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Human bodies are well equipped to deal with a lot of illnesses and infections. A healthy immune system acts as the first line of defense against infection-causing microorganisms.
Fortunately, there are some foods you can consume to stimulate the immune system and ensure its smooth functioning in order to be healthy and fit.
Foods That Fight Infection
Consume the following foods to strengthen your immune system so you can fight off infections naturally.
1. Citrus fruits
Citrus fruits, which belong to the Rutaceae family, include oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, pomelo, sweet lime, kumquats, and citron. (1)
Citrus fruits are excellent sources of polyphenols, pectin, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, zinc, copper, and iron. (1)
Traditional Chinese medicine has used citrus fruits to treat cough and improve digestive health, prompting research into their role in fighting viral infections. In one study, compounds in citrus fruits were found to have a positive impact on boosting immunity. (3)
Include one to two citrus fruits in your daily diet to strengthen your immune system by providing the nutrients it needs.
Garlic is cultivated all over the world and used to flavor dishes in many cuisines. In earlier times, garlic was used as a treatment for typhus, dysentery, cholera, and influenza. (4)
Garlic’s bioactive compounds, which include sulfides, saponins, and polysaccharides, can be the reason for garlic’s effectiveness. (4)
Multiple studies have reported that people taking garlic between 250 mg and 400 mg per day have an increased antioxidant status and lower lipid and inflammation levels, which all contribute to better immunity. (4)
Ginger is often used alongside garlic to flavor a lot of meals, especially in Asian and South Asian cooking. It is also highly valued as a medicinal herb useful in the treatment of stomach ailments, nausea, vomiting, and the common cold. (5)
Ginger can be added to daily cooking, or its tea can be consumed during bouts of common cold infections.
4. Colored fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables that are red, purple, orange, or yellow are rich in biochemical compounds, namely, anthocyanins and carotenoids. They include berries, cabbage, plums, carrots, watermelon, and grapes, among others. (6)
Anthocyanins not only act as antioxidants and boost immunity to help ward off infections, but they have also been used as remedies for microbial infections. (7)
Make sure your daily servings of fruits and vegetables contain carotenoid- and anthocyanin-rich foods.
5. Fermented foods
Fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, and kombucha are rich in good bacteria that can offer health benefits to the host. (9)
Fermentation of food produces lactic acid, which plays a role in improving immune function, can lower the risk of cancer, and is good for overall health. It also lessens the impact of infections from bad bacteria. (9)
One serving of fermented foods (100 g) is beneficial in strengthening the immune system.
Turmeric has been used for many years in traditional Indian medicine to treat infections, both internal and external. (10)
It exhibits strong antioxidant properties and is used as an anti-infective to treat urinary tract infections, stomach disorders, jaundice, and even arthritis. (10)
Use turmeric by adding it to your daily cooking or prepare delicious turmeric milk as a bedtime beverage.
7. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are rich in minerals including iron, selenium, zinc, copper, and vitamins such as vitamins E and D. (11) These minerals are all associated with improved immunity that helps the body fight infections. (11)
Consuming a handful of nuts such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds can give the body the necessary nutrients to fight infections. (11)
Nuts and seeds can be added to salads, smoothies, gravies, and parfaits, topped on oatmeal, or consumed as snacks along with fruits.
Tea from the Camellia sinensis plant – commonly available as black tea, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea – is rich in catechins and polyphenols, which bring about relief in the case of acute infection and inflammation. (12)
Studies have found gargling with tea to have a preventative effect against influenza and infections of the upper respiratory tract. (12)
Papaya contains nutrients that are beneficial for fighting oxidative stress, reducing inflammation, and also fighting infection. (13)
Papaya and its leaves are used to treat fever and thrombocytopenia during dengue fever. The seeds are also effective in fighting parasitic infections, and the fruit has antimicrobial, antimalarial, and wound-healing properties. (14)
Precautions to Consider
A strong immunity is dependent on several other factors such as age, presence of other illnesses, medications, mental health, and sleep.
Foods that fight infection are to be consumed as part of a healthy diet and are not meant as a replacement for medication. People with allergies need to be careful when consuming foods that may otherwise be beneficial.
Can I Consume These Foods When I Have an Infection?
An infection can be caused by a bacteria or virus. While the foods recommended in this article strengthen the immune system, they might not be useful in the case of severe acute infections.
Certain nutrients and bioactive compounds present in foods can help strengthen the immune system to enable it to fight against infections and illnesses.
Most natural foods such as citrus fruits, nuts and seeds, probiotic foods, turmeric, garlic, and ginger work by improving the activity of white blood cells to be able to detect and attack foreign bodies including bacteria and viruses.
While these foods may improve immunity and help ward off infections, they are not meant to replace medication to treat acute infections, and it is advisable to consult a doctor in the case of severe infections.