Give Your Immune System a Boost With These 5 Vegetables

Heather Mayer Irvine
·5 mins read
Photo credit: Aleksandra Piss - Getty Images
Photo credit: Aleksandra Piss - Getty Images

From Bicycling

There’s no doubt that what you eat powers your ride and recovery. But your food choices also play a significant role in promoting a healthy immune system, something that’s especially crucial amid a global pandemic.

Eating foods with a range of vitamins and minerals coupled with adequate sleep, regular exercise, and low levels of stress can prime the body to fight infection and disease, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“In general, vegetables are a great source of antioxidants and phytochemicals,” New York-based dietitian Kelly Hogan, M.S., R.D., tells Bicycling. “[Both] can help reduce oxidative damage in cells and keep the immune system strong.”

That oxidative damage, by the way, is a fancy term for inflammation. Chronic inflammation can lead to long-term health issues, such as arthritis and heart disease.

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Because vegetables are often good sources of fiber, they are also rich in prebiotics, Hogan adds. Prebiotics act as food for the probiotics that support a healthy GI tract and immune system. “We know that the gut has about 70 percent of the body’s immune cells,” she explains. “Having a healthy gut is important for having a healthy immune system.”

When it comes to vegetables, she says, the more variety we eat regularly, the more they can provide immune benefits. Plus, you don’t need to eat heaping amounts for the benefit. “Even a half of a bell pepper is still very beneficial,” Hogan says.

And when it comes to fighting COVID-19? It’s still best to adopt expert-recommended habits such as washing your hands regularly, avoiding crowds or maintaining at least six feet of distance from others, and wearing a mask when near others.

“You can’t prevent yourself from getting COVID-19 by eating vegetables,” Hogan says. “[But you can do everything you can nutritionally to make sure your immune system is strong.”

Hogan says to look at the big picture: Are you sleeping well? Drinking enough water? Exercising regularly? Taking care of yourself to reduce stress? Eating well? These are all huge factors that play into how healthy your immune system is.

“You can eat all the vegetables you want, but if you’re not managing stress, it might not make much of a difference,” Hogan says.

With that said, there are a few standout veggies that provide some serious immune-boosting benefits. Below are five Hogan recommends adding to your everyday diet if they aren’t staples already.

1. Bell Peppers

Photo credit: Jordan Lye - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jordan Lye - Getty Images

Not only are bell peppers a good source of fiber and antioxidants, they’re extremely high in vitamin C. One cup of chopped bell peppers provides 190 mg, which is more than three times the recommended daily intake. Vitamin C, Hogan says, is known for its immune benefits like supporting cellular function in both the innate and adaptive immune systems.

Eat it: Dice a bell pepper (of any color!) and stir fry with chicken, rice, and other vegetables like broccoli. Or cut into spears and dip into your favorite yogurt-based sauce or hummus for a boost of protein and calcium.

2. Garlic

Photo credit: istetiana - Getty Images
Photo credit: istetiana - Getty Images

Considered a vegetable, Hogan says, garlic is a potent antioxidant thanks to its allicin content. Just one clove is enough to help fortify your immune system—and you don’t have to eat it raw, either. “Garlic doesn’t lose its immune benefits when cooked,” she says.

Eat it: Sauté and add to your favorite sauce or salad dressing recipe.

3. Asparagus

Photo credit: Cavan Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Cavan Images - Getty Images

Hogan includes asparagus on this list because of its inulin content, which is a prebiotic. Asparagus also provides potassium, and while not an immune-system booster, it is essential for muscle health. A serving of asparagus is about six medium spears.

Eat it: Grill up the spears with a little oil, salt, and pepper and serve with your favorite barbecued foods. Asparagus also goes great on top of a green salad with a drizzle of lemon juice.

4. Dark Leafy Greens

Photo credit: Aleksandra Piss - Getty Images
Photo credit: Aleksandra Piss - Getty Images

Take your pick: spinach, kale, Swiss chard, to name a few. Leafy greens are a powerhouse of antioxidants, and vitamins C and E. Fat-soluble vitamin E is one of the more potent antioxidants. Researchers are studying whether it can help prevent or delay chronic diseases associated with free radicals that cause damage to cells, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Eat it: Toss in a salad for a traditional route, or sauté and mix into a veggie omelet or stir-fry. Another idea: Bake kale chips with a drizzle of oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cayenne for a nutritious, crunchy snack.

5. Broccoli

Photo credit: bhofack2 - Getty Images
Photo credit: bhofack2 - Getty Images

You didn’t think we’d miss the crown jewel of veggies, did you? Broccoli is a rich source of antioxidants and vitamin C, Hogan says. It also provides potassium, iron, and calcium. A serving is a half-cup and when prepared just right, you may even go for a full cup.

Eat it: Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes at 400 degrees. You’ll get perfectly crisp (but not burnt) poppable broccoli bites that are healthy and delicious.

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