A common mistake people make when it comes to proper nutrition for the immune system is thinking that if you eat poorly in general, eating once a single healthy food is a guarantee that you will avoid a cold. “What is a far better approach is to eat a balanced nutrition throughout the year with a lot of veggies and fruits, healthy fats, protein and good carbs,” Katharina Kaiser, nutritionist at fitness company Freeletics, says. “This can be your key to not getting sick at all throughout the year.”
There are hundreds of other substances that contribute to a healthy immune system. Veggies and fruit for example, are great sources of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, antioxidants and fiber. All of these food components are essential for being healthy, Kaiser adds.
However, benefitting from eating vegetables is a little more complicated than you think. You have to know how to cook them. There are some general rules of thumb, according to Nutrition Specialist Marina Rößer.
“The shorter the time, the lower the heat and the less the water, the more vitamins and minerals re preserved,” she says. “That’s why we recommend methods like blanching or steaming.” Everything that can also be eaten raw, should only be blanched (and then shocked with cool water) or fried over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, Rößer says.
The same applies for vegetables with short cooking times like cabbage varieties or green beans. “This way most of the vitamins and the color of the vegetables are preserved but unwanted bitter or flatulent substances disappear.”
A good way to cook the veggies and preserve their health benefits is by baking them. “As a rule of thumb, cut harder veggies in smaller pieces than soft veggies.” After 20-30 minutes everything should be ready to eat, Rößer says. “Cover the chunks in oil or aluminum foil as a protection layer before to preserve as much micronutrients as possible.”
One of the gentlest methods to cook vegetables is to steam them slowly. “This way the minerals don’t get ‘washed out’ into the water and the sensitive vitamins don’t get destroyed totally by heat,” she adds. About 20 minutes are usually enough.
Whatever you eat, quality is key. When you buy veggies and fruits, they should be as fresh as possible, Kaiser says. “So-called fresh fruits have usually been harvested many days before finding themselves on the supermarket shelf.” Exposure to light and high storage temperatures is known to decrease the nutrient content, each being inevitable features of transportation, she adds. “If you want to really have fresh foods, you can go to your nearest farmers market.”
Most people immediately turn to Vitamin C for a quick boost, and they are not wrong. “Vitamin C is directly used by several cells of our immune system, like phagocytes and T-cells, Kaiser says. Thus, Vitamin C deficiencies result in a reduced resistance against pathogens and people get sick more easily, she adds.
There are also some foods, which are especially helpful when you need a boost for the immune system. It is crucial that there is not a single ingredient which can be named as the most important one, Kaiser says. “It is rather the interplay of different food components which ultimately contribute to an immune boost.”