The thought of eating to boost your immune system may conjure up less-than-thrilling images of garlic and broccoli on repeat. But there are plenty of tasty foods proven to help your body fight off viral and bacterial infections.
As a nutritionist and recipe developer, I'm all about creating meals and snacks that help people stay healthy. While no foods have been linked specifically to fighting off the coronavirus, a good diet definitely plays a role in keeping your immune system strong.
Here are my five favorite immunity-boosting recipes I've been making during Covid-19 to stay happy, healthy and full:
Green Peach Smoothie
This delicious drink wears its greens proudly with a hefty dose of fresh spinach, mixed with a sweet taste of fruit.
Spinach is an excellent source of iron, which helps our immune cells function properly. And not only does its vitamin C content serve as a natural antioxidant, but it can help boost iron absorption.
Sipping your greens in raw form has an added health benefit: You'll take in more nutrients than you would from cooked spinach, since heat can lower the amount of certain nutrients (including vitamin C) in green foods.
- 1 frozen banana
- 1½ cup frozen sliced peaches
- 2 cups fresh chopped spinach
- 1 tbsp. honey
- ¾ cup unsweetened almond milk
- ¾ cup plain Greek yogurt
- Combine all ingredients in blender.
- Blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
Sun-Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta With Chicken
Lycopene, the signature antioxidant in tomatoes, is known for reducing inflammation — an important part of disease prevention. Plus, high levels of vitamin C found in the red fruits help protect against damage from free radicals, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Almonds (used to make the pesto sauce) are abundant in vitamin E, which helps keeps immune cells fit. Meanwhile, high protein content from the chicken helps regulates the body's immune response by activating defender cells and producing antibodies.
For the pesto:
- 1¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes (dry, not oil-packed)
- ½ cup slivered almonds
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves
- Salt and pepper
For chicken and pasta:
- 8 oz. whole wheat spaghetti
- 5 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, pounded to ½-inch thickness
- ½ tsp. dried basil
- ½ tsp. dried oregano
- ½ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. pepper
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- Throw tomatoes, almonds, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic into a food processor. Blend until nearly smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set pesto sauce aside.
- Boil a large pot of water and start cooking the spaghetti.
- For the chicken, season both sides with basil, oregano, salt, pepper and garlic powder.
- In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil over medium-high heat.
- Add seasoned chicken and cook each side for about four minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Assemble individual plates of spaghetti, pesto and chicken. Serve immediately.
Vegetarian Mexican Stuffed Peppers
You don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy these hearty stuffed peppers; its zesty Mexican flavor, savory cheese topping and high protein from beans and rice will appeal even to hardcore carnivores.
You'll also reap plenty of immunity-boosting benefits: One medium red bell pepper contains 152 milligrams of vitamin C, which is nearly 170% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) for men, and over 200% RDI for women.
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup long-grain rice
- 1 ¼ cup vegetable broth (or water)
- 15 oz. canned fire-roasted salsa-style diced tomatoes
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- ½ tsp. chili powder
- ¼ tsp. cumin
- 1⁄8 tsp. dried oregano
- 8 red or green bell peppers
- ½ cup frozen corn
- 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute for five minutes.
- Add minced garlic and saute another 30 seconds.
- Add rice, vegetable broth (or water), diced tomatoes, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin and oregano, and bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat to low. Simmer for 16 to 18 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Slice off the tops of the peppers and scrape out the seeds.
- Place peppers snugly in the bottom of an 8×8 glass baking dish (or larger, depending on the size of your peppers).
- When the rice is finished cooking, add corn and beans to the mixture and stir together.
- Using a spoon, carefully stuff the peppers with filling.
- Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove foil, sprinkle with cheddar, and continue baking another 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
Salmon Kale Caesar Wraps
Salmon and kale get their "superfood" status for good reason. The omega-3 fatty acids in the pink fish reduce systemic inflammation, which research shows can help strengthen the body's disease-fighting response.
Kale supplies vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and zinc — all of which contribute to a healthy immune system, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Kale also has high levels of folate, one of the B-vitamins needed to make red and white blood cells in the bone marrow and convert carbohydrates into energy.
- ¾ lb. salmon
- ¼ lemon juice
- Drizzle olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 6 cups kale, chopped
- ⅓ cup Caesar salad dressing (store-bought or homemade)
- ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 4 whole wheat tortillas
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a small baking dish with cooking spray.
- Place salmon in the dish and squeeze lemon juice on top, followed by a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Bake 15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily with a fork.
- Meanwhile, assemble the salad: In a medium bowl, toss kale with Caesar dressing and Parmesan.
- Add cooked salmon to the salad and toss to combine.
- Fill tortillas with completed salad. Wrap and serve immediately.
Mandarin Orange Yogurt Pops
Sugar creates inflammation in the body, which won't do your immune system any favors. However, the right sweetener, like raw honey, can actually help fortify your defenses.
These creamy, low-sugar ice pops start with a yogurt base to provide immune-boosting probiotics. With mandarin oranges for vitamins C and A and a touch of honey for sweetness, they make for a post-meal indulgence that you can feel good about.
- 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup raw honey
- 5 drops orange extract (optional)
- 1 15-oz. mandarin oranges (canned or fresh)
- In a mixing bowl, stir together yogurt, honey and orange extract.
- If you're using canned mandarin, drain about half the liquid from the mandarin oranges. Then stir oranges into yogurt mixture.
- Carefully pour the yogurt filling into Popsicle molds. Freeze for about two hours, or until firm.
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist and food blogger. She has written for HealthDay, The Washington Post, Today's Parents, and several other publications. Sarah lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter @LoveLetter2Food.
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