Having strong immune system support to fight illness and disease takes more than washing your hands for the full 30-seconds advised, elbow or fist bumping instead of shaking hands or hugging. Even avoiding crowds and sick people (unrealistic for most of us), taking vitamin C, and/or getting a flu shot cannot fully provide all the immune support you need.
So how do you boost immunity?
Well, first off, your immune system is your body’s way of protecting you from foreign substances, cells, and tissues. Think about it. To be “immune” means to be protected—it’s like having a personal force-field that protects you from bad stuff (keeping it simple). So, having strong immunity can be thought of as having your own personal and invisible highly-skilled Special Service agents that are on guard 24/7.
The first step to reclaiming your immunity (which builds an impressive internal defense system) is to feed it correctly—and I mean that quite literally.
Why Food Matters for Immune Support
The right foods are powerful immune support builders. This is something that Eastern medicine healing practices such as Ayurvedic medical traditions from India and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) have known and used successfully for many thousands of years, but it is still a work in progress in conventional Western medicine. While I take care to use all of the best healing practices from around the globe at my practice, CentreSpringMD, I know that you can’t all come and see me personally in Atlanta. And still, it’s important for you consider your own unique needs and chemistry—that’s why I’ve put my practice into print in my new book Super Woman Rx.
That said, there are several similar issues we all deal with and are exposed to, when it comes to immunity, especially during cold and flu season. Here’s a sneak peek at some of the best strategies and tips you can incorporate into your eating habits and food choices for building up your immune system. Following this list, you’ll see a sample menu, so you can start immunity-boosting-eating today!
Natural Immune Support Diet Tips
- Start your morning with a shot: No…not the type you might indulge in on a weekend…an apple cider vinegar (ACV) shot, that is.
This is a great way to keep your pH balanced. The pH scale in our bodies ranges from 1 to 14, with 7.3 to 7.45 being our ideal range, and can be determined by using a saliva or urine test. Lower than 7.3, you are two acidic and are more likely to have a weak immune system; higher than 7.45, you’re too alkaline and could have trouble metabolizing key nutrients or have low oxygen levels in the blood.
An ACV shot also helps with gut health by improving the gut microbiome and helping with the metabolism of fat—both keep immunity healthy. Just mix 1 tablespoon vinegar with 3 tablespoons water and bottoms up!
- Drink a daily immune booster: When I think of building an immune system, I focus on increasing your cellular oxygen levels to fight off viruses and bacteria, beating inflammation, and building up essential nutrients. Your first step is to add one, two, or three of the followings to your daily regimen for extra immune support.
- A Green Power Drink: These are so easy to make. Just throw the following in a blender and whip it up for a quick drink full of hormone balancing, immunity boosting antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals—2 cups assorted greens such as kale, spinach, or arugula; 1 cup frozen fruit such as mango, blueberries, or strawberries; 1 banana, ½ avocado, or 1 tablespoon cashew butter; 1 cup water; and 1 teaspoon chia seeds.
- Turmeric Pepper Honey Tea: Black or green tea both are known to help the body fight viruses; turmeric, is known to fight inflammation and balance hormones; black pepper, also an anti-inflammatory, boosts turmeric’s bioavailability (you get more bang for your buck); and honey is one of nature’s immunity building agents. This is a great daily drink to start your day with because it keeps your hormones and immune system humming along—and it’s easy. Just boil some water, add a black or green tea bag, 2 teaspoons ground turmeric, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon honey. Put it all in a mug and steep for 5 minutes.
- Chicken Soup: An oldie but a good traditional home remedy—chicken soup really does help bolster your immunity. How? In TCM, soup is believed to build your “qi,” (your energy flow) which is seen as elemental to balancing hormones and boosting immunity. If you do have a stuffy nose, hot soup acts as a natural decongestant and has a cold-symptom-soothing effect (meaning it eases your achiness). Use any chicken vegetable recipe that uses a homemade stock or bone broth, shredded chicken, vegetables of your choice, minced garlic (it produces allicin, which has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic, and antiviral properties—wow!) and add some sliced ginger to the broth for its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Eat to heal your adrenals: You have two adrenal glands, one on top of each of your kidneys. Your adrenals are responsible for producing your stress hormones and keeping them in check will keep your immunity maximized because chronic stress is one of the hardest blows your immune system can experience. The key to adrenal balance and health? Eating every 3 to 4 hours and getting 60 grams of protein a day—that’s 15 to 20 grams a meal and 7 to 10 grams at snacks. Plain Greek yogurt, chicken, fish, are your best choices, and (as long as red meat doesn’t cause you digestive problems) include some grass-fed beef or lamb a couple times a week.
- Bulk up magnesium: Have a daily dose of leafy greens—spinach, kale, swiss chard, or beet greens—these are highest in magnesium. Almonds are also high in magnesium. I call magnesium the miracle micronutrient because it works as a cofactor for hormones and neurotransmitters, and it’s also calming, relaxing and promotes sleep and reduces anxiety. Being overly-stressed and sleep-deprived makes you more susceptible to getting sick. Enjoy them steamed with a teaspoon of olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.
- Include probiotic foods: These good bacteria are important in balancing your gut (which balances your hormones). A healthy gut, supports a healthy immune system. They are naturally found in certain foods such as yogurt, kefir, bone broth, sourdough bread, and kombucha (a fermented drink thought to have originated in Russia). Aim to have a serving or two of these foods each day.
- Avoid inflammation-causing culprits: Inflammation is an immune response that happens when your body perceives a threat. Highly processed foods, refined sugars and carbohydrates, red, fatty meats, alcohol—and many people now find that gluten, lactose, and dairy foods can set off inflammation because these foods disrupt or damage digestion. And again, when the gut is damaged or hindered, it literally switches on an inflammatory cascade that puts your body on the defensive, which then affects your hormone balance and production. If you suspect that you have any of these intolerances, avoid these foods (there are nondairy yogurts and kefir that still have probiotics, FYI)
Natural Immune Support Menu
Here’s a sample of what a day of eating for natural immune support looks like (*recipes are in above tips):
Pre-Breakfast: ACV shot* and Turmeric Pepper Honey Tea*
Breakfast: Immunity-Powered Smoothie–In a blender combine the following disease fighting foods to make and easy, fat breakfast– 1 cup plain Greek yogurt or kefir (about 20 grams protein), 1/4 cup of frozen berries (high in antioxidants), and 1 banana. Blend until smooth.
Lunch: Homemade Chicken Soup with sliced ginger and minced garlic
Afternoon snack: Green Power Drink* and a small handful of almonds
Dinner: Serve 4 ounces of grass-fed beef or lamb, cover half of your plate with magnesium-rich dark leafy greens (steamed or as a salad,) and a quarter of your plate with brown rice.
For more information on power foods that help you build a natural immune support, check out my books What Doctors Eat and The 21-Day Belly Fix.