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Top Immune Boosters: Foods & Lifestyle Habits

Before I share my immune boosting tips, here are two articles of delicious knowledge: Hair Health: Elle Canada interviewed me for their article on healthy h
Nov 3, 2011 | Joy McCarthy

Before I share my immune boosting tips, here are two articles of delicious knowledge:

Hair Health: Elle Canada interviewed me for their article on healthy hair foods - here are my tips.

Lunch Meat safe? Chatelaine interviewed me on ingredients to avoid in lunch meats - here are my tips:

Now let's talk immune system!

"Everyone is sick in my office, I'm going to get sick!!" Sound familiar? I used to work in a typical cubicle office environment and whenever someone was sneezing or coughing around me, I was worried about their germs setting up camp in my body. Instead of assuming that you will eventually get sick, why not take steps to prevent the common cold and flu by powering up your own immune system soldiers by eating these foods and adopting these lifestyle habits.

Here are my top foods for immune system:


Garlic is not only one of the oldest cultivated plants on planet earth, it's also nature's antibiotic and aptly named the "Russian penicillin" because of its antibacterial infection fighting properties. All thanks to phytochemical "allicin" (the stink in garlic) which has been shown to be effective not only against common infections such as colds, flu, stomach viruses and Candida yeast, but also against more powerful pathogenic microbes including tuberculosis and botulism.

Keep in mind that chopping or crushing garlic actually stimulates the enzymatic process that converts alliin into allicin. So always use fresh garlic (not the pre-chopped junk with juice in a jar) and once you've chopped it, let it sit on your cutting board for at least 5-10 minutes. Oh and of course, I beg you! Don't overcook it.

Now just because garlic smells, doesn't necessarily mean it going to make YOU smell. Chew on some parsley and you'll be good to go. One of my favourite quick snacks with fresh garlic is bruschetta (all organic of course!) – chop up some fresh tomatoes, 2 cloves of garlic, chop some basil, a few tbsp of olive oil, some freshly ground black pepper and VOILA – immunity boosting snack and a party pleaser Need more ideas? Add garlic to salad dressings, pasta sauces, soups, stews - the ways to incorporate garlic are endless!


Get your funky fungus on! (sorry for my bad nutrition humour here, I can't help it). Mushrooms contain more selenium than any other vegetable and one of the rare sources of vitamin D, (perfect for long sunless winters) and a good source of zinc. These two minerals selenium and zinc, combined with vitamin D are excellent immunity boosters and infection fighters, not to mention cancer-fighters! Talk about superfood-power.

Want more reasons? Mushrooms actually activate the immune system thanks to beta glucan which is a polysaccharide that helps prevent infections. How does it do this? It regulates your white blood cells and keeps them in a highly prepared state so they are ready to attack and take out any invaders.


If you are a carnivore, eat your meat once every week or two. But make sure it's of the highest quality please - ie. grass-fed. Why protein? It is absolutely essential to fight infection because this macronutrient literally makes antibodies which are like the soldiers that fight your sickness.

You need 3 servings per day, about the size of the palm of your hand. Good sources of protein include beans, eggs, chicken, fish, nuts (nut butters), seeds, tempeh, greek yogurt, and protein powders like my favourite, Sunwarrior vegan protein powder which is a delicious and creamy sprouted brown rice. 

Avoid sugar:

Sugar is not your friend, while it may seem so from the high you get, I assure you that refined sugar is your enemy. It makes your body bankrupt by utilizing minerals for it's assimilation - add insult to injury if you are already eating a nutrient-poor diet because it will use your OWN stores of minerals.

Sugar suppresses your immune system function for hours making you more susceptible to catching someone else's germ. So you might want to think twice about polishing off that remaining Halloween candy! Need more reasons? I have a whole entire category on my blog to deal with the white beast -- sugar:

Limit Stress:

Stress (as you've probably heard) increases the hormone cortisol. Guess what happens when you are stressed out? Cortisol inhibits the function of your immune system if chronically elevated. Manage your stress levels with exercise, breathing deeply, yoga, gratefulness, hugging someone you love, taking a walk outside in nature, having sex with a loved one. Rhodiola, ashwaganda and chamomile are all wonderful herbs for reducing stress as well.

Get enough sleep:

When I get sick, this is where I've gone wrong. Ugggggh. Getting enough sleep for your body to properly regenerate and repair is absolutely essential for a strong immune system! How much is enough? 7.5-8 hours. Think you can get by on 6 hours or less? Think again! You are really giving your body the short end of the stick when you perpetually abuse this healthy habit that is available to you every day.

Tamara   •   November 3, 2011

Perfect timing as always Joy! Thank you for this, as I currently have two sick kids in my house and really cannot afford to get sick myself. I already wasn't feel great for a few days, but I am trying to 'prevent' it taking hold. (Good tip on 'polishing off the Halloween Candy', as chocolate is definetly a weakness!) Thanks for the helpful information. I always appreciate getting a new post from you! :)

Joy McCarthy   •   November 3, 2011

Mushrooms Canada   •   November 3, 2011

Including 100g of fresh mushrooms in your diet on a regular basis is a great way to boost your immune system this flu season. Packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants... and don't forget flavour! ;) - Brittany

Joy McCarthy   •   November 3, 2011

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Melissa   •   November 5, 2011

Hi Joy. I'm curious...what parts of the immune system (innate/adaptive, cellular or humeral)are your suggestions geared towards working on? Cheers.

Joy McCarthy   •   November 6, 2011

jen   •   November 9, 2011

wish i had read this before i gobbled down all that halloween candy! I'm now battling a cold


Apple Maple Quinoa Porridge |   •   December 15, 2011

[...] seeds: A wonderful source of immune-enhancing, beautifying, prostate-loving zinc. A source of phytosterols, which have a similar structure to [...]


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