Maintaining a good night’s sleep and managing stress and anxiety are key to staying healthy, but a considered approach to nutrition is also an effective way of doing so. It’s well known that vitamin C is vital for a strong immune system, but there are other overlooked nutrients including vitamin A, D and zinc that are just as essential.
Fighting inflammation is also important because inflammation slows down your immune system. Incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your diet is a great way to counter this, while supporting your microbiome with fermented foods and high-fibre ingredients.
Different cultures have their favoured remedies and recipes for supporting the immune system, and it’s always interesting to find local cures in your region of the world. Here are some of the best dishes, drinks and tonics with qualities to help boost your immune system.
There’s a reason you feel like having chicken soup when you’re sick, and it’s not just nostalgic. Chicken is full of vitamin B6, which your body needs to support many different functions. The chicken stock (if you boiled the chicken with the bone in) will contain gelatin and other anti-inflammatory nutrients to support gut health and the immune system.
Plus, it’s likely that you’ve added other vegetables and aromatics that will all be packed with good stuff. Chicken soup is soothing, warm and delicious, and there are so many different ways to make it. Try Julia Turshen’s soup inspired by her Aunt Renee’s recipe, which made everyone in her family feel taken care of.
For something that packs a bit more punch, try a Taiwanese sesame oil chicken stew, muah yu gei, made with plenty of ginger and complete with noodles to soak up all the flavours.
Bone broth is what you will find in chicken soup if you’ve used the bones to make your stock. It’s been around for decades but has become all the rage recently as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and gut health supporter. People have gone as far as drinking it in a mug in place of their morning coffee. While a bone broth latte may not sound appealing to you, there are plenty of delicious ways to eat it in soup form, or use it in stews and curries the way you would any stock.
All berries are full of vitamin C and other antioxidants, but the elder plant has been making the rounds as a particularly good immune booster with anti-viral qualities. The purple berries from the plant have traditionally been made into a herbal remedy, which is now gaining popularity. The berries are naturally sweet and tasty, particularly when made into elderberry syrup.
Turmeric has been making waves in mainstream wellness circles because of its powerful anti-inflammatory qualities. You can now find turmeric tablets and turmeric lattes in many stores. This bright yellow drink is inspired by haldi doodh, an Indian remedy of hot turmeric milk which many children drink when they aren’t feeling well. Food blogger Manali disliked it as a child, but has since reinvented her own tastier version.
If a turmeric drink is not for you, try Priya Krishna’s kadhi recipe. It’s a turmeric yoghurt soup and there’s no better way to have all these healthy ingredients in one delicious dish.
Citrus fruits may be the first foods associated with vitamin C, but red peppers can contain up to triple the amount of vitamin C, and they also contain beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in your body. They make a great snack when sliced and dipped into hummus, or try making a roasted red pepper sauce that can be eaten as an accompaniment to countless savoury dishes.
If you’re from Southern Africa, you’ll know the baobab very well. It’s a large and majestic tree which bears a nutrient-rich fruit containing minerals including magnesium, zinc and potassium and is especially high in vitamin C. The fruit can be eaten fresh, or turned into a white powder that can be found in most health stores. You can add it to smoothies, porridge or juices. It has a pleasant, citrus-like flavour and is a major immune booster. Try it in a creamy smoothie.
These three ingredients are powerhouses on their own, but they go so well together and add a kick to your meal while supporting the immune system. Ginger and garlic have both been recognised for centuries as remedial foods, as ginger tea settles stomach ailments and sore throats and garlic is eaten raw or steeped in hot toddies for colds and flu. Chillis are high in vitamin C and other antioxidants, and the active component capsaicin will fire up your body heat and help you flush out any toxins.
Fermentation is another age-old method that has become a hot food trend in recent years thanks to the good bacteria the process creates. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and good for your gut health, and add a hit off flavour to your dish thanks to the salty, umami tang. Kimchi is a spicy Korean accompaniment, usually made with a cabbage base, and often flavoured with red pepper flakes and dried shrimp, but there are countless variations to experiment with. You can try making your own kimchi using Emily Han’s easy recipe. Sauerkraut is also made by fermenting cabbage, is incredibly easy to make and is a signature dish in Germany; note that not all long-life jarred varieties will provide the immune-boosting benefits, so pick wisely.
Fire cider is last on this list because it’s a potent mixture of many ingredients listed here. The drink is an intense tonic of garlic, ginger, onions, horseradish and cayenne pepper or chillis fermented together with apple cider vinegar. It’s a traditional remedy that was popularised by herbalist Rosemary Gladstar and is known to be a powerful immune-boosting, antibacterial and antiviral concoction. Sip slowly as it’s quite an acquired taste.