Now more than ever, we’re becoming interested in immunity and the role it plays in our overall health. While immune-boosting supplements can be beneficial, our diet lays the foundation for proper immune support. To get more insight into food and our immunity, we spoke with Registered Dietician Vanessa Rissetto MS, RD, CDN. Rissetto, who has been a Dietician for a decade and provides holistic nutrition coaching through her platform Culina Health, was drawn to the field by her own experience seeing a dietician, who taught her how food affects the body. “It was really inspiring,” she shares. “No fads, no gimmicks — just hard work and support. And that made me want to do that for others.” Here, Rissetto addresses some myths, and shares her top 10 immunity-boosting foods — plus, tasty ways to enjoy them.
Food & Our Immunity
What role does food play in our overall immunity?
The more healthily you eat, the more healthy you feel. You tend to have healthier habits; you drink a lot of water, you eat fruits and veggies, you move more — all of that helps us ward off illness.
We also know that gut health plays an important role with immunity. Very simply, the balance of bacteria in our gut influences immunity. We aren’t 100% certain how, and studies are still being done daily to understand how this works, but we do know that 80% of our immune system resides there, so it’s important to keep it healthy.
Are there any commonly believed myths about food and immunity that you can debunk?
That there are foods out there that are a cure-all. That’s just not true. Everyone’s body reacts and works differently, so there’s no magic bullet.
Vanessa Rissetto’s Top 10 Immune-Boosting Foods
Why it’s good: They’re loaded with vitamin C, which is important for immunity, but your body doesn’t store it.
How to eat it: Grapefruits are a favorite that I sometimes throw on a salad — or I grill them (a transplant patient taught me that years ago).
Red Bell Peppers
Why it’s good: Again, loaded with vitamin C. Also, beta carotene, which helps with vision.
How to eat it: I love stuffed peppers.
Why it’s good: Garlic’s immune boosting properties seem to come from a heavy concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin.
How to eat it: I like to crush garlic cloves into my salad dressing — it gives it a nice tang.
Why it’s good: It helps ward off nausea and even lowers cholesterol.
How to eat it: I like to make a ginger turmeric tea, where the ginger is boiled with the water so it’s infused.
Why it’s good: Almonds are packed with vitamin E. When it comes to preventing and fighting off colds, vitamin E tends to take a backseat to vitamin C. However, this powerful antioxidant is key to a healthy immune system.
How to eat it: I add them to my non-fat yogurt for additional fat and crunch.
Why it’s good: Spinach is rich in vitamin C. It’s also packed with numerous antioxidants and beta carotene, which may both increase the infection-fighting ability of our immune systems.
How to eat it: I like to sprinkle spinach with garlic powder and cook up in a pan, then add it to my morning eggs.
Why it’s good: Sunflower seeds are full of nutrients, such as phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins B-6 and E. Vitamin E is important in regulating and maintaining immune system function.
How to eat it You can add sunflower seeds to any main course, such as chicken curry or mixed vegetables. They can also be easily sprinkled over salads and pastas to add extra flavor and nutrients. Here are directions for salted, roasted sunflower seeds. If you don’t want them salted, just rinse them off and roast them. Because they aren’t soaked through with water, they’ll roast much more quickly, perhaps only a few minutes at 400°F.
1 cup raw in-shell sunflower seeds
2 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt, or 2 Tbsp table salt*
1 quart water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and arrange salted sunflower seeds in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 7-10 minutes.
Why it’s good: High concentrations of curcumin, which gives turmeric its distinctive color, can help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage. It also has promise as an immune booster.
How to eat it: Turmeric is a treat in egg dishes. Grate a little of the fresh stuff into your scrambled eggs, omelettes and frittatas. To prepare fresh turmeric, grab a vegetable peeler or paring knife and slice off its skin. You can also do this by rubbing the stem down with the back with a spoon.
Why it’s good: Vitamin C boosts the white blood cells to fight infection, while kiwi’s other nutrients (folate, potassium, Vitamin K) keep the rest of your body functioning properly.
How to eat it: Here’s a recipe for a fresh kiwi salad:
1 kiwi, peeled and cut into slices
1 banana, peeled and cut into slices
100g strawberries, washed and cut in half (tops removed)
4 dried apricots, cut into quarters
1 apple, washed and cored; quarter before slicing thinly
15 white grapes, washed and seeded
15 red grapes, washed and seeded
2 tbsp almond syrup
1 tablespoon grated coconut
Put all the fruits in a bowl, sprinkle with almond syrup and coconut. Mix and serve immediately.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and interviewee and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.