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The Immune-Boosting Diet

The Immune-Boosting Diet

Everyone’s always saying what an amazingly efficient immune system we have, but if that’s so true, why do we catch colds in the winter or suffer from allergies in the spring? The answer lies in ourselves. We don’t keep our immune system in fighting trim. Instead, we do all sorts of things that make it weak in the knees. We smoke, drink alcohol, burn ourselves out with stress, and eat diets filled with immune-system saboteurs.

Nutritionists agree that what we eat plays a big role in fighting off germs. “Our immune system is like a finely honed, intricately choreographed dance,” says Beth Reardon, RD, an integrative nutritionist at Duke Integrative Medicine, North Carolina. Every cell has a specific role, she says, and requires key nutrients to survive and work properly. That’s why the standard American diet is desperately lacking in important nutrients and puts the immune system at risk. The best way to maintain a healthy body? You got it: Eat well. These nine power foods can help you beat the best of the bugs.

Known as one of nature’s more potent remedies, garlic has “antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties,”says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a physician and nutritionist in Sarasota, Florida. And for those who think medicine should smell bad, its effectiveness may be linked to allicin, the sulfurous chemical compound responsible for crushed garlic’s unmistakable, pungent odor. Gerbstadt says studies show that allicin not only inhibits the growth of bacteria, it can even kill some germs on contact. In one study at Boston City Hospital, garlic successfully killed 14 strains of bacteria taken from the noses and throats of children with ear infections. Now for the tricky part: To experience the full benefits of garlic in combating colds and flu, you’d have to eat an entire bulb raw every day. However, softening garlic by roasting or sauting will subdue the strong flavor and lend a more palatable sweetness while still retaining most of its immune-boosting potency. What’s more, eating any amount of garlic will provide some benefit, says Gerbstadt.

Shiitake mushrooms

Long revered in China for both culinary and medicinal reasons, shiitake mushrooms add more than their rich flavor to a dish. Research shows that shiitake help produce a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells, which release a type of protein into the infected cells that causes them to self-destruct. Research also attributes the powerful effect of shiitake mushrooms to their unique complex sugars called lentinan. Structurally similar to bacteria, lentinan “tricks” your body into feeling threatened, which kicks the immune system into a higher gear.


This comforting beverage does an admirable job of soothing the throat and relaxing the senses, even as it helps build up your resistance behind the scenes. Green tea, one of the least processed varieties, contains the highest amount of nutrients, but black teas are also rich in health benefits. In fact, powerful compounds known as polyphenols comprise nearly 30 percent of their dry weight. Why is that so important? Well, thanks to the air we breathe and much of the food we eat, our body is constantly bombarded with free radicals, which steal electrons from healthy cells and, in the process, damage their DNA. The selfless polyphenols offer up their own electrons to these unstable atoms, rendering them harmless and eliminating the threat, explains Kerry Neville, RD, a dietitian in Kirkland, Washington.


This breakfast staple offers much more than a sunny start to the day: Just one orange provides more than 100 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps strengthen the immune system. While there Ôs conflicting evidence about vitamin C’s cold-prevention power, most nutritionists and doctors agree that it certainly can’t hurt. One way vitamin C helps boost immunity is by stimulating the growth of antibodies that fight off infections, says Lona Sandon, RD, associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern. Vitamin C is part of the chemical reactions that allow the body to synthesize proteins needed for antibodies. The more vitamin C that’s available to the body, the faster antibodies can be made. Studies show vitamin C also acts as an antihistamine, lowering blood levels of defensive chemicals (histamines) released by the immune system that actually exacerbate stuffiness and congestion. Finally, vitamin C helps produce prostaglandin E1 in the body, an anti-inflammatory hormone. While inflammation is a natural bodily response signifying something is physically not right, Sandon says, chronic, low-grade inflammation–which many of us suffer from–can actually cause the immune system to constantly fight the inflammation. And if the immune system is busy doing that, there’s a good chance it’ll miss the beginnings of another illness.


Delectable proof that big things can come in small packages, blueberries get a lot of votes as the ultimate immunity food. A powerhouse of antioxidant phytonutrients, health-promoting components found in plants, blueberries are also a good source of both vitamins C and E. “When vitamins C and E work together, they produce their most potent antioxidant effects,” says Reardon. While vitamin C, the body’s No. 1 water-soluble antioxidant, patrols the body’s waters, fat-soluble vitamin E works to protect fatty tissues from free radicals.

Sweet potatoes
Rich in carotene, the chemical that gives certain vegetables their orange color, sweet potatoes are a key player in the fight against infection. The reason? The liver converts carotene to vitamin A, and according to Mary Ellen Camire, PhD, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Maine, “Vitamin A fortifies your first defender, your skin, by making it less permeable to germs.” Sweet potatoes also contain about 27 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, and recent research has shown that the unique proteins in sweet potatoes may have antioxidant effects.

Lean beef
Beef gets a bad rap sometimes, primarily because most Americans eat too much of it. But the rich zinc content of lean, organic beef can bolster the immune system, just one 4-ounce serving provides approximately 42 percent of the recommended daily value. Zinc figures prominently in the production of white blood cells, says Camire. Too little zinc leads to a drop in them, which increases your risk of infection. Unlike other types of cells, most immune cells live only a short time and cannot divide or reproduce on their own. Because zinc spurs rapid cell division, it helps replace and repair these important members of the immune team. Looking for a vegetarian source of zinc? A quarter cup of pumpkin seeds packs approximately 17 percent of the RDA.

Loaded with nutrients and essential vitamins, spinach also contains folate, important when it comes to the production of new cells. Neville explains that in addition to being short-lived, immune cells get produced in fairly low numbers. When the body is threatened, one division of the immune system jump-starts production of cells targeted for the specific invaders. And the immune system depends on folate to increase the supply of cells. But that’s not all: Researchers have identified at least 13 different compounds in spinach that act as antioxidants. One of these is quercetin, a phytochemical that has been shown to help prevent many viruses from multiplying. Neville recommends adults include approximately three cups of spinach in their diet each week.


The “good” bacteria in yogurt, known as probiotics, make an essential contribution to a healthy immune system. The stomach and intestinal tract contain more than 500 different varieties of bacteria, and probiotics help maintain a balance between the good and bad bacteria by crowding out pathogens and preventing them from attaching to gut walls. Probiotics also feed on non-digestible fibers called prebiotics, producing short-chain fatty acids that decrease acidity in the colon. The decreased acidity makes the colon uninhabitable for most infection-causing pathogens, which, in turn, allows for increased mineral absorption. “Research suggests that probiotics can also enhance the body’s immune response by increasing levels of key players,” says Reardon, ‘including natural killer cells.” Studies from the University of California have shown that yogurt specifically helps the body build a protein called gamma interferon, which aids the body in developing white blood cells.

Wendy McMillan is a freelance writer in Longmont, Colorado.

Natural Solutions: Vibrant Health, Balanced Living offers its readers the latest news on health conditions, herbs and supplements, natural beauty products, healing foods and conscious living. Click here for a free sample issue.

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By Wendy McMillan, Natural Solutions magazine

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2:31PM PDT on May 1, 2011

Interesting stuff....thanks.

1:26PM PDT on May 1, 2011

thanks for some great info

1:41AM PDT on Jun 15, 2009



12:52PM PST on Jan 3, 2009

miks comment on the doziness of people is right on...they want us dumbed down so we take all the crap they hand us..we all need to open our eyes and minds.....

12:17PM PST on Jan 3, 2009

I used to eat a lot of raw garlic once in the past, because I was addicted to it, and it did a serious damage to my stomach. 1-2 cloves to salat or soup is of great benefit.
There are many factors involved to keep our immune system at top gear, not just a whole garlic bulb daily - stupid to say it, and more stupid to do it.

11:32AM PST on Jan 3, 2009

I disagree that you'd have to eat a whole bulb of garlic to benefit from its infection fighting goodness. Whenever I get a sore throat or congestion, I swallow 1-2 cloves of raw garlic cut into little pieces without chewing and within a few hours my throat feels better and/or the congestion is gone. Garlic's antibacterial properties are the best I have yet to experience.

8:58AM PST on Jan 3, 2009

animal produce in both, long & short term effects, are never good for us humans. We are not build for that. Not even dairy produce. We eat that, because we are told to do so. And, there's lot's of things we are not told and forgotten.

8:48AM PST on Jan 3, 2009

What "they" do not tell us, is that well ripened orange is losing most of its vit.C within the first hour when departed from a tree. Big Business Corporations are buying yellow-green ones for a long storage and transportation distance, and "they" ripen them under special light bulbs shortly before sending them to the market. Personally I saw this technology in use in Dutch greenhouses 20 years ago. I also noticed, our supermarket fruits sections are bathed in special light effects so, the fruits look more tempting, but if you take them out of lights range, you can see what you really get. But usually people are so distracted & confused, they don't notice that at all, and it is possible that when you eat that fruit you might still have that good impression in your mind of good looking fruit you saw in the market that made you decide to buy it. That impression is strong enough to not look good at that fruit again before we bite. "They" know, that people have a very short attention span thanks ( or, no thanks) to constantly in controlled way increasing speed of living, bombardment of stimuli information, attachment to mainstream media. Science from very beginning was established to serve the big business and power control. Rest, the scraps are just for us to keep us in illusion that science was invented to help humanity when in fact is stripping us away from it, and gradually we are becoming a mass of helpless slaves.

5:55AM PST on Jan 2, 2009

A very thorough and succinct list! Thank you! I especially enjoyed the emphasis on probiotics in yogurt. I have always eaten yogurt for its healthy bacteria, and now I also add a probiotic supplement to my daily health plan. I get lots of live cells in each dose (20 billion) and I don’t have to overload on dairy too much.

-Anna M.

2:02AM PST on Jan 2, 2009

Excellent advice.....thanks for that!

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people are talking

I used it once to clean my fridge. It worked great.

Thanks for sharing

Once you detox from all the horrible chemicals you get to enjoy your own unique scent. I'm also up …

I bet that Blue Bunny Ice Cream tastes good too!

sweet. it is good they were able to know why he was depressed and to be able to resolve it.

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