Foods to strengthen your immunity

Spinach salad (Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

It’s official. The World Health Organization and our Centers for Disease Control have proclaimed the new coronavirus, COVID-19, a global pandemic. Whereas the flu kills (on average) about 20,000 Americans each year, this new virus is ten times more deadly — especially to older folks and those with other health issues.

In any epidemic of contagious disease, some people catch the virus –while others remain healthy. Among those who get sick, some have a mild case, others need to be hospitalized. Some recover; those who are weaker and more vulnerable may die.

We’re encouraged to practice “social distancing” by staying away from crowds and avoiding handshakes. We’re told to wash our hands often and refrain from touching the face. We’re asked to follow CDC and WHO guidelines for travel, quarantine, and community protocols. Sporting and cultural events are being canceled. Schools are closing. People are encouraged to work from home. Restaurants are only open for takeout and grocery stores are offering deliveries. But is complete social isolation possible?

One piece of advice I have not heard: Strengthen your immune system with good nutrition, immune-boosting foods and plenty of fresh air.

Good nutrition is important for immunity to ANY virus. During World War II, those who were malnourished succumbed to tuberculosis –while those who were healthier and stronger didn’t. At the Trudeau Sanatorium, patients were treated with fresh mountain air, rest, and a high-protein, healthy diet.

Vitamins and minerals are essential for the immune system to function properly. Most have heard that vitamin C is key; but folic acid (a B vitamin), beta-carotene, vitamins A, D, and E, and the minerals zinc, iron, copper and selenium are also important disease fighters. So eat lots of fresh fruits and veggies. Citrus is high in vitamin C –but so are red peppers. Egg yolks, fish and dairy products provide vitamin D. Good sources of vitamin A are carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash. Zinc is found in mushrooms, meat, beans, spinach, and seeds. It’s also important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Adequate protein is important for building antibodies and keeping your immune system strong. Protein deficiency is associated with an impaired immune response. When you don’t have enough protein, your white blood cells are unable to protect your body from invaders.

In addition to good general nutrition — vitamins, minerals, protein and omega-3 fats — some foods are known for their immune-boosting powers.

The allium vegetables — garlic, onions and leeks — boost the immune system. Garlic’s medicinal properties have been known for thousands of years. Recent medical studies have validated the centuries-old claims, showing that allicin, a compound found in garlic and onions, has strong anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.

All mushrooms contain important vitamins, minerals and immune-boosting antioxidants. Some are widely used in Chinese medicine and have been studied for their anti-cancer properties. Compounds in mushrooms increase the production and activity of white blood cells; that is why mushrooms are excellent infection fighters.

Elderberries contain active substances that boost the production of cytokines, proteins that act as messengers in the immune system to help regulate immune response.

Many herbs are good for immunity. Like garlic, curcumin activates white blood cells. It can also halt bacterial growth. Ginger regulates the immune system, inhibits tumor growth and relieves cellular stress. Ginseng is another immune-boosting herb with a long history of use in Asia. It has been shown to relieve stress and prevent the common cold.

The tea plant — which produces black, green and white tea — contains catechins, which may have immune-boosting properties as well as protect against cancer.

Beta-glucan, the fiber found in oats, is known for lowering cholesterol — but is also an immune-booster. Studies have shown that it helps prevent upper-respiratory-tract infections by enhancing white blood cell activity.

Fermented, probiotic foods with live, active cultures (like kefir, yogurt, kraut, kimchee, kombucha) not only support the digestive tract, but also strengthen the immune system. That is because the microflora in your gut are responsible for a healthy immune system. These unprocessed fermented foods increase the number of antibodies that fight infectious disease.

Beans also improve gut health, thus increasing the beneficial bacteria in the gut that support immune system function. They’re also rich in polyphenols, a type of antioxidant.

Sugar, on the other hand, has been shown to suppress the immune system, destroying the cells that fight bacteria. If you’re craving sweets, replace sugary foods with fresh fruit.

Get enough sleep, de-stress and laugh. Studies have shown that laughter and positive feelings stimulate the immune system, while emotional stress releases cortisol and adrenaline and can lower your disease resistance. Fresh air and exercise also help immunity by improving your respiratory function and circulation.

Immune-boost salad

Dressing ingredients:

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 clove garlic, crushed

1/4 – 1/3 cup kefir

1 – 2 teaspoons prepared mustard, optional

Salad ingredients:

4 cups torn spinach and / or lettuce

1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced

1/2 – 1 sweet onion, peeled and sliced

1 orange, peeled and sectioned

1 carrot, sliced

1/2 cup sauerkraut

1/2 – 1 cup cooked black beans

1/4 cup crumbled feta, optional


Combine spinach, bell pepper, onion, orange, carrot and kraut in salad bowl.

Combine dressing ingredients; pour over; toss to combine.

Garnish with beans and optional cheese.

Skillet Supper

You can use the immune boosters onion, garlic and mushrooms in most recipes. Here they season a cabbage skillet.


1 link sausage (1/4 lb.) OR

4 small potatoes or 1 large (about 1 cup sliced)

1 small head cabbage (or equal amount kale, collards, spinach or chard) – about 3 – 4 cups, chopped

1 large onion

2 – 4 oz. mushrooms

2 cloves garlic

1 or 2 carrots

1 apple (peeled, cored, sliced) optional

1 teaspoon soy sauce or 1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon curcumin

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup broth

1 cup applesauce (preferably unsweetened).

1/4 cup extra-sharp chedda r cheese

1/4 cup fresh minced parsley

In skillet, crumble sausage and render fat over low heat for about 10 minutes.

Prepare potatoes – peel and slice. Set aside.

Prepare cabbage – core and chop. Set aside.

Prepare onion – peel and chop. Set aside.

Prepare carrot – scrub, slice. Set aside.

Add vegetables to skillet; sprinkle with salt or soy sauce. Cook 5 – 7 minutes on low, stirring occasionally.

Clean and slice mushrooms; peel and mince garlic. Add to the skillet and cook 2 – 3 minutes.

Add turmeric, black pepper and broth. Cook 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender; add more broth, water or apple cider if needed.

Stir in applesauce and Cheddar cheese. Cook until cheese melts.

Serves 2 – 3.

Author of the award-winning cookbook “Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market,” Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook at Words are My World.


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