other orange foods if you’re looking to boost immunity. Similarly-hued foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and butternut squash are common sources of Vitamin A, a nutrient that can improve immune health.
Don’t use this color as your rule of thumb throughout the grocery store, though—cheese-flavored snacks, chips and crackers don’t offer the same benefits as these veggies!
Dr. Sugarman is committed to caring for patients mind, body and spirit using a holistic approach to treating disease. She is focused is on educating her patients and partnering with them to develop a healthy diet and exercise program with the goal of improving quality and longevity of life. Learn more about Dr. Sugarman.
Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use