Summer may be in full swing — with picnics and BBQs — but keeping our immune systems healthy remains at the top of everyone’s mind right now. Why not take advantage of the season’s bounty of fresh veggies and fruits and feed ourselves things that boost our immune system?
Food doesn’t kill viruses, but certain foods can strengthen our immune systems and help fight off unwanted illness. Oftentimes, illness and immunity are thought of more frequently in the wintertime, and foods like stews and soups are our go-to items. But these superfoods pair perfectly in summery salads.
Ginger and Garlic
Aromatic and loaded with flavor, both garlic and ginger contain compounds that naturally support your immune system. Coming from the allium family, garlic contains compounds that naturally aid in the destruction of bacteria and infection. There’s research that shows eating garlic helps to reduce the risk of becoming sick.
Garlic helps flush the body of harmful toxins, stimulating immune responses and reducing bodily inflammation. Add a few minced garlic cloves to a salad like Memphis-based dietitian Sylvia White at Sylviawhiterd.com does with her quinoa salad with tomatoes, cucumber and mint.
Ginger is another ingredient many turn to for illness prevention. Ginger may help decrease inflammation, which can help alleviate a sore throat. Ginger may speed up digestion, and it’s packed with vitamins, says dietitian Shena Jaramillo, founder of PeaceandNutrition.com in Ellensburg, Washington. She makes a salad dressing with fresh ginger and garlic. She mixes mango, tahini, ginger, garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a blender — ready to toss on your favorite salad.
Many people turn straight to vitamin C after they’ve caught a cold. That’s because it’s known to help build up your immune system. Vitamin C is thought to increase the production of white blood cells, which are key to fighting infections.
Almost all citrus fruits are high in vitamin C. With such a variety to choose from, it’s easy to add a squeeze of this vitamin to any meal. Popular citrus fruits include grapefruit, lemons, limes, oranges and tangerines. These fruits tend to go very well in summer salads or in a homemade dressing. Nashville-based dietitian Karman Meyer, founder of TheNutritionAdventure.com, likes to pair fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit, orange and lime juice in a citrus vinaigrette with salmon — rich in omega-3s — and greens.
Because your body doesn’t produce or store vitamin C, you need to ingest it daily for continued health. The recommended daily amount for most adults is around 75 mg for women and 90 mg for men.
Dark leafy greens in general are great for our immune systems due to the myriad of nutrients they contain. Spinach specifically makes my list because not only is it rich in vitamin C, it’s also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.
Spinach is healthiest when it’s cooked as little as possible so that it retains its nutrients. However, some light cooking makes it easier to absorb the vitamin A and allows other nutrients to be released from oxalic acid, which is an organic compound found in a variety of plants.
Wisconsin-based dietitian, chef and cookbook author Julie Andrews created a salad recipe on her website, The GourmetRD, full of immune boosting ingredients: fresh baby spinach, strawberries, fennel, avocado, snap peas and almonds.
Sunflower and Pumpkin Seeds
Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are full of immune boosting nutrients. Sunflower seeds contain phosphorous, magnesium and vitamins B-6 and E. Vitamin E is important in regulating and maintaining immune system function.
Sunflower seeds are also incredibly high in selenium. Just 1 ounce contains nearly half the selenium that the average adult needs daily. There have been a variety of studies looking at selenium’s potential to combat viral infections, but they have mostly been performed on animals.
Pumpkin seeds contain zinc and iron, which are both vital for immune function and possess anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. They are also not a common trigger of allergies and intolerances. And both can be easily sprinkled on just about any salad.
Dietitian Melissa Groves Azzaro uses them in her festive salad that also includes pomegranates and honey — two more superfoods — along with green apples, greens and an orange-lemon juice dressing. Based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, she’s the owner of Avocado Grove Nutrition & Wellness.
Red Bell Peppers
While citrus fruits have lots of vitamin C, check out the vitamin C content of a red bell pepper: One medium sized bell pepper contains 152 milligrams of vitamin C, which fulfills your recommended daily allowance. They are also a rich source of beta carotene, which our bodies convert into vitamin A, which is important for healthy skin, eye sight and immune system.
Bell peppers are excellent chopped up in a salad. Colorado- and Minnesota-based dietitians Stacie Hassing and Jessica Beacom, known as the Real Food Dietitians at therealfoodrds.com, created a salad chock full of red bell peppers, kale, mango and avocado, plus chicken for added protein. I love the variety of nutritious vegetables this recipe contains.
More from U.S. News
Correction 07/06/20: A previous version of this story misstated the website for Sylvia White.