Wash your hands. Keep your distance. Don’t touch your face. Wear a mask. Whether it’s COVID-19, the flu, or just the common cold, recently we have all become more aware of the most important behaviors that can help us ward off illness. Building the body’s natural defenses, or immunity, against viruses and bacteria is key to preventing sickness and maintaining good overall health.
However, when it comes to immunity, not all foods are created equal. Antioxidants make the best immune-builders, and our bodies absorb them better through foods rather than supplements. While no diet can cure or prevent any disease, read on to learn which vitamins and nutrients contain antioxidants. Then turn the page to find four recipes – two bowls and two beverages – that feature ingredients known for these immune-boosting properties.
We have all heard that taking vitamin C can help stave off a cold. That’s because this essential vitamin, which is also an antioxidant, encourages the production of white blood cells that aid in fighting infections. Our bodies don’t produce or store vitamin C, so it’s important to try to include some in your daily diet. Most people think of citrus fruits when they think of vitamin C, but it is plentiful in many other foods as well, such as red bell peppers, pineapple, broccoli, and leafy greens like spinach or kale.
Vitamin E is another antioxidant that is vital to helping immunity. In addition to being a key player in the formation of red blood cells, this powerful nutrient helps the body fight infection by protecting cells from damage. Nuts, dates, seeds, and green leafy vegetables are some foods that are rich in vitamin E.
Known for giving yellow and orange vegetables their bright color, beta carotene is another antioxidant that has been shown to help bolster the immune system. Foods high in beta carotene include carrots, red and orange peppers, broccoli, and leafy greens.
Flavonoids are plant chemicals that serve as antioxidants and therefore can help your body function more efficiently and protect it against toxins.
Flavonoids are found in berries, tree fruits like bananas and apples, nuts, and tea.
Other foods that have been shown to have a variety of immunity-building capabilities are: brown rice, ginger, garlic, onions, spices like turmeric and cinnamon, and yogurt.
You will notice the recipes here specifically use the immune-boosting ingredients mentioned above. The “sweet” rice bowl makes a great breakfast or a snack, while the “savory” rice bowl is meant as a snack, lunch, or dinner. Connecticut mixologist Mary Quinn created a smoothie that you can try as a meal replacement or snack, as well as a delicious fall mocktail that tastes so good you won’t miss the alcohol.
So, continue to wash your hands, keep your distance, avoid touching your face, and wear your mask. But while you’re at it, incorporate these immune-boosting bowls and bevs into your meal rotation, and stay safe and healthy out there.
Amy S. White is a Connecticut teacher, writer, and line cook.
Photography by Mary Quinn